MANCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE, US, March 21, 2014 (The Smithsonian Magazine, by S. Halpern and B. McKibben): If you want to understand how it feels to leave your country behind and start anew, there are a million questions you could ask a refugee: about jobs and housing and education. But if you ask those questions over dinner, they're likely to be answered a little differently. Because three times a day your deepest, oldest instincts kick in. Because the mind likes to look ahead but the stomach tends to think backward.
We were in the warm kitchen of a small second-floor walk-up in a gritty section of the gritty town of Manchester, New Hampshire, and we were gobbling momo. And every few minutes the door to the apartment would open and yet another young person--a son, daughter, niece or nephew--would enter, usually carrying a book bag. These were a few of the local representatives of the Bhutanese diaspora, which began in the early 1990s when the largely Buddhist kingdom forced 108,000 Bhutanese of Nepali descent, most of them Hindu, out of the country and across borders into Nepal. They waited there in refugee camps for almost two decades and then, beginning in 2007, were resettled around the world--Australia, Canada and other countries took some, but around 70,000 were admitted to the United States, one of the largest influxes of refugees (from one of the smallest countries) in recent times.
Suraj Budathoki, 30, says "There are two things we tell our young people when they arrive. Get a job, whatever level. And go to school." For him, the greatest sadness of those decades in the refugee camp was that he had no chance to work--"there was no fruitful activity." Once a nurse's aide, he now helps people sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Oh, and he's just finished a degree program to become a surgical technician. So far he's saved up US$16,000 for a house of his own. "USA stands for U Start Again," he says.
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