The rest of the family waits on the other side. They have been looking forward to this for more than a year.
Excitement builds as Eden Medhin, a World Relief caseworker, finally sees them.
The three grow larger and larger as they make their way through the airport terminal. In confusion, they try and exit the security checkpoint, but are eventually corrected by the shouting voices of their relatives guiding them.
Hugs and kisses greet Khagendra, Dewaki and their little girl, Dikcyha, as they join their family. The look on their faces is reflective of their difficult journey.
Quickly, down the stairs, grab the bags, out to the car. It is all happening so fast. It’s Dikcyha’s first time in a car seat and the 19-month-old is not happy. Dewaki comforts her to no avail. Khagendra looks out the window of the speeding van following a much different traffic system than he is used to.
The van slows turning into the Ashton Apartment Complex in southeast Nashville, driving around the perimeter of the complex they pull into a parking spot in the back. Park. Unload. Walk to the door. Their 8,000 mile journey is finally over. The Koirala family is home.
Khagendra Koirala and his family are from Bhutan, a place often overlooked on a map, is sandwiched between China and India.
In 2008, the Bhutanese began resettling in the Nashville area, which has led to Nashville having the fastest growing population of Bhutanese refugees in the country.Organizations such as World Relief and Catholic Charities of Tennessee have aided in these relocation efforts.
Having only lived in Bhutan for the first two years of his life, Khagendra and his family were forced to leave, along with more than 100,000 fellow Lhotsampa people, due to religious and cultural discrimination from the Bhutanese government.
"They are a people without a citizenship,” said Myriam Mwizerwa, the resettlement director for World Relief Nashville.
According to Mwizerwa, most of the Lhotsampa people are Hindu and were told to convert to the traditional Bhutanese Buddhism or they would lose their citizenship.Instead, they left the country and although the Lhotsampa are technically Nepali, the Nepalese government did not recognize them as citizens, forcing them to live in refugee camps.
“They don’t have ahome per se,” Mwizerwa said.
For the past 18 years Khagendra and his family called the Khundabari Refugee Camp home. They were not allowed to leave the walls of the camp, which made providing for a family difficult. Despite the harsh circumstances Khagendra was able to receive an education and meet his wife, Dewaki. Then Dikchya was born at the camp.
Most of Khagendra’s immediate family, including his parents, siblings and brother-in-law, came tothe U.S. a year earlier while Khagendra, Dewaki and Dikchya had to stay behind at the camp.
“When they come along way, like for 10 or 20 hours with no sleep and nothing to eat, they feel tired. They feel scared with a lot of hope,” said Medhin, who is in charge of picking up refugees and orientating them to their apartments.
As soon as Medhin opens the door for the family she begins the orientation.She starts with the front door.
“If anyone knocks from right here, always look right here,” she said, pointing to the peephole. “If you don’t know them don’t open the door,” she said.
Quickly Medhin moves throughout the house explaining as much as she can in a short amount of time.
“This is a smoke detector.”
“This is the stove.”
“This is the toilet.”
The Koirala family seems a bit overwhelmed as they attempt to understand the new technologies that will make up their life.
“In Nepal we made our home out of bamboo and thatch and we plastered it with cow dung, but here it is much nicer,” Dewaki said. “We can sleep in our beds instead of on the floor and here we have a toilet inside our home, not just a hole.”
As the excitement of the first day wears away and Medhin and their family leave, the realizationof being in a new place begins to set in.
“Sometimes I feel alone and I am bored,” Dewaki said. “Here there is no one to say hello to and the community is not the same.”
Despite not having the community of the refugee camp, both Dewaki and Khagendra were over joyed to reunite with their family.
“When I saw my family I felt so happy because we were apart from each other, but now we are together,” Dewaki said.
Dikchya is also content with her new home. In the refugee camp she played on a dirt floor, buthere she has a clean apartment.
“In Nepal my baby was always sick and we had to carry her to the hospital, but here she feels much better and she is happier and so am I,” Dewaki said.
Not everyone is so thrilled about their resettlement Mwizerwa says. According to her there is sometimes a disconnect between refugee’s expectations and reality.
This stems from past refugee experiences in the 1980’s and 1990’s when, according to Mwizerwa, churches were more involved in the resettlement process and gave bigger resources such as cars.
“People still have that perception of how things used to be back then as opposed to the way things are now,” Mwizerwa said.
Still, most refugees are very grateful to be relocated to Nashville.
“When we started to resettle the Kurdish population, they came and liked the city of Nashville,” Mwizerwa said. “The people were different, the people were friendlier and the jobs were easy to come about.”
“When the Nepalese started coming about four years ago, I think they liked the same kind of friendly atmosphere that Nashville’s people had to offer,” she said.
According to World Relief Nashville’s website, Nashville is home to more than 70 different nationalities and is the fifth largest metropolitan statistical area by measurement of foreign born population. The Bhutanese are the third most common refugee population living in Nashville. This is second to the Kurdish and Somali populations. The vast majority of these refugees live in southeast Nashville.
“Southeast Nashville is very very concentrated internationally,” Mwizerwa said. Despite Nashville serving as a haven for refugees, few native Nashvillians are aware of the diverse cultures that comprise southeast Nashville.
“I grew up in Brentwood and nobody in Brentwood knows anything outside of Brentwood,”Mwizerwa said. “When people in Nashville find out, some are very very welcoming and some are not.” Mwizerwa says Nashville benefits from the refugee’s presence in the area.
“I think it is good to have a good mixture and diversity of people,” Mwizerwa said. “The more workers you have, the better the economy.”
Khagendra is one of those people who is looking to get his shot.
“In Nepal we had no identity, we had no opportunities to work,” Khagendra said. “I think in America, we can get many opportunities like education and job opportunities.”
In less than a month, Khagendra was given his opportunity, when he was offered a steward position at Opryland Hotel.
“I love my job,” Khagendra said. “I have to do work like sweeping the floor, I have to do all the work that belongs to the steward. I have to clean the area where we are working.”
This simple job, which many Americans would take for granted, means that Khagendra and his family can be self-sufficient.
“I felt so happy when my husband got a job because I knew it would make our future better and Dikchya’s life better,” Dewaki said.
Mwizwera says that roughly 85 percent of World Relief’s clients are self-sufficient after 8 months.
“I believe that people who come here, come here with a purpose to work and be successful, so that’s what they do,” she said.
On a morning in late March, Khagendra sits in the floor with Dikcyha before work, flipping through a children’s book, carefully crafting words for her to repeat.
As Dikcyha attempts to repeat the new words Khagendra smiles with approval.
His family’s future is bright.