Smon at home in N. Y. checking on his previous Nepal jungle refuge
A Bhutanese baby fascinated by her Spanish speaking neighbors
Smon, his family's engine, is tired
Dhan is too timid to work outside of the family home
A high caste in the Bhutanese social system who lamented that, with no-one acknowledging him, he felt like he doesn't exist.
Phul suffers acute culture shock upon arrival from the Nepal shelter
A holy woman next to decoration
The young women eagerly adjust to their new world
Buddha is adapting to his new culture
Tamang family members marry young at home
Tamang brothers honoring a Buddhist holiday
Elephants are an integral to Nepalese/Bhutanese culture
Grandfather and granddaughter after a party with much of their community
Manju talking to her boyfriend
Dressed for a festival
Birthday party guest
All the beds are used in sitting rooms
The loss of home often leads to a psychic dizziness not easily stabilized, especially for a refugee in an alien culture.
The family here know the violence of genocide, committed in their case by the feudal king of Bhutan; and suffered further loss when, in a UN supported DP camp in the Nepali jungle they lived for 25 years with barbed wire, armed guards and no future.
Bhutanese people in the United States have the highest rate of recorded suicide among refugees. According to several studies* factors are: many rural farmers who cannot read their own language; loss of reinforcers of identiy, e.g. possessions, citizenship; helplessness in a society based on individualism after years of dependence on charity; loss of neighbors along with their caste based social structure.
Less than two days after leaving their jungle camp, they encountered a visual cacophony of endless merchandise and food kiosks at New York's JFK airport terminal. They could not figure out how to buy the strange food. When taken to their new home, people who a few days ago had left stick huts often invaded by elephants, did not absorb as home a prewar 12 story brick Bronx apartment building - invaded by strange (Latin) loud music.
The adult Tamang children, having learned to read and write English either in the Nepali camp or in classes over the border in India, were determined to overcome fear of an overwhelmingly modern universe. I was assigned by the INTERNATIONAL RESCUE COMMITTEE to teach English to Phul Tamang, the family matriarch who had been too deeply distressed to leave the 4 room apartment she shared with nine family members. Having enjoyed a comfortable home with her large family on a farm where she cultivated a garden, like many Bhutanese she had had no education. Speaking a new language was impossible but, importantly, Mrs.Tamang relaxed as we got to know each other via coloring the letters of the alphabet, playing number games and chatting with the help of her adult children. There were 6 more family members living in the apartment when the seventh, their first native American grandson, was born and Phul's heart succumbed to contentment.
The Tamangs and of course were windows into our very different cultures. I was able to clarify a lot about their new culture, albeit New York style. They demonstrated for me the profound importance of close, non-critical family acceptance. After a few years spent in their rooms, I'm grateful to be considered a family member.