It was nearly 9 p.m. when the body arrived in the village, several weeks after the death of the laborer in a distant country.
The family decided to stay at home, despite the fact that so much time had passed and nobody could verify the condition of the remains. The truck was followed by a group of villagers to the bank of a dry river where they found men building a fire pyres.
Under the soft moonlight, the villager Rakesh Kumar Yadav opened his coffin with pliers, and he was able to be accessed by villagers. A man shouted, “Show us your face!” Renu Devi Yadav the laborer’s widow struggled to drag her children away and kissed her son on the wet cheek. The flames stood at the ready.
hundreds and thousands of Nepalese go to the world every year with the hope of creating a better future for their country. This outflow is so strong that 25% of the GDP comes from overseas remittances.
Each year hundreds of these migrants are killed, destroying delicate dreams thousands of kilometers away. Mr. Yadav was 40 years old and worked as a Dubai security guard. Some others work as drivers or laborers in countries like Saudi Arabia and Malaysia. Qatar hosts the World Cup and migrants from Nepal and other Asian countries were the backbone for a long construction blitz to host the biggest soccer event in the world.
These men are subject to layers of vulnerability and inequality in their lives. They are also subject to it on their final journey home. It is difficult for struggling countries like Nepal to speed up the return of those bodies that are still in the morgues of wealthy nations. Families that have lost loved ones are at the mercy government clerks, middlemen and even harsh mountain terrain.
A simple desire for a dignified cremation — the completion of the rites quickly after death is central to salvation according to the Hindu faith — can become a tribulation.
His coffin was delivered to his village in south Nepal this spring by Mr. Yadav. He died three months after arriving at Dubai and before sending any money back.
His wife asked a recruit agent about what had happened in Dubai. The agent answered with a simple answer: Her husband couldn’t wake up from sleep. A death certificate from the United Arab Emirates stated that his death was due to “heart failure and breath failure.”
Because of the limited job opportunities in his home country, Mr. Yadav turned to foreign employment, borrowing thousands to pay recruiters. The village’s fertile soil has been shrinking and the only job that he could find was as a substitute teacher. It wasn’t enough to make ends met.
In search of a better life, the Yadav family lived in three different places.
His three teenager children, who were then in their twenties, lived in a rented apartment in the nearest town to the village where Mr. Yadav worked overseas. They attended private school in the nearby town. His wife was the family’s anchor: She cared for her elderly in-laws, managed to negotiate for patience when village creditors came knocking and kept the budget within reach by packing vegetables, lentils, and rice for their weekend visits home.
They lived in separate worlds, but were connected via video calls at night. This was also a way to ensure stability for their children if they became engineers or doctors.
Mr. Yadav was a guard in a Dubai hotel. His family received a photo of him in his new uniform. He had his heels pressed together, as if at military attention. The corner of the frame shows the Fanta water bottle that he used to drink water.
He complained to his family that he was not getting enough work to pay down the growing debt.
Ram Bikash’s last conversation with Mr. Yadav was just before midnight on March 9, as his sister and brother were still asleep in their shared bedroom. The video conference lasted approximately 15 minutes.
Ram Bikash stated, “Good night” before he ended the call. He smiled.
The ramifications of Mr. Yadav’s death the following day were immediate. What would happen to their education and future? Who would pay the debt of tens of thousand of dollars, which accrues interest every month?
Before any of this could be dealt with, however, the family needed to return the body home for the last rites.
Families felt fortunate even though it took several months to receive their loved ones’ bodies due to the pandemic. Many others had to deal with the fact that cremation would be done overseas. Many didn’t receive the ashes.
More than a dozen insurance companies offer migrant worker packages that cover death and injury. Different amounts are paid depending on whether the worker is injured. The insurance pays for the death of a loved one and covers the cost of transport up to $800. A family receives a $10,000 payment.
Over the past decade, Nepal, a country with 29 million inhabitants, has granted permits to over four million Nepalese to work in other countries. This does not include the millions of Indians who live across the open border.
Over the last five years, about 3,500 bodies have been returned to Nepal by the Nepali government. The most common cause of death was heart disease, followed closely by traffic accidents and workplace accidents and suicide.
The body of Mr. Yadav finally arrived in Kathmandu on April 13, five weeks after his death. On that date, the coffin was rolled out on a stretcher, from an airport side gate, near the entrance for migrant workers.
Purna Bhadur Lama, the driver, then moved the coffin to the truck’s back and tied it with a rope to the left wall of the truck. The eight-hour journey took him through lush hills to reach his family’s village.
Mr. Lama’s own story was one of migrant workers: His last stint began in 2006 in Qatar. He stayed there for only a year.
He estimates that he has delivered approximately 1,500 bodies in his seven-year career as a coffin delivery man. He gets about $15 per delivery. He makes approximately $15 per delivery, depending on the number of bodies he receives. Some months, he earns about $230 and others, $270, depending on how many bodies he receives. It is a lonely job. Sometimes, he has only the dead body to carry him. He drove 500 miles in ashes during the height of the pandemic.
After Mr. Lama arrived in the village with Mr. Yadav, Ms. Yadav wept while she held on to her younger son and daughter.
Many of the villager covered their noses when the coffin was removed from the riverbank. One woman came in to kiss Mr. Yadav.
The children and women began to flee, and their wailing faded into the village. The men sat on the pyre and tossed any wood, even the lid, into the flames.
Slowly, the riverbank began to take on an eerie feeling — sounds of crickets, soft chatter of men, who waited for Mr. Yadav’s fire to burn out. Its flame and crackle was just a tiny dot in the vast darkness.
The truck driver Mr. Lama turned around and began the long journey back to Kathmandu. He had to be back at the airport by 9:15 the next morning as another body arrived.
The Yadav family has seen their dreams fade in the months that followed.
A large portion of the approximately $10,000 they received in insurance went towards covering the funeral costs and cremation and for feeding their guests. Ms. Yadav continues to be contacted by village creditors for $20,000 owed.
She is unable to pay six month’s school fees for her children. If they don’t pay the balance, they may not be allowed to take their final exams.
The first victim was Anisha, as is so often the case. Ms. Yadav took her out of eighth grade at the school. She went back to her village home to visit her mother, and to attend the public school.
“I had always dreamed of being a doctor.” Anisha stated that this was also papa’s dream. “I don’t believe my mom will be in a position to raise money for medical school.