This column was published in Business Bhutan on 9th January 2016.
I celebrated the New Year with a hundred other Bhutanese in New York. There were well-known Bhutanese actors and singers who entertained the gathering, several familiar faces, and many others who I did not know. I had, however, been happy to be among my own.
Life in New York is not easy. It is one of the most expensive states in America. Bhutanese here work hard to make ends meet. Many work a grueling 13 hours daily. All the dollars that come home are made from hours and hours of babysitting, servicing tables, selling posters near Central Park, and other low-skilled jobs that many of us turn up our noses at in Bhutan. The work ethic of a Bhutanese is completely different here. The money earned changes everything, even attitudes.
Most of us think jobs await us in the United States, that we will be employed as soon as we land. This could not be further from the truth. Jobs are hard to come by. There are many others from several other countries also traveling to the US for the same reasons as that of the Bhutanese man/ woman who dreams of green. Even if you have someone to live with when you first arrive here, you cannot rent a place on your own until you have saved enough money or found flat mates to split rent with for a tiny two-bedroom apartment that is not less than Nu. 100,000 per month. It is more difficult for Bhutanese who take huge loans to travel to the U.S.
I have been told many Bhutanese suffer from anxiety and depression at the start. Who wouldn’t? You do not have a place of your own, no job- even if you do have a job, you and the job are so ill-suited to each other that you wonder if you will ever find that silver lining? I heard of a Bhutanese woman being mistreated by her South Asian (non- Bhutanese) employer and denied pay while I was in New York. She is too scared to seek legal help as she is an undocumented immigrant and doesn’t want to compromise herself. Hers is hardly a unique case. There are more stories like this.
One evening, while walking to Jackson Heights (a little Himalayan Asia of Tibetans, Nepalis, Bhutanese, Bangladeshis, and Indians), I crossed an old Tibetan woman standing on her driveway wearing her chupa. She was looking at no one, and nothing in particular. She was alone. I wondered if she felt at home here? Then I thought of other Bhutanese and my own friends who work so hard waiting for the day when they have enough, to return home.