Srijan Maskey was the first person I met when I moved into my Kathmandu neighborhood. He lived across the street from me and wore cute little glasses while playing with a tire. He was both awkward and self-possessed in the way that only fifteen year olds can. I asked his name and he said: "Srijan."
"What?" I asked.
"Srijan," he said again, and laughed. "But you can just call me SJ."
SJ lived with his 13-year-old brother, Ranjan (RJ), and their parents in three rooms across the street from me. The four of them lived in the two back rooms, and the front room was a little shop that would soon become my lifeline. It was where I bought all my vegetables, learning the names of some I never heard of, and discovered that the Nepalese liked all of their food extra spicy. But they would find things that my stomach could handle, and even smuggled in Diet Coke from India to feed my terrible habit.
Although their parents spoke mostly Nepali, SJ and RJ spoke English beautifully. Like so many of their generation, their parents were raised in their small Nepali villages and came to Kathmandu when their children were young to provide them with a better education.
SJ and RJ called me Miss Lauren at first, but it wasn't long before I became Mommy. They were both incredibly intelligent. They would tell me about their studies, and asked for English books to read. I gave them some of the classics I had brought with me: Of Mice and Men, To Kill A Mockingbird, Frankenstein, The Old Man and the Sea, Fahrenheit 451. They went through them like water. When my husband visited he supplied his treasures: The Hobbit, Dune, Lord of the Rings. SJ and RJ loved them all.
At around 5am each morning, I could hear the boys open the shop and prepare for everything while I slept in for another hour. They worked at the store until it was time to go to school. Back home in the afternoons, they worked at the store while doing their homework. Their father and mother both worked other jobs as well, and took turns at the store during the day. About the second time I lost my apartment key, the boys started to keep an extra one for me. And they also made sure I had a steady supply of my favorite popcorn. As the only foreigner living for miles around, the Maskeys made me feel safe and cared for. I learned so much about their lives. I knew that SJ loved computers from the inside-out, and RJ sometimes got terrible stress headaches. I loved having these two beautiful sons in my life. When it was time for me to head back to the US, it was very sad to say goodbye. I did not realize, however, how temporary it was to be. With the help of family, people from their village, and The Blue Butterfly Foundation, it seemed like a miracle when RJ made it to the US to go to college. He first studied in Mississippi and then in Texas. It was not an easy transition in any way. RJ had never spent a night apart from his parents or brothers, and suddenly he was in a faraway land where everything was so different than what he had always known. He would suffer from depression, but tried to keep his pain from his family. I worried about him a lot. I wanted him to move near me. A year later, though, there was some sunshine. SJ also was able to come to the US, surprising me. This is not an easy process, and the boys had worked very hard and had the help of a community to get there. SJ went to a school in Minnesota, and RJ has recently joined him. SJ is studying computers, and RJ wants to be a biomedical engineer. They both worked about 80 hours this summer and continue working 40 hours throughout the year while going to school full-time. When I hear about immigrants, I think of my two amazing sons, who have made me more proud than I could ever imagine.
"It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness..."
- Eleanor Roosevelt