• October 30, 2014

Refugee strives for foothold in new home

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Posted: Monday, September 23, 2013 4:30 am

DALLAS — It’s two miles from Shyam Rai’s apartment to the Cheesecake Factory, where he works nights as a dishwasher.

The trip takes the Bhutanese refugee more than 30 minutes.

About halfway into the ride, he cuts through a parking lot and passes some construction before he emerges at Northwest Highway.

He wheels his bike up the sidewalk and pauses, watching traffic. There are seven lanes here — four to make it through before he reaches the median. But this is the fastest way. There’s a break in traffic.

He crosses.

In a city known for its car culture and conspicuous wealth, refugees still struggle to find the most basic things they need to start a new life. In Rai’s case, it’s a bike: It offers him freedom, but it exposes him to risks as well, The Dallas Morning News reported.

There are no bike lanes on the roads Rai travels between his home in Vickery Meadow and his workplace across from NorthPark Center. His trip leaves him exposed to heat, traffic and criminal activity. But for Rai, 29, and his wife, Suk Maya, who have been in the U.S. only a year, bikes make employment possible.

The International Rescue Committee, a nongovernmental organization that assists refugees, gave Rai his bike. For the past two years, the IRC has worked with nonprofit Spokes for Folks to collect and distribute used bikes, as well as lights and the helmets required under Dallas code. When donations run low, they sometimes buy the bikes.

Rai’s family fled political persecution in Bhutan when he was young. He spent most of his life in a Nepal refugee camp, where he worked in construction and met his wife. Their 9-month-old daughter, Sophia, was born in Dallas.

Rai speaks through a translator, smiling often. He said Dallas is big and loud. But he likes it here. There’s a stack of diapers and baby supplies on a table in his apartment’s back room, a reminder that his young family depends on his dishwashing job to survive. The biggest transition, for him, was learning where to ride his bike.

“I wish I can ride my bike in the middle of the road, but I can’t do that here,” Rai said.

It works, if tenuously, for now. Biking is faster, but it makes him tired as soon as he starts his shift. He hopes the bike is only temporary. His dream, he said, is to stop dodging cars and buy his own.

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