A Bhutanese Refugee’s Resettlement Diary: Part 1

Ganesh Gurung walks onto the WSU campus.

By Ganesh Gurung

Ganesh Gurung walks onto the WSU campus.

With confused smiles on our faces, determined heart and trembling footsteps, we chose the door of unknown fate once again. The resettlement process for Bhutanese Refugees was a widely accepted idea but it was also a very confusing process for many of the Bhutanese families in the sense that they wondered whether they would be able to overcome the challenges in the new country or not. Most of them who had been through this process of permanent resettlement had the same experience with anxiety because of barriers like language, opportunity, culture, religion, illiteracy and new laws. A lot of unsolved questions distressed the mind of thousands of Bhutanese people during the resettlement process.

With such unfamiliar challenges to tackle and uncertain happiness mixed with little hopes, I also finally decided to fly towards the USA for permanent resettlement with my family. However, I knew that life would not be as easy. Flying to a foreign country to start a new life again was itself a very big challenge for me and might have been the same story for other refugee friends and families too. Every refugee family flew to a different foreign country for permanent resettlement with the same purpose of having a better life and providing better education to their children.

During the course of resettlement, separation from families and neighbors with whom we had lived for a long time was the main problem for a number of refugee families. This separation of the families and neighbors was based on their marital status, future planning, countries on option for the resettlement, friendship ties, and many other personal reasons. The bitter truth of this family separation seems one of the reasons for depression and suicide among resettled Bhutanese immigrants in different states of the U.S.A. According to an article by Encarnacion Pyle in The Columbus Dispatch, suicide risk is high among Bhutanese immigrants in Central Ohio, one of the states which has a high number of Bhutanese immigrants. A recent survey of two hundred Bhutanese immigrants in Ohio showed that the suicide rate among Bhutanese immigrants is twice as high as elsewhere in the country, and the reasons are anxiety, depression and posttraumatic stress. Bhutanese immigrants have always been separated from their motherland, their rights, cultural privileges, and now they are separated from their friends and families too.

My first day in the U.S.A. was a day to be remembered as it made all of us extremely happy after meeting family and friends who had been resettled earlier. My family and I landed in Utah on August 30, 2012. Our parents, friends and relatives were at the main door of the airport to welcome us. We were very delighted to land in that beautiful airport, with fresh summer air, colored streets, tall buildings, wide roads and beautiful cars on the roads like fireflies. We were very much astonished to see my youngest brother who was only twenty drive us in his car from the airport. I even asked him, “How could you drive in such a comfortable way? When did you learn to drive?” He just answered, “Don’t worry brother, it is very simple. You will learn very quickly brother.” After a ten or twelve-minute drive, we reached his private, very beautiful four-bedroom house, attractively decorated with expensive furniture, a finished basement and an attached garage. All our relatives and friends gathered in the same house and welcomed us with a blasting party that night. My two little daughters jumped on the thick mattress and were extremely happy in their own way. I did not know when they fell asleep.

The next morning, my brother dropped us at the house which was assigned to us. It was also very beautiful, a clean, two bedroom apartment with a finished basement. One of my friends from the Bhutanese community was a caseworker assigned to us. He took us for further official documentation and hospital appointments. The caseworker applied for food stamps for us as well as social security and medical benefits. After two months, with the help of my friends, I started working in a 7-Eleven store as a sales person. I was very happy to know that I could speak to and understand a diverse group of people in English, which I was worried about before beginning the job. The owner of the store, convinced of my capacity to carry my job to next level, taught me to do orderings and promotional sales as well to improve my business skills. I was put on the busiest schedule because of my good attitude, hardworking ethic and the improvement which I showed in English. Simultaneously, my kids began their schooling. I thought that I had overcome one of the challenges of coming to a new land at this point. My hope of doing better and having energy to sustain a happy life as a responsible parent, dedicated husband and respectable individual in the community became more solid.

The unforgettable past in those jungles and the suffocating life in the refugee camp in Nepal had definitely taught us to be responsible and motivated to change our lives. With the blessing of almighty God, we are here in the country with safe living conditions and plenty of opportunities. At present, looking at my own image in the mirror, I find myself happy, progressive and successful compared to the life that I had led in the jungles and in those clustered refugee camps without any opportunities.

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