Starting Over: A Refugees Journey to the US
This is a part in the series, “New American Stories” produced by Erika Lorentzsen. For a refugee, any place away from their camp is a welcome change of scenery. One woman is thankful that life is behind her.
Charni Chanal, who goes by Cc, is dressed in a baby blue sari. She’s elegant in her slight frame. She’s from Bhutan, considered one of the happiest countries in Asia, but she is a refugee. She plays me her favorite song and tells me about life back in the refugee camp.
Cc- Living in the refugee camp was a terrible life that we were experiencing there. Because we are not getting plenty of water to drink. We are not getting plenty of food to eat, and we are living in a small hut with a plastic roof. The hut is made of bamboo and sixteen or 17 are living in a small house. We don’t have enough beds and sleep on the floor. Like the UNHCR is one of the organizations taking care of the Bhutanese. They give us food and provide the clothes once a year. But once a year isn’t sufficient you know.
As Cc talks about the camp, she also prepares a special tea and puts a little black pepper in it for flavor. She complains about the heat at the refugee camp.
We were living on the side of the river, and it was terrible hot.
The scorching conditions were making them sick, so the UN moved them to a different area.
20 miles from that previous area and we are living there. Same thing we have a small area and it s bound and we are in the circle and everywhere we have a boundary. We don‘t have to go out. If we go the outside people are jealous of us. They are not good people.
The Nepalese Bhutanese people are basically landless, because when they fled Bhutan for Nepal, the Nepalese didn’t accept them. Cc says a woman walking alone could get raped by the Nepalese. All the women had to stay together in groups. Udaya Nepal also lived in the refugee camp. He says at one point a fire burned down the entire camp.
It was about six in the evening. I heard bring water, bring water the house got on fire—other side. I didn’t believe. Then I climbed a tree. Then I saw. My God the huge flame of fire. People wanted to go put out the fire. After a while we have a roaring sound came. Again I climb up a tree, a peach tree and I saw. I was the only one left in the house. Grandparents were there. Father what to do we cannot put out the fire what to do. I’m very old what can I do. Will you come to help us? Suddenly Nepalese police came. If you live a life you can manage everything first of all you need to survive. I crossed a little stream and were left in the forest. Likewise, my wife and my children came and we saw the destruction of fire.
Udaya says unfortunately he was unable to recover his documents like his English teaching certificate and diploma, which means he can’t teach in the US. All of his belongings were lost in the fire. Udaya and Cc both work in cleaning services at Sanford. But this isn’t the only thing these refugees have overcome. Darci Asche of Lutheran Social Services is aware of their history. She is the community support service supervisor for LSS.
In the early 1980, 1990’s the emperor in Bhutan put out a decree that they would be one people, one nation. And so, about 250 years prior to that there was a migration of people from Nepal.
Ache says the Nepalese people in Bhutan were being forced by the emperor to change their religion, dress, language and culture.
They sort of protested it. And there was violence. And there were killings. And there were imprisonments. And there was torture. They were given the opportunity to make a choice between leaving voluntarily, or being imprisoned forever and possibly losing their lives, so they chose to live. And the armies of Bhutan and India actually transported them on the backs of flatbeds across the Bhutan, India and into Nepal, which their ancient land. And there were about 120,000 individuals. It’s basically an ethnic cleanings in its truest form.
LSS has brought 1, 241 refugees from Bhutan to North Dakota, since 2008. Now in America, they rebuild their lives—after some were left with nothing. Cc says people no longer look down upon her when she returns to Nepal, because now she’s an American. This is Erika Lorentzsen for Prairie Public.
In our next report, a bride from the Philippines meets her husband online on a Christian singles site in Jamestown. This series was made possible by the support of the Humanities Council and FM Area Foundation.