Ambika Adhikari was born in Bhutan and was exiled in 1993 when she was 15 years old. She lived in Goldhap and Timai refugee camps for 17 years before resettling in Minnesota in 2008.
Although there was not an opportunity for her to get an education in the camps, she had her own business selling vegetables. Since her arrival, she and her husband have learned English and are employed.
Her biggest expectation is to have a better life and education for their children.
AKB: I am in the home of Ambika Adhikari in St. Paul, Minnesota, and I’m here to interview you for the Bhutanese Oral History Project. Why don’t we start with some basic information: where you born and what year you left Bhutan.
AKB: Can you tell me what you did the camps, and what level of education you were able to receive?
AA: [I] did not have any education when [I] was in the camp, but [I] was a business woman, [I] use to sell vegetables.
AKB: When did you arrive in Minnesota?
AA: Minnesota, 2008, June 23rd.
AKB: Did you have any information of Minnesota before you arrived?
AKB: Can you tell me a little bit about when you first arrived and what you thought of Minnesota when you first came here?
AA: When [I] first came, [I] didn’t know any word of English, [I] felt bad, [I] felt guilty.
AKB: How do you feel now after you’ve been here for a few years?
AA: [I’m] happy now.
AKB: Do you consider this place to be your home now?
AA: This is my home, this is my place.
AKB: Let’s talk a little bit about religion. If you could describe what your religious practices were in the camp, and then what they are now.
AA: [I’m] Hindu, born Hindu, practicing Hindu. In the camp [I] was practicing Hinduism, [I] use to do Pujah, and Bhajan, and even here [we] do Pujahs, Sansjun and prayers.
AKB: Are you able to go to the Hindu Temple, or is it more of a home practice.
AA: Once in a while to the Temple, because it’s far, but mostly at home.
AKB: What assistance was available to you when you arrived here?
AA: [We] got a lot of help when [we] came. [We] were first resettled by Lutheran agency. But the most help [we] got is from St. Clement’s Church where Christina, her friend. And they continued helping [us], now they are our friends. Before they helped [us] as resettlement agencies, but now [we’ve] become friends and they come to visit [us]. Thank you, thank you, thank you to St. Clement’s Church!
AKB: When you said you were married in the camps, how did you end up meeting your husband?
AA: In my culture, there is no time to meet, just engaged. They came to ask for my hand, and I got married! Five men went to ask [my] hand for marriage.
AKB: Can we talk about the rest of your family and were they able to relocate here or are they still in the camps?
AA: Whole family, [my] entire family is in Minnesota. [My] dad, [my] brothers, I’m the only daughter, [my] husband’s family—father-in-law, mother-in-law, two brothers, and one sister, they are all here.
AKB: Did you all arrive at the same time?
AA: [We] were the first family to come. And within two years, everybody’s here. One came after six months, like that.
AKB: Are they all in St. Paul area?
AA: Yeah, everybody in St. Paul.
AKB: Did they all receive the same amount of help when they came?
AA: No, only [us]. One of [my] brothers got help the same way, but not everybody.
AKB: Why don’t we talk a little bit about arrival and what your expectations before you came to Minnesota.
AA: [I] did not have much expectation for [ourselves], but [we] had a lot of hope for [our] children, at least [our] children will have a better education, will speak English, they’ll do well. And [we] also thought our life will be better than refugee camp. Much, much more than [I] expected.
AKB: What have you been doing since the arrival and how have you been adjusting to this new culture?
AA: For the first four months, [I] went to school, after that [I] got a job in Goodwill as a transitional worker, and through Goodwill, [I] was placed in an nursing home, now [I] work there, and [I] have a driver’s license, I drive. I go to work driving, I come back driving.
AKB: Is it just you and your husband and children that live here in this home?
AA: Husband, wife, and the three kids.
AKB: Let’s talk about the Bhutanese community here. Since you were the first, I know Mangala was here, did you feel here?
AA: When [I] first came, myself and my nephew. Thirteen families live in this area. About fifteen families, actually.
MS: In this building alone there are five families. This one, downstairs, and another one, and two families like that. In total in this area—from here, here, here, this apartment they are about fifteen families. So they have a community right here.
AKB: How long did it take though, for all of the other families to come and feel like a community?
AA: About almost two years.
MS: When they first came, we were living in this apartment, me and my husband. We were the first ones to come here, and then they came, and then another one came, and another one came.
AKB: I’m just imagining how difficult it would be to come and resettle when there’s nobody.
AA: [I] was in a better position because [we] had a volunteer who spoke [our] language, Christian, spoke very good English. So whenever [we] had any problems, any bills, [we] would call Christiana, and she would come and help [us]. [We] felt that St. Clements Church really came to rescue them. There was a big team from St. Clements Church who had various people with jobs, one person was in charge of schools—like Lydia—she was totally responsible for enrolling the kids to school and making sure the kids are going to school system. And there was another lady who was in charge of [our] medical health—Christiana—and somebody else helped with the Green Card Application, and somebody else was constantly coming in and taking [us] to grocery, and [we] received a lot of help.
AKB: I’m thinking you’re coming to this new country with no English, you can’t read it, you can’t write it, it’s very difficult.
MS: At the end I will tell you a story of when they first come.
AKB: It’s really great that you had all that help. Now that there is community here, a Bhutanese community here, how involved here, and when do you all get together?
AA: When [our] auntie died, the whole community got involved. They came and the ceremony is like thirteen days, [we] don’t eat, there is some Pujah. The community didn’t leave [us] alone. The community at Lauderdale, from outside, even Minneapolis, the Bhutanese community came for [us], gave us company, brought food, some gave a little money and help. And then it’s continuing, if somebody’s child birthday, or if there is something [we] get together, if there is a special festival, like occasions, Teej and all that [we] get together. [We] are pretty much independent. It’s not like a Christian church were [we] have to meet every Sunday. But whenever there is a need they meet. We don’t have time like other people to meet every week because we know they only have holiday Saturday, Sunday, they need to rest, they need to clean and take care of children. But whenever there is need [we] meet.
AKB: So now there is Christian Bhutanese and Hindu Bhutanese in this community, do you think there is a divide with these two religions?
AA: Nothing. [We] get along well.
AA’s husband: They are all very busy and have no time to talk about religion. We don’t even know what people are doing in the next room!
AKB: You are now Americans!
AKB: Maybe this is the problem America, I think.
AA: [We] like it!
MS: Sometimes we are too inquisitive in our culture, so maybe.
AKB: I would like to wrap up the interview talking about expectations for your children. Your hopes for the future and what you want in Minnesota.
AA: [Our] hope is the children, I don’t think we can do anything because we don’t speak English, we have a citizen coming and we are worried that we may pass or not because of our language barrier, but our biggest hope is our children.
MS: Let me share one thing about them When they first came. They were flying American Airlines and they were supposed to arrive at 11 at night. From Chicago they were supposed to come. We had flight information, they didn’t come. All the time we were waiting and they didn’t come. 10:15, 11 they didn’t come. So we went to the airline, American Airline, we said, “We were expecting a family to come, there is an older lady, there are small kids, and two young couple.” They came like 11:45, almost 12:00, and you know what happened? When they were in the camp, they were told they are going to Twin Cities. They were told they were going to Minneapolis, so they gave that thing—the refugee thing—that you are going to Minneapolis. But the airline when they were in Chicago told them they were going to Twin City. So they were so scared they were lost, and they were all crying when they met us! And the grandma.
AA: Not me, not me!
MS: There was twenty dollar, and I believe she told him, “You don’t worry about it, I have this much money and we can eat for tonight and tomorrow maybe somebody will come.” So that’s the difference I wanted to tell that. They didn’t know the difference between Twin City and Minneapolis. They were so afraid, so scared. And now they are very independent: both of them have driver’s license, they have car, their kids are doing well in school, and they both have full time job, and he also does some part-time work in Temple. They are doing really well, nobody really needs to help them. That is an interesting story.
AA: [We] didn’t know about Twin Cities living in Nepal. But when [we] came to New York, they told [us] we were going to Twin City, and they put [us] on Chicago flight to transit, so when [we] came to Chicago they told [us] we were going to Twin City, and so [we] were really afraid, but there was this guy from Lutheran office who came to receive [us] in Chicago to help [us] but [we] didn’t know his language, he didn’t know [our] language. Luckily [we] met a guy from India, who as a passenger, and [we] speak a little bit of Hindi, Nepalese and Hindu they all speak this language. So [we] told this Indian guy we are going to Minnesota, they only know Minnesota, and I don’t know how to do so, so he explained to [us] and [we] were put on the plane.