Amy’s Malaysia Adventure, Pt. One

Cutest. Airplane. Ever.

Amy here. I am sitting in the Taipei airport on the way to Malaysia. I am excited, nervous, excited. Ramyata, our co-director (a super kick-a** journalist) is meeting me in Kuala Lumpur from Nepal.

Our mission is twofold (though each fold is a bit involved):

ONE: To see Kumar, Shanta’s brother, whom I have not seen for almost three years, and show him Drawing the Tiger (in which he reveals much of his inner thoughts about his sister’s death, his marriage, his parents—you know, basically his life). He is the only one in the family who has not seen the film yet. Ramyata and I will visit the dorms where he stays, two hours out of KL near the factory where he works. We’ll have him watch on a laptop. Then, next weekend, on the 17th, we will all go Kuala Lumpur and screen the film at KLEFF, the Kuala Lumpur Eco Film Festival together.

TWO: To continue to tell Kumar’s migrant labor story. To keep a low profile there, I have a very elegant and tiny video camera kit in a rucksack—the kit is another story, which Scott will fill in in good time.

I have woken up the last week leading up to this trip with my stomach in knots. I have had to remind myself to breathe as I prepared.

At the core, I know this is the right thing to be doing—it has been a dream of mine to bring the film to Kumar and have him be a part of sharing it. But all around that core there are so many uncertainties.

For the purpose of transparency and because I believe the subject and documentarian relationship deserves reflection, I am going to lay my worries out here.

Worry 1: What if Kumar doesn’t like the film? What if he feels he was misrepresented? Or, what if it is Just. Too. Much? Painful? Embarrassing?

Worry 2: What if life in KL and his new job is truly horrible for Kumar and I can’t do anything about it? Or, what if I can?

How will I balance my relationship with Kumar as his personal documentarian AND his friend? I want to be present with him and just hang out. I really like him. I am pretty sure he really likes me. I can’t communicate easily with him, but we have this history that has brought us together and underneath the all the words we don’t understand, is a lot of warmth. I worry it will be hard to connect with him in Malaysia from behind the lens.

Screen Shot 2015-10-11 at 11.48.19 PM
Kumar at his old job in Kathmandu

At the same time—I feel I would not be doing my job if I did not film him.

Kumar’s story as a Nepali man who has left his country with the hope of relieving his family from their poverty is so common and tragic. At least 1,500 Nepali men leave Kathmandu every day to go to countries like Malaysia, Dubai, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirites after being promised they will make money to send home. Many claim they were deceived and are exploited by their employers. More Nepalis die while working Malaysia more than any other migrant hiring country.

Ramyata feels migrant labor is one of the biggest things effecting her country today, and with Kumar, we have this intimate, long-term angle from which to tell this story that seems so far to be told on a surface level. So we are taking it all the way with the goal of making a video piece or pieces that will create awareness around the social and emotional costs of migrant labor as well as fuel the migrant labor activist movement. (There is one. I am going to learn more about it this week.)

I don’t know to what degree Kumar understands what we are trying to do or what he thinks it means. I asked him way back in 2011 via Ramyata if he thought our film would help anyone. He said, “I doubt it,” and laughed a little.

This is when I wished I was a dentist and worked for Dentists Without Borders. Teeth are a no brainer compared to stories. Not a lot of moral ambituity in dentistry; we all need to chew. But dental hygiene does not interest me the way us humans do.

Worry 3: What if my new video camera setup fails me? What if I produce crappy footage, or nice footage with bad sound?

Worry 4: What if jetlag makes me inept?

Worry 5: What if Malaysians don’t like Drawing the Tiger? Or, worse, what if people show pity for Kumar after the screening? I think that will make me uncomfortable and him as well. It is not why we made the film.

Worry 6: What if I get sick? Like pukey sick?

Worry 7 (actually not a worry, just a bummer): I am really going to miss our son. He said to me as I put him to bed tonight, “Mommy, when are you going to get a job that doesn’t make you go away so much?”

At least, I think those are all of them. All my big fears. Splayed out.

Now, I am going to say how thrilled I am to be doing this! I can’t wait to see Kumar. I adore him. And, how thrilled to be working with Ramyata.

The last line of Drawing the Tiger, Kumar says, “Let’s see what happens now….”



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