CEDAR RAPIDS — Retired and living with mild dementia, Dave Krahling often spent long stretches of each day asleep on the couch.
That changed six months ago when he met a new neighbor, Ridesh Basnet, 7. The high-energy second-grader gets Krahling off the couch and into the yard, where they play catch or tag and Krahling pushes Ridesh while the boy sits on a skateboard.
“He’s made quite a difference,” said Krahling, 75. “He’s someone who just lights up your heart.”
Ridesh and his family moved into Cedar Rapids’s Northbrook neighborhood last fall. The city was the family’s second stop after moving to the United States in 2012 from Nepal, where their extended family lived in a refugee camp for 19 years.
“In Nepal, we didn’t have anything,” said Yoga Basnet, 25, Ridesh’s sister. She speaks English and interprets for their father, Hem Basnet, 52. “We didn’t have our own house. It was so hard. Here, we work for ourselves and depend on ourselves. We work and we eat.”
The family was pushed out of Bhutan, on the edge of the Himalayas, in the early 1990s. They lived in huts in the Nepalese camp until 2012, when they moved to Syracuse, N.Y., Yoga Basnet said.
About 85,000 Bhutanese refugees have been resettled in the United States since the mid-1990s, with the largest populations living in Texas, New York, Indiana, North Carolina and Georgia, according to a 2016 statement from then-President Barack Obama’s White House.
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Last month, President Donald Trump’s administration capped at 45,000 the number of refugees the United States will accept next year, the lowest ceiling set for refugees since caps were established in 1980, National Public Radio reported. Trump said refugees are a security risk and resettling them here is costly, especially given that many refugees will need social services.
However, a study by researchers at the University of Notre Dame shows the long-term economic benefits of resettling refugees outweigh the initial costs.
Hem Basnet came to Cedar Rapids in 2013 to look for jobs, which were hard to find in Syracuse because he did not speak English, his daughter said. He was hired at CCB Packaging in Hiawatha, the same plant that later hired his wife, Dira, when she brought the rest of the family to Iowa. There now are three Bhutanese families on Kelburn Lane NE.
Dave and Betty Krahling moved to the street in the 1970s, when the split-level houses were new, the trees were smaller and the couple’s oldest daughter was just starting first grade. Through 46 years, the Krahlings have seen the neighborhood transition from one bustling with kids to a quiet block for older residents. Now, the houses are flipping again, with new families moving in.
Betty Krahling bought signs that say “Slow, children at play” to make it safer for Ridesh and his friends and cousins, who run around the yards and ride bikes in the street.
The Krahlings’ friendship with Ridesh developed last spring. At first, the boy was too shy to enter his neighbors’ yard when Dave Krahling initiated a conversation. Gradually, the boy came over if Dave was outside. Now, if the door is open, Ridesh walks in and goes to a cupboard where Betty Krahling keeps cheese balls, lollipops and snack cakes just for him.
After a snack, Ridesh tells Dave Krahling it’s time to come out and play.
“Dave is a tickle monster and I run from him,” Ridesh said about the game of hide-and-seek they play in the yard. The boy, who just got off the school bus on a recent Wednesday, tells a repoter about the paper robot he made in art class that day and his Transformer Halloween costume.
But Ridesh doesn’t want to sit and chat. He wants to play with Dave. Soon, they are running around the leaf-strewn yard with Assiss Kharka, a grinning 4-year-old who also lives on Kelburn Lane.
Learning from each other
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The Krahlings treat Ridesh like a seventh grandchild. They notice how well he has learned to speak English — Betty thinks the subtitles they play when watching TV help — and boast about his math skills. Betty recently signed up to be a volunteer at Hiawatha Elementary so she could come to Ridesh’s Halloween party as his guest.
Ridesh helps Dave Krahling remember to stretch his arms before standing to avoid dizziness and to swap out his good shoes when he goes out into the yard, Betty Krahling said. When the boy was sharing a meal with the couple recently, he asked Dave to put away the newspaper.
“Ridesh says ‘Remember our rule? Don’t read at the table,’” Betty Krahling said.
Does Dave Krahling take nagging better from a 7-year-old boy than from his wife? “I probably do,” he admitted, smiling at Betty. “But I wouldn’t tell her that.”
At a recent family gathering, Betty’s sister noticed Dave was more engaged in conversation and hadn’t fallen asleep. They realized the only change in his life was Ridesh. “He has helped us in so many ways,” Betty said.
Ridesh’s family appreciates the Krahlings’ time with their son, Hem Basnet said. He and his wife gave Betty a scarf and Dave a round hat like those worn by men in Bhutan. The older couple also has attended community celebrations to learn more about the Bhutanese community in Cedar Rapids.
“These people are hard workers,” Betty said. “They are an extremely close-knit family.”
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