Reporter’s Diary: A life reborn
Living in United States
The United States announced the resettlement of exiled Bhutanese purely on the ground of humanitarian cause. Refugees from middle-east, Cuba, Myanmar, Congo, Burundi, Kenya and Somalia are being resettled here on different grounds. Most refugees from Iraq are generated by the US led war in Iraq, whereas Cuban refugees have fled the one- man regime of Castro. Bhutanese refugees are distantly related to the American policy in south and south-east Asia, so is different in nature of resettlement.
English as second language is taught to all refugees in the ESL schools run by the resettlement agencies. People learn to read, write and converse in English in these classes. Besides, orientation on cross- cultural aspects of American society, job- orientation, orientation on banking and keeping a credit history are regular part of ESL classes. Refugees are required to go to the ESL classes regularly in order to get the benefits supplied by federal government.
The effective and systematic arrangement of public facility that impressed me most is the public transportation. Buses ply in the various places of metro and interstate highways on time given. One cannot pose to bargain over the bus fare, and all buses are wheel chair accessible.
The worst part of American life is when you become sick. Medicines are not easily available and hospitalization is too costly. If you need to see a doctor, you have to get an appointment before hand, even before you become sick. People who need to take a sick leave from their work have to produce the doctor’s appointment slip or an excuse slip as written evidence to their employer.
Health insurance is provided to all refugees for eight months at first, which can be extended to cover the health needs depending upon the condition of families or individuals. Elderly people above 65 and persons with disabilities are provided with the SSI benefits.
USA is ranked on 37th position in terms of providing health facilities to the citizens, according to a survey. I usually read the local newspaper of Louisville, The Courier- Journal which carries ample news and features, citing some living examples of poor health insurance coverage in United States.
Another worrying part of American life at the present context is the country’s deteriorating economy which has added frustration of being unemployed or being laid off, even when employed. Thousands of American citizens visit job fairs, apply for food stamp benefits after being laid off, or browse over the internet to get a temporary employment. However, refugees are assisted by the job developers to find a job, apply for it and take to the interviews as required. The unskilled exiled Bhutanese added to their illiteracy, with their farming background, do not have many options to go for an appropriate employment. If president Obama’s stimulus package really means something, it might help the refugees too to be employed and make their living.
Education and training of resettled refugees
Children below eighteen years are enrolled in public schools which provide free education up to grade XII. Children below five years are not taken by the public schools for they are considered too young to go to schools. In Louisville, the public schools are called Jefferson County Public Schools. Parents take their below-six children along with them to ESL schools which also provide day care facilities, and I do the same to my child of five and half years. Further education of those who have completed grade XII or bachelor level seems next impossible right now.
Training on medical field is considered a covetous one, for most of the job advertisements are for hiring the medical persons. Refugees, including some Bhutanese, are sponsored for the nursing assistant training that is essentially a basic training required to serve as an assistant to nurses and doctors in hospitals. Academic degree owned in Nepal or Bhutan gets less preference to such trainings, at the outset.
In Kentucky, Bhutanese community lives in close interactions with the resettled refugees from Asia and Africa, but rarely with the local residents. Most Bhutanese being Hindus, have come to contact with the Indian community, at least to share the common festivals. Mahashivaratri became one such occasion for all Hindus to celebrate the ‘Night of Lord Shiva’ in a Hindu temple of Louisville. Elite Indians like Dr. Bhatnagar and Gaurav Srivastav welcomed the Bhutanese community on the occasion. When Bhutanese and Indians together chanted the hums with offerings, it seemed we forgot Delhi’s bias attitude towards the exiled Bhutanese in general. We, in fact cherished once again, the long-standing people-to-people friendship between India and Bhutan. Bishnu Nepal took the leadership to thank the Indian community of Louisville for sponsoring the gathering.
A world of consumerism
In America, we virtually entered into a world of consumerism. Our simple food, dal-bhat- duku is yet favorite in our kitchen. Alongside, we have begun to be habituated with the canned food items, soda water, roasted chicken items and some bakeries. We are compelled to buy non-food household items like brooms, tissue papers, toilet cleaners, gels, detergents, scrubbers, air-fresheners and array of cosmetic items, of course. Shopping malls like Walmart, Kroger, Walgreens provide almost everything under a single roof. For us, Indian stores are favorite shopping centers where we can find items of our typical choice, used to them for long. In Louisville, we visit Indian stores during weekends to look for pickles, beaten-rice, eastern variety of pulses, green chilies and mustard oil.