i need to be here right now to get my daughters through their education…

Sehba Sarwar

Sometimes, I get my hair touched up at Ruby’s salon on Harwin Drive, around the corner from Hillcroft. I go to the same place for threading and waxing, and on Eid, friends and I take our daughters there for mehndi/henna designs on their hands. Though the salon is owned by a Pakistani (as are many along that strip), the women employed are from India, Pakistan and Nepal; often, I strike up conversations with them in Urdu/Hindi.

On this particular day, I’m being cared for by Sunita from Katmandu, Nepal. (The conversation below is a translation from Hindi/Urdu).

I tell her: I work with students from Nepal! Most of them were refugees from Bhutan.

She nods and responds: They live in terrible conditions just outside Katmandu. They had difficult lives, but now they are starting to get refugee status in the US. Most of them have left Bhutan – almost 90 percent. We accept the refugees in Nepal, but India has more difficult visa standards.

And she talks about her own situation: My husband won a lottery from Nepal and we came to Houston four years ago. Most of our family is here. My brother is starting a business in Colorado. My daughter goes to Memorial High School and my older daughter is at Texas A&M. My husband stayed in Houston for a year to settle us in, and then he went back to Katmandu.

He’s a government employee and he took a year’s leave to get us settled. Now he comes every six months. In a few years, he’ll have citizenship and then he won’t need to go back and forth.

I had a business in Katmandu. I was doing video editing and also documentary work. I also did filming for TV serials, but then we came here…

I still have someone working in the office over there, and I check on him when I go back. But here, I wanted to do something different, so I enrolled in cosmetology. It took me a year and half but now I cut hair. I’m the only one in the salon that cuts men’s hair. My husband doesn’t believe I do that! I’ve cut his hair a few times…

I like my work. It’s a change, but it’s fun. And I need to be here right now to get my daughters through their education. They both like it here, but let’s see what they do in the future….

I do miss my husband. We talk on Skype every day and we’re always texting. I’ll go home in the summer. And once both our daughters go to college, we can decide where we want to be…although we know we don’t want to be in the US as we grow older. It’s a much more difficult life…

This conversation is part of my What Is Home? project through which I exchange and post conversations with friends, community members, artists, and family members. The project is funded in part by the Mid America Arts Alliance’s Artistic Innovations grant.