CASTLE SHANNON, Pa. — Chitra Prassad Gautam and his family watch in awe as water comes out of the shower head in the bathroom of their new apartment.
"I have a question, " Gautam says, holding up a bottle of shampoo. «Do I put this in my hair before going in the shower or after?»
Gautam, 19, his parents and his two siblings are among the first of about 5,300 ethnic Nepalese refugees from the tiny south Asian country of Bhutan who this year started leaving refugee camps to resettle in the United States. The U. S. has agreed to take in 60,000 of them.
Unlike other, high-profile refugee groups such as Iraqis and Burmese, the ethnic Nepalese have gone largely unnoticed. Since there are no Bhutanese communities in the United States, most are being resettled near cities like Pittsburgh, where housing is affordable and officials hope diverse populations will reinvigorate urban areas hurt by deindustrialization.
Refugees get help for three months Charitable organizations responsible for resettlement get the families apartments, food, Social Security cards and English classes, and help them find jobs. After three months, the families will have to provide for themselves, usually working minimum wage jobs.
Bhutan is a predominantly Buddhist constitutional monarchy bordered by China and India. In the early 1990s, the monarchy instituted sweeping legislation that effectively stripped the ethnic Nepalese, a Hindu minority also known as the Lhotsampas, of their citizenship, their right to own property and their ability to get government jobs.
Since then, an estimated 100,000 ethnic Nepalis have fled to refugee camps.
Bhutan has significantly opened up in recent years, embracing democratic freedoms and coronating a young king on Nov. 1. Nevertheless, the tiny Himalayan kingdom remains tightly controlled. Traditional robes and colored sashes indicating class rank are mandatory and only 20,000 foreigners are permitted to enter the country annually on supervised trips.
Like most others in Bhutan, the Gautams were farmers. Chitra Prassad Gautam and his sister, Uma, 17, were born in Bhutan. Their younger brother, Raju, 15, is part of the generation born in refugee camps in Nepal. They were educated in schools run by the United Nations, an education that gives these children an advantage over their parents, many of whom are not even literate in their native Nepalese.
In 1992, the Gautams moved into a one-room, dirt-floored hut in a camp about 25 miles from the Nepalese city of Damak. They often had to wait in line for hours to fill two cans with water. They shared a latrine with another family and bathed in a river.