The Darjees and One Year of Granite State Living

May 29, 2012

Originally broadcast on Friday, May 25.

(Sound of Keith trying to take their picture and messing up...Darjees laugh)

It’s Friday evening in May and the Darjee family is winding down from another long work week. After today’s visit they plan on going grocery shopping, having dinner and then over the weekend, visiting friends and going to church.  It’s not that much different than probably many families in Concord this weekend.  But for the Darjees even a simple weekend like this is light years away from how they were living less than one year ago in a refugee camp in Nepal.

(Keith messes up again and family laughs).

Now the Darjees live in a nicely furnished apartment, Ram and his mother have full time jobs, Ram is also learning English and has high hopes to enter New Hampshire Technical Institute this fall. Bhagaraith Kahtiwatah was the Darjees case worker and has helped them over the past year to adapt to life in the Granite State

The Darjee family has done great in the process of integrating into the country. When they first came, they were quite worried how they were going to make their life beautiful and successful, but with the passing of time, they were able to get job and after having job, they bought their car and also they got their license. So it’s a great success. I should say that they are one of the exemplary figures among the community members

But over the past year I’ve seen a change in Ram. He looks tired. When I asked him how things were going, I got a less than enthusiastic OK.  I asked him why.

First thing is, I am thinking about studying and I’m head of household and there are things going on in my mind about how to handle the family and how to manage to go back to school. There are a lot of obstacles

Ram is correct about that. Most of the benefits that refugees receive in their first year have run out for his family. Add to that he has a wife and child to support and rent to pay.  His English comprehension has improved immensely but he still struggles with the language Once again Bhagaraith Kahtiwatah.

Rom wants to go to college and earn a high degree over here, but I’m seeing how far it could be successful. He wants to study and at the meantime he wants to work. I don’t know how he’s going to balance those. He lived in the refugee camp for such a long period of time. So he didn’t’ have exposure outside. It takes time to fill a gap between refugee camp and America, but still he’s doing great. So a high degree could be one of the mechanisms for filling that gap.

I think once refugees are established and they’re looking beyond their first year, the idea of upward mobility is an issue for refugees.

Amy Marshildon is director of Services for New Americans for Lutheran Social Services in Concord

 So once refugees get their foot in the door with employment, I think that they’re interested in what we call job upgrades. Many times refugees are placed in the first available job and it may not be reflective of their training or their expertise from their home country, so I think after the first year of resettlement, many refugees are interested in trying to reclaim their lives in that way.

There have been other challenges as well like getting used to American culture.  Living in a refugee camp for most of his life there was a lot that Ram was never exposed to.

 In Bhutanese culture, people don’t live together before getting married. It used to be arranged marriage, where parents were involved whether to marry with somebody or not and it has been changed to a love marriage but love marriages is different than what is usually done here.

Ram has also been frustrated by his school-aged sisters who have seemed to have assimilated into American culture a lot faster than he has.

Here is over-freedom and it is very hard to understand the culture. Sometimes I feel our culture is lost because its very hard to direct kids to follow our own culture. We usually talk in a family and make a decision as a family but here people make personal decision. Here, parents cannot direct their children to wear right clothes which is proper to their family. I think that’s happening because kids are trying to adapt into American culture and interacting more with American girls so they are acting more that way

But despite the hard work and culture clashes, the Ram Darjee is incredibly grateful for his new life in the Granite state. When I asked him if he feels American, he said he’s getting more American. But he also says he misses his motherland of Bhutan despite having very few memories of ever living there. But when I asked him if he would ever move back, if the political situation improved, he said he’d only go back to visit

I think I can settle here instead of settling in Bhutan by the times things would get better I think I would start adapting more here. I came here to America, committed to living here. I’ve have been able to fulfill my dreams living here in America, I am proud to live here in America

I asked Ram what were his favorite things about living in New Hampshire? He pretty much told me that the Granite State had all the things the refugee camp did not.... it wasn’t crowded, there wasn’t much vandalism and next to no robberies.  But I wanted something tangible and Rom told me that the other thing he  likes about living in America it was his car.

In Nepal, those people who used to own car, they were really wealthy peoples but here everyone can buy a car and everyone can drive a car. I can go anywhere I like.

Car sound

So for Ram the car represents a very American idea of freedom.  Something they never had in their nearly two decades in a refugee camp. This summer, they’ll take their car down to Virginia to visit Saraswarti’s dad. It will be the first time they’ll be together in two years.

(sound up)

June 30th will be a big day for the Darjee family... It’s their daughter Angel’s second birthday.  It’s also the couple’s anniversary. But June 30th is also the day when one year ago, Ram, Sarawarti and Angel left a Nepalese refugee camp and took a 5 day journey to the Granite State to be the next small chapter in New Hampshire’s Immigration story.

For NHPR, I'm Keith Shields