August 04, 2009

Atlanta’s Bhutanese refugees and their new neighbors

Three generations of Craig Gilbert's Bhutanese
neighbors share bounty from his organic garden

What began with my post on a profile in courage —  Son of Bhutan: A Georgia First, has evolved into a series of community portraits. This community comprises Atlanta’s 4,000 Bhutanese refugees and asylees and their more than 5 million new neighbors.

I have been documenting them with photos, videos, and text in blog posts, and including my associations with each subject and what drives me to choose it. I care less about facts and more about spirit. And I try to lift up the refugees and asylees who are often reduced to mispronounced names, demeaning (to the speaker) stereotypes, and platitudinous phrases by bland statistics, demographics, caricatures, and hollow, disconnected sound bites. And I like to tip my hat to Atlanta Bhutanese Refugee Support Group volunteers and others who are partnering with our new neighbors on multiple fronts, daily.

Community member in focus:
A tzadik [Hebrew: righteous person]

While he refrains from name-calling and shuns labels to describe people, I publicly defy here my pal Craig, a tzadik.

צַדִּיק, כַּתָּמָר יִפְרָח; כְּאֶרֶז בַּלְּבָנוֹן יִשְׂגֶּה, the righteous man springs up like the palm tree, like the Lebanon cedar he towers.
— תהילים צב, Psalm 92:13

The image of the righteous as a flowering tree suits this tzadik, whose hands are in the earth growing organic veggies, and whose head and heart are in "doing" our Jewish faith through what our Christian cousins would call “good works.”

Standing on the eighth rung of Maimonides' Ladder of Charitable Giving, Craig guest blogged about Joe Franco (1909-2008) here, celebrating the long, loving life of his late father-in-law and a beloved community leader. Drawing on life lessons Joe taught by example, Craig imparts Joe's wisdom to a new generation of foreign-born residents — newly arrived in a time of disastrous economic conditions, as Joe was nearly a century ago.

Craig's letter to his new Bhutanese teen friends

I got all your email addresses from Tamar who sent the photos of our workday [clearing vines from trees in the park]. You are wonderful young people with very bright futures. You were fun to work with, and I am happy how well we did trimming vines from trees in four hours, doing such hard work. [Craig's award — a carton of mango juice for the hardest workers went to both young women in the group!]

Rita (my wife) reminded me that her father [Joe Franco] came to this country when he was 20 years old. He graduated high school in Greece, got a job in Africa, and then came to the United States in 1929, which was the year of the Great Depression. Business was terrible, and people were hungry and poor. Despite that he made a wonderful life for himself, lived to be 98, and had five children. All are educated and have their own homes and live comfortably.

I believe the keys to his success were his education, his good and honest nature, and his willingness to work. All of you excel in these areas. May good things continue to happen for you.

We will work in the park again when it is cooler. And I will be thinking of things we can do or ways to work together! Tamar is a good friend, so I know I will be seeing you soon.

— Craig

After a sweltering summer's workday followed by lunch, Craig relaxes with Eliana, his daughter; Rita, his wife; Nirmala and Bishnu, who captured the prize mango juice; and the guys, who later posed for individual photos with the machetes that they used to trim the trees.

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Madeline Rains said...

Tamar, these posts are so beautiful. I had never heard of the interfaith day and am so happy that initiatives like this exist! I'll continue to read all you have to document about this. Wonderful pictures too!

Yedidia said...

Tamar: It is beautiful I definitely agree that Craig is Tzadik Katamar Ifrach in the same token you are Eshet Hail.

Anonymous said...

Tamar -
I really enjoy reading your blogs. Thank you for sharing.

Ricardo from CDC said...

Beautiful article! Say hi to Craig from me. Thanks for sharing.

Bishnu said...

I thank you for posting our work of that day in the blog. And I read Craig's letter, it is really great. He wrote about his family background which help to inspire the youths of our community.

Shimon said...

I’ve just stopped reading the evening news to read your blog. Soon I’ll get back to reading about car crashes, wars, politics, and swine flu. Thanks for reminding me that there are other news.

Eldad said...

To Tamar:
Your posts are fantastic. It's a great reminder of my roots from Atlanta and all the personal developement i have been lucky to be privy to. I'll be happy to read more as time and my schedual permits.

To Craig:
It has been far too long since i have heard from you. Tamar's documentation of your amazing acts do not surprise me. You have always proven to be an amazing example of compassion and charity towards your neighbors, friends, and even complete strangers. In the army (and in particular my unit) there is a particular emphasis for soldiers to exemplify what is called "doogma ishi" or personal example, in other words to be a role mode. You have also exemplified that particular point since i was a little kid pulling up vegetables and planting seeds in your garden around the corner. Please drop me an e-mail from time to time so i can see how you're doing.

Birendra said...

Hi Graig,
Thank you so much.
This is my opportunity to get you as my honest, helpful and awesome friend.
I hope we work together as before.
Again i want to say thank you so much for your help.

With Regards

judith said...

What, Bhutanese refugees? I thought, from the Happy Garden of Eden? I had no idea, until checking out the history of the ethnic conflict because of your posts, that there was such a thing. Somehow the image of Bhutan has been successfully purged for export. thank you for your consciousness raising and your good work!

Nirmala Regmi said...

Thank you for posting our work of that day. I am very happy to see our work on this blog. It was interesting to work with Mr. Craig. While working with him I learned many new things. He talked about his parent’s background, which helped to motivate us.

After working four hours with him and hearing his words, I remembered my beloved dad. He also used to motivate us in every step. In addition, I want to thank you, Ms. Tamar, for introducing and helping us.

Nirmala Regmi

Tamar Orvell said...

Nirmala, thank you for sharing your beautiful memories and understandings. I sent you Craig's email address so you can directly contact him any time.

My father also died at an early age. How sad it is to lose a beloved father, isn't it? We share this experience, your sisters and I.

I hope all is going well in school, and that I will see you this weekend if we both go to the Bhutanese ladies festival.