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Ryemarkable Babita Burathoki

Family info (kids, ages):

Jag - 12, Natasha - 27, Mona - 29

My son who is 12 was diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Disease at 3.5 years of age. DMD is a muscle wasting condition that has no cure yet. He has been on several clinical trials and has good medical support. We have had tremendous support from the various DMD communities and have access to the best care possible here in the US. There are several hospitals that are designated as DMD certified, and my son is under the care of a neurologist and a team of other specialists (previously at John Hopkins and now at UMass). Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) and Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy (PPMD) are two organizations that are wonderful resources. The US is #4 in innovative healthcare technology, and we are so grateful to be here.

Pets: 3 dogs – 2 husky mixes and 1 Tibetan Spaniel and 2 cats

What country are you from?

Nepal and India. Nepal and India share an open border so there is a lot of movement of people from Nepal to India and vice versa. There are a lot of Nepalese who are settled in the northern part of India. My grandparents migrated to India when my grandfathers joined the British Army in the 1930s. Although in India, we spoke Nepalese at home and followed Nepalese customs and traditions. Also, we adopted some Indian traditions. I was born in India and went to school there. I graduated with a bachelor's in biology. My husband’s family is from Kathmandu, Nepal and we have residence there.

Do you still have family members in India/Nepal? Why did you decide to move to the US?

Yes, most of our family is back there.

We moved here for higher studies and better opportunities. My husband came to study in Virginia when he was 17. After he completed his Bachelors, he went back to Nepal for a few years but it was hard to find a good job in his field of study - Geology. So, after we were married, we decided to come to the US, he for a degree in Computer Science and eventually an MBA. I went to school to become an Occupational therapist and eventually got my Master's in Public Health. Both my daughters were born in Missouri, and my son was born in Greenwich, CT.

What are some differences between Nepal and typical US culture?

I think the biggest difference is that the US is an individualistic culture and independence, and individualism are prioritized. This contrasts with a more community-based culture in Nepal and India. Selflessness and unity are valued more over there.

Also, children generally leave home after their 18th birthdays here. Over there, children stay with parents. Usually, it is the son and his family who live with parents. Families there are closer, and people don't speak ill about family. I just can’t get over how some people here blame their parents for everything!

What is your profession? How is working in the US different from Nepal? Are there stark contrasts?

I am an Occupational therapist and received my degree here in the US. I have only ever worked here. I also got my Master’s in Public Health but have not worked in that field.

I think though from observing my parents, siblings and relatives that there is a more relaxed attitude towards work in Nepal and India. I think US workers are generally over worked and as a result more stressed out!

Also, work is simpler there in comparison to here (US being technologically more advanced).

What is the role of women in your home country vs. in the US?

Women are more independent here in the US (love that!). Women have more traditional roles there, although it is changing with the newer generation. I was lucky my parents and relatives were educated and broad minded and education was a priority for my siblings, cousins and me. But there are girls and women living in villages and small towns who don’t have much access to education. They end up working from a very young age and have little say in their households. It is a very patriarchal society.

What was your perception of US before you moved here? How has it changed (or not) since you've lived here?

I thought everyone was very well-off here, with equal access to education, services, goods, etc. It was a surprise to find that wasn’t true at all. It is sad that there still is a lot of inequality and injustice here. I had not expected some people to be so religious and conservative.

I do think that there are so many more opportunities here and if you work hard, you can build a comfortable life.

What are typical traditions of India/Nepal? How do you continue to teach your culture and continue your traditions with your children?

Nepal has various ethnic groups and is rich in traditions and culture. Some important traditions are:

  • Nuwaran - naming ceremony when the baby is 11 days old

  • Pasni - Rice feeding ceremony for babies when they are 5 – 7 months old

  • Bratabandha – coming of age for boys

  • Janku – celebrating 77th, 88th, 99th 110th birthdays

Some important traditions in India are also naming ceremony for babies, rice feeding ceremony, baby shower, Rakhshabandhan – celebrating the bond between brothers and sisters, etc.

Both Nepal and India have many festivals such as Dasain/Dusshera, Diwali, Bhai Tika, Holi, Buddha Jayanti, Shivratri, etc.

We have a close-knit community here and we celebrate our festivals like Dasain/Dusshera, Diwali, Holi, weddings, pasni, etc. At home we carry on family traditions as well.

What are typical foods from your country? Is there anything you miss that you cannot get here in the US? Favorite American foods?

Most people know about Indian food - meat and vegetable curries, Naan, rice, lentils, beans, raita, sweets, etc. Typical Nepalese foods are rice, curry (meat or vegetables), momos (meat or vegetable steamed dumplings), potato salad with ground sesame seed (aloo achaar), Aloo Tama (potatoes and bamboo shoots), Choila (shredded grilled chicken with spices, cilantro, chillies), black lentils, mustard greens, sweets made of chick pea flour and ghee, or made with cream/milk and ghee, yoghurt, etc. Sel roti is unique to Nepal. It's made of rice flour and ghee and deep fried. It's especially eaten on important occasions.

When we were studying in Missouri, we didn’t have a lot of Nepalese/Indian spices and food. But New York has everything!

Favorite American foods are chicken, burgers, pasta dishes, and various salads. Favorite desserts are cheesecake, pies, and tiramisu.

What is your native language? What languages do you speak? What language do you speak at home? What are you teaching your children?

Nepalese, I also know Hindi (Indian language). My husband and I attended private schools run by Missionaries where the medium of instruction is English, so we are pretty much bilingual.

We speak mostly English at home, and occasionally Nepalese. Our children understand Nepalese but don’t speak it fluently.

What is the climate like in Nepal and India?

Nepal - Subtropical in the lowlands to a cold high-altitude climate. Nepal is home to Mt. Everest and the Himalayas in the north and the birthplace of the Buddha in the south.

In India - Tropical in the south to temperate and alpine in the Himalayan north. The Monsoons play an important role in the climate of India and Nepal. They start mid-June to late August and are essential for crops since both countries rely on agriculture.

Do you practice a religion?

We were brought up as Hindus and we celebrate festivals associated with Hinduism like Dasain or Dusshera, Diwali, etc. We visit Hindu temples occasionally and I do light an incense daily. I think of myself as spiritual rather than religious.

What challenges have you faced in the US? How have you overcome them?

I think my biggest challenge was the cultural shock when I first came to this country as a young student and did not have the community and family support that I grew up with. My husband and I had only each other to rely on. We worked hard and went out of our way to make friends who were like family.

In Missouri, people are not as open minded about someone who does not look like them and we would have some racist comments directed towards us, etc. We did make some good friends though. After finishing our degrees, we moved to New York, and totally felt at home. We love the diversity here!

How do you maintain your connections with family in Nepal and India?

We make a point to visit often. When my daughters were younger, we tried to go back in the summer for a few weeks almost every year. That way they could meet up with their grandparents, cousins and other relatives. Or, we had our parents visit and stay a month or two. Now it’s harder with Covid. The last time we were there was in 2018. We do video chat or Skype with our parents and siblings several times a week.

Social media (Facebook, Instagram) allows us to share pictures and videos. That’s another way to keep in touch! I have met childhood friends and distant relatives that I’d lost touch with on social media.

My brother-in-law and his family live in Colorado, and we visit them, or they visit us. I also have a cousin in Maryland, and we get together often. We have some nephews and nieces here as well.

Do you connect with others from your culture here in the US?

We have several friends from Nepal and India here in NY, NJ, Massachusetts, and Maryland and various other states. There are a lot of families in Manhattan, and Queens. We also have a small group of good friends here in Westchester County. We often get together to celebrate our festivals, traditions, birthdays, etc. We have bonded and are like family! It is important for our children growing up here to have others with similar experiences. And it’s the same for us adults, to have a good support system. Again, we connect via social media as well!

Do you have a favorite vacation spot in the US?

My favorite vacation spot so far is our trip to Arizona. We were amazed by the beautiful red rocks in Sedona, especially the Bell Rock. There is a lot of beauty and spirituality in Sedona. The Grand Canyon is indeed impressive, especially at sunset. We’ve been there twice and enjoyed every minute. We plan to go back there again!

We are a family of avid travelers (my husband works for the UN), and have been fortunate to visit several countries in Europe, Africa, Asia, South America - places like Machu Pichu, the Pyramids of Giza, Taj Mahal, Paris, and Jungfrau in Switzerland. In my opinion, the Grand Canyon is up there with all these wondrous places.

What else would you like to share with us? What more can we learn from you?

I have now been a US citizen for 17 years now and love it! I keep in touch with my culture and visit Nepal and India often. We try to take the best of both cultures. It is hard when you come to a new country but after the initial adjustment, it all works out! I have had mostly good experiences here and I think of the difficult ones as something to learn from. They have made me stronger, more independent and I am grateful for the opportunities that I have had here.

I truly believe that the US is a melting pot of people from different cultures and now even more so with internet access. I have met so many people from different countries and love to get their perspective on their lives here in the US and in their home countries! I have also made some wonderful American friends here!


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