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Madeline Drexler

Madeline Drexler is the editor of Harvard Public Health magazine and a senior fellow at Brandeis University’s Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism. Drexler’s work was selected for Best American Travel Writing 2015, and has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Nation, Tricycle, and other national publications. 

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Illustration by Simon Pemberton

500 Lifetimes [private]

Fall 2017 | Reporting

On September 10, 2014, just a few hours before dawn in Bhutan’s Chumey Valley, a teenage boy and girl hanged themselves side by side from a tree in the sloping, silvery conifer forest behind their high school. They had been caught in a relationship, which is forbidden by school rules, and were likely to be suspended. Their shared noose was the boy’s kabney, the cream-colored scarf made of raw silk which is part of the traditional attire (along with the robe-like gho) required for Bhutanese males in formal settings. At the end of a work day, it is common to see men on the street folding their kabneys with dignity and tenderness.

A health worker on the police investigative team took a photo of the hanging bodies with his phone. He sent the image to friends via WeChat. Within minutes, the grisly picture went viral. “True love” was a common pronouncement on social media among young Bhutanese, who saw the deaths as the ultimate romantic sacrifice. Older Bhutanese considered it another sign of the idyllically isolated country’s tainted bargain with modern life. Most people, of any age, saw the deaths as karma.


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