“Even now when I hear that sound of the mobile ringtone, it gives me a painful feeling. I hate that sound. That sound is connected to a very difficult and painful part of my life in Australia”, says Wangmo with tears almost forming in her eyes and voice breaking off making me go teary eyed too.
Wangmo had come to Perth some four years back with her husband Kinley carrying with them lots of dreams. ‘Life was not so easy. We were without works for around 5 months. We worried a lot and we had to grab every little work that came by our way even if it was for a penny. We had to do that to make a living. ‘
I am told that they used to get up in the middle of the night to go to work. Wangmo says that thinking of those days scares her now for the very fact that they used to go to work in half sleep that too driving about 30 to 1 hour distance to the workplace. It indeed sounds so dangerous now.
They labored and worked hard spending sleepless nights and putting their lives at risk to earn the few dollars that they made and slowly got their way up to where they are today in Perth.
Today Wangmo and Kinley can happily take a month off from work and go on a vacation to Thailand with children and family member joining them from Bhutan. They have worked hard to send hard currency home enough to buy a land for themselves, send their children to private schools and also support their parents back home.
Like Wangmo and Kinley, there are many Bhutanese who came with big dreams but started with struggles. A Bhutanese who has been in Perth for the last four years and who doesn’t want to be named here says, “we struggled so hard without works and with the little money we got we could not dare spend on anything luxurious. Vegetables are very expensive and chilies even more. For us, chilies were a luxury. When we finally could afford to buy a chilly each to bite with our meals, it was like reaching in heaven.”
But our fellow Bhutanese have found the way out and today everyone who is out here in down under has a decent job, make a decent earning and lives a decent life. And that decency would mean getting up at 2 am in the morning to go to work for the morning shift, doing a round of days chores and back to evening work at 5 p.m. This is just one example of a work schedule. Every single cent that the Bhutanese in Australia make is a result of their sweat and blood. It is the result of their lack of sleep, lack of food on time, working round the clock and so much of other sacrifices and compromises.
Besides the regular works that our Bhutanese take up, there are quite a few enterprising ones who have taken to sales of local products such as doma, (betel nut or areca nut), ara, (local alcohol brewed at home), dried chilies, and other delicacies such as juma (homemade sausage), momo (dumpling) and all during festive occasions or gatherings. People have started growing local chilies in pots at home, which not only suffice their taste buds but also fulfill the taste buds of many Bhutanese in Perth. A piece of doma would cost $1, which is equivalent to round of Nu.50 back home. A bottle of ara would cost $20 which is equivalent to round of Nu. 1000 in Bhutan. Doesn’t it sound so tempting to do doma and ara business than to slog for $20 per hour? (The minimum wage)
All in all, you will find a little Bhutan in Bentley and Wembley. If you take a little walk around the corner to IGA in Glendalough, it is just like walking to a local store in Thimphu. Every single customer is a Bhutanese. You will find that one in every five person on the street is a Bhutanese. If you go to Herdsmen Parade 47 and 49 and you will find that every next house is occupied by Bhutanese either in shared mode or single occupancy.
However, please note that life at the beginning is not so easy. Little did I realize that I would be living the story of Wangmo and Kinley just a few months after my arrival in Perth. The stress that you go through for not getting work is depressing at worst and the conditions under which you have to work is needless to mention. My hubby and I drove several times in sleep in the middle of the night or at the wee hour in the morning either to work or back from work. Many a times you have to put your safety and life at risk.
You meet all kinds of people-our very own people here in Perth. Friends become strangers and strangers become friends.
Gumtree is the buzz word around for newcomers. The seasoned and the experts will only tell you to download the app and look for work on Gumtree. You really think that you will find some works through Gumtree and you spend hours every day till it hurts your eyes and fingers to find something suitable for you. You then apply online as advised by the seniors. You keep on applying a million times and wait for responses. As time moves on you learn that applying for works though Gumtree is just a myth. You know that it is not going to work yet you keep searching and applying with a hope that someday a miracle might happen. But time only proves that it doesn’t happen. Time tells you that you need connections to get work. It is the recommendations that get you work not the countless applications you make on the Gumtree or Indeed, SEEK Jobs, Perth Jobs, Job Search and many more job seeking apps.
Remember, when it comes to work, Bhutanese are by far very reluctant to help for reasons I really don’t know but I did hear of some rumours of the past of how people used to snatch jobs from each other and off course many ill intended stories. Not even our people will help you find a job if you are not the real siblings. One has to find your way the hard way.
If you see greener grass in down under and plan to come this way, know that you need to possess the following attributes:
- Be emotionally and mentally prepared and strong enough to go through the stress of not finding the work for quite sometime after your arrival in Perth. Some I believe spend almost a year to get job while some lucky ones get job on their arrival.
- Make sure you have someone in down under who will not hesitate to recommend you for work.
- You should possess driver’s license and be able to drive in Australia. You don’t have a job if you cant drive.
- Be prepared to take up any job. If you come with the values ‘no job is too small or too big’ nothing like it.
- Be prepared to sacrifice your sleep and shift your meal times. In other words be ready to move out of your comfort zone.
Once you are here, you will find that the grass is indeed not green on this side but then your positive outlook and the dollars that you get in hands will motivate you to keep going.
By doing this story, I am hoping that our fellow Bhutanese back home will know that life is not all about glitters in Australia. I want our people to know that they cannot afford to dance on the dollars sent from Australia. That would be the greatest crime against humanity. This is also a preparation message to any newcomers to The Land of Kangaroos.
The last and the best part for the Bhutanese in Perth happened on 21st February 2018 when the Bhutanese in Perth came together to celebrate the 38th Birth Anniversary of our beloved His Majesty The King of Bhutan. It was the most befitting gift His Majesty gave to his fellow Bhutanese residing outside of Bhutan. We were surrounded with our Bhutanese celebrities like singers Lhamo Dukpa and Namgay Jigs, actor and actress Sonam Tenzin and Sherab Lhamo and the most famous comedian Gem Tshering accompanied by the officials from Royal Bhutan Embassy, Bangkok. I don’t know about the Bhutanese gatherings in the past because I am also very much new here and this is my second visit to a mass Bhutanese gathering in Perth my first one being the visit by his eminence Khamtrul Rimpoche. However, I am told this is the greatest ever congregation of Bhutanese and it was a very momentous occasion to listen to His Majesty’s words of wisdom through the harbingers of His Majesty’s message. From what I could gather, following are the messages from His Majesty in a gist:
- Our Bhutanese in Australia are contributing hugely to the economy of the country through the hard currency that they remit to Bhutan.
- They create a very financially stable family and social life back home.
- Parents are able to support their children and children are able to support their parents.
- They create employment opportunity back home. The jobs that they leave behind are seats left for someone else.
- They get exposure to the third country, widen their horizon of learning and also bring rich experiences with them back home.
- No matter where our people go, they will always use the Bhutanese intrinsic intelligence and be able to survive amongst the fittest.
- Most importantly they promote friendship and maintain good foreign relationship with Australia government at the same time maintaining our own identity.
- Bhutanese in Australia have proved as the best ambassadors of Bhutan.
This is to our entire fellow Bhutanese not only in Perth but also in the whole of Australia and elsewhere outside of Bhutan that His Majesty The King is aware of the hardship and contributions we make to our country. It doesn’t matter what kind of jobs we take up because there is nothing called small or big jobs. What matters is that we make a difference.
Hats off to all the hard working Bhutanese who sacrifice their personal comfort zone for the sake of larger interest.