A home away from home

USA Today

STAUNTON, Virginia:

Each time a guest comes into Samjhana Adhikari’s home, she serves them chiya. It is a custom from her native Nepal — a sign of friendship and respect. The guests take off their shoes and sit on the plush couch as she grinds up cardamom, anise and cloves with a mortar and pestle, adds black tea leaves, milk and honey and brews the mixture. But Samjhana and Pradeep Adhikari have not been able to serve much tea since they immigrated 14 months ago. “Everyone in America is so busy. In Nepal we would visit. People had more time. It was not rush, rush all the time,” Samjhana said. The Adhikaris emigrated to the United States hoping to find better opportunities for their family, including sons, Nirish and Nishan. Nirish, 20, came with the family. Nishan attends college in India, studying electrical engineering. At 22, he is too old for his family’s visa. Samjhana prays that someday her eldest can join them. Because of poor job prospects for their children, the political unrest from a Maoist insurgency and Pradeep’s desire to explore new worlds, the couple applied for the US visa lottery. “We won,” Pradeep said, still bubbling with enthusiasm.

Virginia has long been a destination for immigrants. The English settled the land, and Dutch, Polish, German and Jewish artisans followed in the early 1600s. Ireland and Scotland sent political prisoners, and by 1699, French Huguenot refugees crossed the Atlantic. The flow of immigrants continues, as people search for safety, economic prosperity, educational opportunities, freedom of speech, freedom to worship and freedom from war. The Adhikaris, like so many before them, believe that America is where they need to be now. The Adhikaris left behind a large brick house, servants, a close-knit family and many good friends. They believe that the gods brought the family to the Shenandoah Valley town of Staunton, small compared with bustling Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital. In Nepal, Pradeep was the director of an oil company. Now he runs a convenience store with his partner Krishna Pradhan, also from Nepal. They have two employees and work seven days a week. “It is good,” Pradeep said. “We work hard. The people are very friendly. Very welcoming.” He is able to exchange rudimentary greetings with many people. Although language can be a barrier, the customer’s intent is usually clear, and with a smile and good humour he is able to thrive.

Samjhana’s life, however, is quite different. Her contacts with residents are limited. She is usually at home, cleaning, cooking, praying or studying English. She attends two English as a second language classes a week and wants a tutor. “Everything is different,” Samjhana said. “We drive on the other side of the road.” Whether they are buying a loaf of bread or an insurance policy, the couple takes their son along. Nirish is fluent in English; they are not. “If we didn’t have him to help us it would have been very, very hard,” Samjhana said. Nirish has made friends with several Indian shopkeepers and fellow students at Blue Ridge Community College. But sometimes the camaraderie of a fellow countryman is missed.

Simple greetings, the shake of a head, taking off ones shoes at the door to a home, listening to the sitar or fearing for your mother’s welfare when communications are cut between Nepal and the outside world — these can all be hurdles that cause challenges and strife. “We know things that we can’t communicate,” Samjhana said, moving her hands in frustration. “We want to learn English quickly.” Challenges have always been a part of life in Nepal. The challenge of finding a job when work is scarce, the challenge of living under political unrest and the challenge of sending your children to school in a foreign country. Back home in Nepal, they would have many friends and family over to share some dal, yoghurt or curd but here they just have each other. “We are by ourselves. We miss our friends and family very much,” Samjhana said.