Reporter’s Diary: One year in the USA

Published on Apr 13 2009 // Opinion
By Kazi Gautam

When I reached office of the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO), a wing of US CCB, one of the receiving agencies in Syracuse, NY, I was thrilled to see the hall full of people. I mean the resettled Bhutanese. There was a meeting to plan for establishing a community center. The Bhutanese community in Syracuse has been planning for a community center to carry out their own activities. Running their own ESL classes, meeting bi weekly to welcome the new arrivals, planning the future programs, exploring the ways to preserve cultural identity, and performing religious, social and cultural activities are some of the things to be carried out in the community center. 

It takes me by surprise when I think that I have passed eleven months in Syracuse after getting resettled here. There was the time when one could only see a few resettled Bhutanese in the area. However, the story has a different aspect after 11 months when Syracuse alone has over 300 Bhutanese. 

A gathering of Bhutanese. Photo: Kazi Gautam/APFAnews
A gathering of Bhutanese. Photo: Kazi Gautam/APFAnews

When Hari Bangaley, my case manager received my wife and me in the airport, I felt the warmth of the Nepali heart and his smile and greeting erased my tiredness then. However, these days the new comers are greeted by not less that five people. The Syracuse streets are usually covered by the Bhutanese people. Some are found walking to the groceries and some are walking to hospitals. Many of them are encountered on their ways to ESL classes. Some are seen walking to the Madina Halal, one of the three places where a goat meat is sold.

These days I see many people have been struggling to get employed. The educated people fill application online and visit employers in person while others have to rely on their job developers. Incredibly true, around twenty Bhutanese got employed in March which has eased the pain of both the exiled Bhutanese and the receiving agencies. I still remember those days when I filled dozens applications online and in person before I was hired by the Refugee Assistance Program (RAP). But I was called only at one place for an interview. I did not take the job of a cashier at Wegmans, a grocery store that offered me a part time job. I rejected the job not because I wanted a better one. The only reason was I wanted to work with my own folks. I love to work among the Bhutanese group. There are many Bhutanese who have a problem of English. I have always thought that no one should suffer in the third country if they do not have English good enough to communicate with the Americans. It was after four month that I started to work as a refugee interpreter. My difficult days started then when I had to walk everyday, from one hospital to the other, in the chilled weather, most of the time without eating lunch. I used to compare the days when I was in Kathmandu, working with a team of APFA-Bhutan and BNS, go to Nepal FM, record the program and come back home walking. Whenever I walked as a part of my job, I really missed Teju dai, Thakur bhai, Indraji, Bandu Vidya and off course Ichha. I usually have a picture in my mind–the picture of my friends, carrying a camera and a recorder, walking for hours, getting nothing but satisfaction. When I have no money, I think of Indraji and Bidhya, just wonder how they would manage the bucks to help all three things get going.

These days I have a full time job. My day usually starts at eight in the morning when I head towards my office RAP. RAP is the place that provides ESL classes to the refugees and also helps them get access to the health care system. Besides, Green Card Application procedures too are carried out here. Whenever I reach the office I become glad to see groups of people-both old and young-attending English classes. They really seem committed to learn English, one of the tough jobs that they have to carry out. In the USA, everything depends upon the knowledge of English. Every thing–from getting job to availing health facilities, getting in touch with the other refugees or exchanging culture, and eventually one may not get the US citizenship if she/he does not know reading and writing English. In fact, one should have at least a general knowledge of the history of the USA to be considered for the citizenship. 

One of the sad things about the refugees is not to keep time. There is still far to go before they learn to be punctual. Everything is systemic here. Even if one has sufficient amount of money he cannot go to hospital to get examined or for any health evaluation. He needs to schedule an appointment ahead of time. As I am working as a Nationality Worker for the exiled Bhutanese whose number is growing, I have to look after their entire health related issues—scheduling their doctor’s appointment, taking them for immunization, and et al.  Many of the people do not keep up their appointment. What’s next? They have to wait for another one month to get another date. 

Despite the problems the refugees have been facing they seem to enjoy the new world.  Because the days are getting warmer, people are found basking in the ground. Many of them visit the Laxmi Narayan Temple every week. It is the only one Hindu temple in the area. The elderly folks seem to be nostalgic every time they participate in the Puja.

To wrap up, Hari Bangaley is an interesting person. He cannot help himself without helping others. Whether it is helping the people apply for the Food stamp or Social Security, rushing them to emergency room or the grocery store, or welcoming the people at an airport–he is always there. People think they are blessed to have him as their case manager. 

My work is similar to his–lot of tension and odd schedule. But when I think of my team of APFA-Bhutan and BNS and the work we have been doing for the benefit of people, I just forget everything but get contentment thinking that I am a lucky one whom the god has given a chance to serving my own countrymen somewhere far away from my own country.