Harka and her family arrived to the United States in 2010. They fled cultural persecution in their home country of Bhutan nearly 20 years ago and had been living in a refugee camp in Nepal waiting and hoping. As we approached the holiday season, we sat down with her to talk about why Christmas is so special for her.
Can you share a bit about when you left Bhutan? When I was in Bhutan I was a very little child. As far as I know, the reason we left Bhutan was due to the persecution of Nepali people.
Our mother tongue was Nepali because our ancestors were from Nepal and came to Bhutan, so we speak Nepali language, but in Bhutan they speak Dzongkha language. Nepali people were forced to adopt their culture. We have different culture. Ladies have to cut their hair—they couldn’t wear it long. There was a special dress of Bhutan and we had to wear that. We couldn’t wear other kinds of dress–both ladies and men. There were two different cultures, our two options were to practice their culture or to leave the country. We came to Nepal and settled as a refugee for 18 years.
The refugee camp was difficult. Some people spent 19-20 years in refugee camp, but we came later and spent almost 18 years. We were not citizens; we were not allowed to go outside to work as citizens. We were unable to get proper salary or wages. They would pay us less than they said they would.
Of your whole family, you were some of the first to come the US, right? We didn’t know if we would be in one place or not. I came here through my nephew and the agency told us to go through the process, but we didn’t know about the rest of my family… but we were reunited 5 families for Christmas. It was very amazing and it was the very great plan of God to bring us here to be reunited in the United States.
What was your first Christmas like? At the very first I didn’t know about Christmas, but when I came here I accepted Christ. After that, there were lots of Nepali families in the church and we went there and our pastor began to teach about Christmas ahead of time. He gave a lot of information about Christmas—how we celebrate Christmas, what is the purpose of celebrating Christmas. After that when Christmastime came, we were very happy and celebrated. Probably 4 or 5 of my family members arrived during Christmastime. Before we were only 2 families, but 3 more families arrived during the month before Christmas, so we were 5 families before Christmas. There were a lot of Nepali people—they accepted Christ before Christmas and there were a lot of Nepali people in the church to celebrate Christmas. We were very happy. The pastor’s wife asked us to direct a drama… it was very fun and we were very happy.
I cannot forget that first Christmas. It was my first Christmas in my life. I cannot forget that. Even though I didn’t have a lot of experience or knowledge about celebrating Christmas, but I was very happy. It was like the beginning of my life. I was very happy and thankful to God.
What is the meaning of Christmas? What will you teach your kids about Christmas? For me, Christmas is the celebration of when Christ was born from Mary. We celebrate the birthday of Christ.
We are going to give [our sons] great knowledge of Christ. He is born to take away our sins and he is our savior and we have to celebrate his birthday to remember him all the time in our whole life.
What do they think of Christmas? Do they get excited? Yes. Rohan is very excited and he likes to sing a song of Christmas and we always play a Christmas song in the computer and he always likes that. He likes to listen to the Christmas music and he always likes to go to church. During Christmastime we have a lot of fun in the church. Different type of games and dramas, programs and dancing.
Last time we had a Christmas tree in our home. We have 4-5 families in the same apartment complex and they all get together in one house. We give gifts to the small kids—they are under 10 years old—we buy them gifts and wrap them in paper under the Christmas tree. Then there will be games for the kids. We celebrate Christmas in that way in our apartment because we have a lot of kids. Christmas 2013 we’ll have two more, but they’ll be too little. Mina’s is 3 months old and the other is 7 or 8 days old.
What are you looking forward to this year? As a member of the church we are organizing a program for Nepali people and then we are planning to give some dramas and some dance and something for the kids—games. We are planning to share with the non-Christian people in the church on that day [Christmas], too.
What is life like now, compared to your time growing up and living in the refugee camp in Nepal? It’s totally different. In camp, life was hopeless. How can I make my life? We didn’t have any hope, we didn’t have courage or power. When we came to United States, I felt by myself that I am just a newborn.
I have a lot of challenges to get through here, but there is hope. There is a lot of ways to make our future bright… Here it is very different. In some ways it’s very difficult, but in some ways it’s easier. I am very happy to be here and I give thanks to God.
I am very happy. All of my family are happy to be in the United States. We have lots of hope. Even the older people have hope to live in the United States. Before they did not have hope to live in the camp. They didn’t have medical care, they didn’t have a place to go work and earn money. But here almost all of the people are happy. The greatest thing I achieved is that I accepted Christ. I got to know who God is and how He helps us. That is the main thing I got in the United States. I am like new born in America. New life in America.
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