Taking Refuge

A Third Chance at Life: Bishnu’s Journey from Bhutan to Nepal to the United States

April 5, 2016

Bishnu heard the soldiers banging on the door before they stormed into her family's home wielding guns and shouting threats. The soldiers searched Bishnu's house, but found nothing. So they came back again...and again, and again.

They [the army] don't have any restrictions; they don't have any routine to follow. They just go inside [our house] and they don't find anything.

Amid their searches, the soldiers would yell at Bishnu and her family, threatening: "If you don't leave the country, then you will be killed." And many Nepalese were killed or jailed, says Bishnu.

Ethnic violence against Bhutan’s growing Nepalese population escalated in 1990. Thousands of refugees flocked to neighboring Nepal, which could scarcely manage the influx. It was only last November that the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration resettled the 100,000th Nepalese refugee from Bhutan to a third country since the resettlement program was launched in 2007.

Bishnu was one of the lucky ones to be resettled in the United States under this program in 2009. But, before that, she and her family spent seventeen years as refugees in Nepal.

They had fled Bhutan in 1992, following two years of intense violence and unrest. Bishnu recalls the worst of it: her temple was burned, as were Nepali books - set aflame in front of her and her fellow students at school one day. She could not wear Nepali-style clothes. Rather, they were required to wear the national style of dress in Bhutan. And, with only a radio in their village home, they had little access to information about what was going on throughout the country.

Bishnu was a teenager when her family fled to Nepal. Because Nepal lacked an adequate educational system, she continued her secondary schooling at a boarding school in India. But, really, this was not much better, Bishnu explained. Unfortunately, the school essentially existed for the purpose of taking exams, not for education. Learning was done on her own outside the classroom. This education didn't help her much in the United States.

I was excited [to come to America] because everything is new to me...[But] when I tried to get work, they said I needed experience.

Bishnu arrived in the United States with her parents and five brothers and sisters in 2009. She was thirty-five years old and had a young son to whom she had given birth in Nepal. But, she couldn't find work for about six months. Coupled with the economic crisis, Bishnu pointed a finger at education - without a U.S. education, securing a job felt impossible at times during her early days in the United States.

Now she is working at a Bhutanese community center in New Hampshire conducting family training for new refugees. She enjoys the work, but ultimately wishes to run her own business - specifically a grocery store like her parents had back home.

Bishnu misses living in a small community where everyone knows everyone and interaction between neighbors is a natural part of any given day. But she also says:

Everything is good compared to back home. Technology is high. Education is high. Here they help people. But back in our country, if you have to get a job, you have to be related to people in the higher posts [in the company]. Here they look for people who are qualified.

She believes her greatest accomplishment thus far is gaining her U.S. citizenship.

I was a refugee for [many] years in Nepal. And when I came here after five years I could get my citizenship.

Bishnu obtained her U.S. citizenship in October 2015.

Aloo Dum
  • 10-15 small potatoes (I choose to use tri-colored potatoes here)
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 3 medium tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 3 dried red chilies (I substituted 1/2 teaspoon chile powder and 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes as I couldn't find dried chilies in my local grocery store. It seemed to work well!)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • Salt to taste

  1. Boil the potatoes in water until they become easy to peel.
  2. Peel the potatoes and cut them into two pieces.
  3. Put one tablespoon of oil into a pan and fry the potatoes until they become a light golden color.
  4. Meanwhile, grind the tomatoes, chiles, ginger, and garlic and mix together in a bowl.
  5. Remove the fried potatoes from the pan. Then add the remaining oil to the pan along with the tomato-spice mixture. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes over medium heat.
  6. Return the potatoes to the pan and allow them to cook in the tomato-spice mixture for a few minutes. Add the cumin, fennel seeds, and salt.
  7. Serve the Aloo Dum hot.

Meet Bishnu, a Nepalese woman who grew up in Bhutan, became a refugee in Nepal in 1992 and arrived in New Hampshire in 2009.

Ingredients for Aloo Dum

Potatoes post-frying

Here is the tomato-spice mixture. As you can see, I didn't quite "grind" mine...maybe you'll be more diligent!

The tomato-spice mixure cooking

The final product: Aloo Dum, potatoes cooked in a spicy tomato mixture.