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Before his refugee cash assistance dried up this spring, Hari Lamitarey popped “job interview” into Google. He discovered something fascinating.
In America, you don’t bow your head, gaze at your shoes and mutter softly when you talk to a potential boss. Instead, found the soft spoken, unfailingly smiling Hari, “you should stare them right in the eye. Shake hands without fears.”
Hari, a 30 something Bhutanese, spent his adult life in a Nepali refugee camp. When he arrived in Fargo last fall, he brought a pair of shoes, six pairs of socks and his laminated transcript from Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu, where he received a master’s in mathematics.
Lutheran Social Services touts the 370 Bhutanese it has resettled in Cass County since 2008 as a success story in the making. They are a spirited, outgoing bunch, bent on getting “American” right. But even as they’ve made a promising start, Hari and fellow Bhutanese say success can sometimes seem elusive.
“Back home, we were educated; we were teachers,” says Hari. “Now we are lost. In the country of opportunity, optimism and freedom, we are lost.”
An awesome new place
Next to a string of south Fargo apartment multiplexes is a long tunnel of garages, their white doors facing each other impassively. Smack in the middle is an explosion of color and activity: Hari’s garage.
On any given weekend, there might be women dancing there in pink, red and turquoise saris. flag fluttering over the pictures of Krishna and Ganesha, candles and ficus plants.
Men and women might practice staring each other in the eye and shaking hands fearlessly. Hari’s friend Kashi Adhikari might invoke the dangers of drugs, complacency and excessive Facebook use to cross legged preteens.
“Seventeen years of refugee life is harder than what we have to do here,” Hari tells them.
The refugees, a Hindu minority of Nepali descent, were driven out of Bhutan, a tiny Buddhist kingdom wedged between India and China that embraced a “One Nation, One People” policy in the early 1990s.
They settled in Nepali camps, thatched roof and bamboo affairs with no indoor plumbing. The camps’ close quarters fostered the tight knit sense of community the Bhutanese are trying to replicate in Hari’s garage.
Nepal never afforded these refugees citizenship or a chance to integrate into its society. That’s why a few years back, the United Nations set out to resettle 60,000 Bhutanese in six new host countries. Fargo is slated to welcome another 300 Bhutanese in the next three years.