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December 5, 2009

Burmese FlagOur first family was an 18-year-old man from Burma. My first impression was that we were talking with a young teen and I was wondering why his parents weren’t meeting with us. He’s a small, young looking man who has already experienced immense turmoil. When in Burma, he had been a member of the Buddhist Monks in Burma (which was a group of monks that rose up in non-voilent protest tot he government for how they were treating the people of Burma) fighting against the Burmese government. He ran away to a refugee camp at age 14. It was unclear how long he had been with the Buddhist Monks. He believes his parents and 3 or 4 of his 5 brothers are still in his home village; 1 or 2 of his brothers are still in the camp. He now lives with two other men from Burma who do not speak his language. It seems this has been a recurring issue for him as he stated education was offered at the camp but the teacher did not speak his language. His job was to detassle corn.

He says he likes it here very much. He misses his family yet realizes he can do nothing about this. He would like some books for studying, warm clothes and a blanket. Heart-breaking simplicity.

Bhutanese FlagOur second family is from Bhutan: mother, father, 5-year-old son and sister of the father. The sister speaks English quite well and so a translator was not needed. The sister told us that the family had lived in a refugee camp in Nepal for 18 years. Getting to the camp had been a hardship. She got teary-eyed when relating how they had to beg for food during the day and sleep on the ground at night, hiding from the soldiers. They were finally put on a bus and taken to the refugee camp. Food was scarce in the camp. They would have to wait for rice, dai, salt, and sugar, which were their staples. Each family was given four bamboo branches to make their hut. The men had to work to get sticks to use. A piece of plastic served as the roof. She’s anticipating her parents coming soon. Her father is in poor health. Does she like America? “It’s very nice. I’m so happy now. I am not going back again.”

Bhutanese FlagOur third family is from Bhutan. Flavorful aromas were in the air as we approached our last visit of the day. The family was on the floor, busily preparing food. They quickly moved everything and spread a bedspread on the floor for us to sit on. Two married couples live here: middle-aged parents and their son and his wife. Several other people were sitting around in the living room with us. It was later revealed why the others were present….

The translator told us the son and his wife had lived here first, having transferred from California with his job. His parents just moved from California to join them. It was apparent they had brought nothing with them.

Prior to coming to the USA, they had lived in a refugee camp in Nepal, having been forced to leave Bhutan. The dad had been a carpenter and mason; they were southern Hindus. In 1989 the king adopted a policy to “cleanse” the country of Hindus and Christians. He said the army came to the villages and announced everyone had one week to leave the country. Many were imprisoned and killed. They chose to leave, expecting to be received with tolerance by India. It sounded like their 18 years in the refugee camp were not pleasant. They were provided with little food, substandard healthcare and some education. In the camp there were 150,000 people who had registered. Years later, many are still in the camp. They had only expected to stay for 4-6 months, not 18 years.

About America he says, “Here we have options, hope, and aspirations. We trust America.”

We thought this concluded our visit but we were wrong. The food they had been preparing was for us…and the other guests who were there with us. We were served a delicious meal of “Maw-mu,” which is steamed vegetables wrapped in pastry. As is their tradition, we from WTAP and their guests were served first; when they were sure we had been given enough, the parents ate. We were told the daughter-in-law is always the last to eat. I never did see her eat and only hope she did as it was so very tasty. We left full and feeling very special.

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