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Bhutan to America
The Douglas Anderson chapter of Amnesty International, sponsored by Melanie Webb, recently took on a project to aid refugees in adapting to American life. They worked with Catholic Charities to provide supplies including a tent, banner and decorations. The women sell their crafts at local arts markets.
Many of the refugees experience culture shock when first entering the indulgent, technologically advanced American community.
At twelve years old Tika Adhikari left her home of Bhutan for a refugee camp in Nepal to escape war and poverty. A younger Tika Adhikari spent nineteen years of her life in a Nepalese refugee camp as a volunteer teacher. Adhikari moved to America with her son Gorab, born in the camp in 2004, and her husband whom she married in the camp. Out of four other countries she could choose from—others including Denmark and Australia—Adhikari chose call America home, because of wonderful stories she had heard.
The Refugee camp, a safe haven of hope, gave Adhikari a plethora of challenges, none of which she couldn’t conquer.
“The camps had lots of people in a concentrated area, but the houses were more comfortable than you would expect, but are still small tents.” Says Adhikari, “To wash clothes you have to bring water from far from the home and dig a mud hole and use a tarp to wash the clothes. We had much less technology.”
Scarce work left few teaching positions, but Adhikari enjoyed one of them.
“I taught English language. The students are required to talk in only English and have English word books,” Adhikari tells proudly. “The teaching and discipline was strict, like in America. We had eight classes a day, much like here, but also singing and dancing and Hindi language and reading. The difference is the children there asked me to teach also on Saturday and Sunday.”
The Red Cross, instrumental in keeping the refugees clothed and fed, helped refugees like Adhikari escape Bhutan.
“Well, we got our food from the organization Red Cross and UNICEF, but also from flea markets and farmers in Bhutan. They gave us our clothes from during the exile period.”
Despite the lack of technology, two of the most beautiful events in Adhikari’s life happened in the camp.
“I met my husband, Madhu, there. Our families talked to approve us for each other,” Adhikari says. “Then we talked and got to know each other. Then we got married, and moved the capital city of Nepal, Kathmandu. Women wear Tikas, like my name, they are red dots on the forehead that symbolize marriage. We also have necklace, not rings. My Tika is very small because in America they don’t wear them, and I am in America now. Also, my son Gorab was also born in the camp in 2004.”
When asked how her parents named her “Tika” and how she decided to name her son Gorab, Adhikari told that much more goes into naming a Nepalese child.
“We are named after Hindu gods or goddesses. On the eleventh day of birth, the priest comes in and tells you your child’s name based on the time and day of the week the child was born in relation to the gods and goddesses,” Adhikari explains. “This name is the legal name, mine is Devi. Tika is my middle name that my parents chose, an everyday name, because there are so few Hindu names. The priest’s name is for the legal system.”
Adhikari has an ability to wonder over the simplest necessities so readily available to Americans.
“It is a night and day difference,” says Adhikari, “Here we have electricity and good hospitals like Shands where father-in-law has been, but in the camps we had kerosene lamps and you had no appointment to see doctors, you just had to wait in a line with your health cards. They do have the same medicines that America has; the Red Cross brought them over.”
The tedious process of safely and legally migrating to the United States took years.
“The United States government decides who can come.” Says Adhikari, “They decide at the I.O.M. (International Organization for Migration), there is a big resettlement office near the camp. We had to visit every two months for questions they asked like medical and criminal history and to take our pictures. There are three more years of people coming from the camps. Now they call to check up every two months.”
Just because the Adhikaris have successfully immigrated to the United States, doesn’t mean their troubles have ended. Tika Adhikari has shown nothing less than gratitude towards her opportunity to leave Bhutan for the refugee camp, and ultimately the United States.
“I am studying to be a Certified Nurse’s Assistant, I study hard, but it is difficult to know where to apply, even though my whole family has two cars now. My husband is the chief editor of The Rising Sun, a global public school education publication. I don’t know though, we’ll just have to see what is going to come to us.”