The story begins in a land before time: Nepal 1965. Only fifteen years after Nepal opened its borders to the outside world for the first time. On November 26th Shyam was born in a village in the eastern Dhankuka district of the then Kingdom of Nepal. He was born at home because his village had no hospital. Shyam had two younger sisters during childhood. At the age of eleven his father passed away from a stroke. Shyam’s seven-year-old sister also passed due to malnourishment. Shyam’s family survived in extreme poverty. Shyam and his sister were taken in by his extended family. At fourteen Shyam’s mother remarried and they lost contact for many years. Radha walked one and a half hours to school each way. Shyam finished eleventh grade before dropping out of school.
At nineteen Shyam left his village in search of a better life in Kathmandu. For twenty years he would work various jobs to make ends meet. He was a waiter at a Tibetan restaurant, a room boy at a five-star hotel, a manpower broker, and he worked as a Russian business consultant. There he learned a bit of Russian. During his work at a Tibetan restaurant Shyam met his best friend Padam. Shyam opened a small corner shop that he and his wife operated for a few years.
Shyam met his wife-to-be Manu through mutual friends while she worked at a Tibetan carpet factory. They dated for two years before having a love marriage. They had a simple wedding when he was twenty-six in 1991. Shyam symbolically put red colors on her forehead, gave her a marriage necklace, and gave her a ring. In 1992 his son Sanjeep was born and a few years later his daughter Asma was born.
Manu found out about an
opportunity to send Shyam to America. An American lawyer was running a legal, but very over priced hussle to help people get work permits. Shyam was given a work permit to work in a restaurant in Cape Cod. Then if he passed the visa interview he could move to the USA. Shyam was one of only three out of nineteen interviewees to be awarded a visa. Radha charmed the interviewer with his love for American people, culture, and human rights. It was extremly costly Shyam to pay the legal and transport fees.
Shyam sold his bike, his store, his land, his wife’s jewelry, and took loans from friends to pay the fees. Then instantly, Shyam and the two other lucky visa holders were taken to a house in Cape Cod. Where instead of working in a restaurant he was given three months of manual labor. Fed up with the situation, Shyam moved to Allston to live in a small room within a larger apartment. The apartment was shared with entire Mexican families living in a single room. Shyam’s first job was as a bus cleaner. This was how Radha found his first Ipod, and started to like American music.
Shyam found another job working for a Chinese restaurant company. He worked for six months in transport and cleaning. For four years he worked both jobs full time, and sometimes he slept only three hours a night. Then finally he became a junior sushi chef for 10 hours a day seven days a week for 350$ a week fixed. That is 5$ an hour. In 2010, Shyam became a senior sushi chef. He worked extremely hard to repay his visa debts, support his family, and support himself in the USA. For seven years Shyam sent money home to Katmandu. Manu raised their two children on her own. Shyam appreciates her very much and told me a few times that she was excellent about the entire situation.
Shyam couldn’t establish residency in the USA. He overstayed his visa and didn’t have proper legal council to file the papers necessary to become a resident. He hadn’t filed for refugee status or asylum. Radha also feared that upon exiting the USA he would be imprisoned or beaten. When he decided to return to Nepal he was ready to face anything. When he left the USA he was barred for ten years for visa violations. Actually, no one said anything to him or even acknowledged his over stay at all. He only assumes that he is barred.
Shyam was disappointed to learn that Obama had changed the laws and that he would have been eligible for residency if he had stayed in the USA just until Obama’s executive order reversed old laws.
Shyam came back because he had achieved his goals. He had been able to provide a proper education to his children and build a large house in the capital. Shyam sent his son to school in Australia to complete his dream of educating his children. Shyam considers himself uneducated, which is why he is so firm about his own kids’ education.
They say there is no one who remembers and appreciates his schooling, like someone who has had it taken away.
Shyam misses America very much. You can see it in his eyes when he watches American TV. Shyam is a great lover of foods and he spends his free time watching the Food Network. Shyam tells me that American people are so friendly and human. You can feel how much he loves America. You can feel the esteem for the USA among the unspoiled people who aspire for a better life.
Shyam laughs and tells me, ” If I were in the USA now, I would relax. Only work eight hours a day five days a week, and enjoy the rest.”