The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Friday, November 27, 2009

Recent immigrants to First Coast navigate new holidays

Recent immigrants to First Coast navigate new holidays
They are trying to fit in and hoping to learn some new traditions.

Keushi Koirala, a Bhutanese refugee, had never eaten turkey or traditional American Thanksgiving food.

The first time Om Mishra saw a ghost costume at the Walmart where he works, he was perplexed. To make things worse, customers kept asking where the Halloween candy was.

When his son came home talking about a Halloween party and trick-or-treating, enough was enough. Mishra, a resettled refugee from Bhutan, called Bruce Ganger, a Jacksonville friend.

"I really didn't know what it was," Mishra said of Halloween. When he found out, he had to laugh - and be grateful for having someone to call.

New to this country but seeking desperately to fit in, Mishra and other recent immigrants find that American holidays pose a challenge. Often, they are torn between traditional and new holidays, struggling financially, and trying to learn English while deciphering instructions on strange new foods.

If Halloween is mystifying, Thanksgiving is downright daunting. Christmas - especially for those who are another religion - is even more confusing, both a "Hallmark" holiday and a religious observation.

That's why newly resettled refugees in a World Relief English class took part in a Thanksgiving dinner on Tuesday. Most tried turkey, green beans, stuffing and cranberry sauce for the first time.

"It's not just A, B, C, D. This is life, American life," said Michelle Woitt, volunteer coordinator for World Relief. "There's a real eagerness to learn about it."

Robin Koirala, who arrived in May from Nepal, and his mother, Keushi, both took part. Robin Koirala, who now works as a case manager because of his English skills, had never seen a turkey before; neither have many of his clients. He wondered what the symbolism was.

"It's confusing. It's very new and strange for them," he said. "They are curious about what is traditional."

Sometimes when they ask him such questions, he turns to the Internet, or to friends.

Locals who befriend immigrants find themselves learning as much as they impart, said Clay Hamrick, an Arlington resident. Hamrick, his wife, and their seven children are hosting two recently arrived families for Thanksgiving today. One is a family from Burma, another from Iraq. They plan to offer turkey and trimmings, as well as a few Iraqi and Southeast Asian dishes.

"I think it's just exciting to be able to incorporate people into your family," Hamrick said. "To experience us as well as us being able to experience them."

As for Mishra, another kind friend - someone from his son's school - has dropped off a turkey. It sits in his refrigerator, looking slightly out of place. Mishra's wife has to work today, so it will be up to him to figure out how to cook the bird whose symbolism is still somewhat mysterious.

He's hopeful.

deirdre.conner@jacksonville. com,(904) 359-4504

source: jacksonville. com

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