The former monk traveled to China to help his father’s import business, then to Japan, where he worked at a Toyota factory, and then, in 1996, to the United States, which he understood to be “a freedom country.”
He gravitated toward Jackson Heights, married Sita Rai, a woman he had met at a wedding in Kathmandu, and began assembling a familiar immigrant résumé: clerk in a school-supply store; cook in a Chinese restaurant; driver for a manufacturing firm; delivery man for Domino’s Pizza; taxi driver, working a 12-hour overnight shift.
Four years ago, Dawa switched to driving for Uber, shuttling customers around the tristate area in his black Toyota S.U.V. In recent weeks, he has listened constantly to the news radio station 1010 WINS in his car for updates on the pandemic’s progression.
Then, two weeks ago, two customers coughed in his back seat. He drove home and systematically wiped down the seats, the door handles, everything, in mists of Lysol spray. He hasn’t driven for Uber since.
And it may be a trick of the mind, but Dawa does not feel 100 percent.
Not a half-mile away, dozens of families flock to a commercial stretch along 73rd Street, a few steps from Roosevelt Avenue. This is the Little Bangladesh section of Jackson Heights, a medley of groceries, restaurants and shops that cater to immigrants from Dhaka, Chittagong, Khulna, Sylhet.
Gone for now are the days when men discussed news events in Bengali over samosas and tea, while women browsed the saris in the boutiques and children made difficult selections in the sweet shops. Gone is the sleepy air, redolent of spices.
Instead, uneasiness has set in, as people mill together in a determined search for food and supplies. With schools closed, children will be staying home, taking classes online for who knows how long. So mothers heap bags of rice and tins of oil into the family cars, while fathers carry out slabs of meat to store in newly bought freezers, as if stocking up for a lengthy siege.
All around, people are falling sick. A sergeant who analyzes crime statistics for Captain Cermeli at the 110th precinct. A jeweler who helps to run a soccer league in Corona. The pastor of St. Bartholomew Roman Catholic Church in Elmhurst.
Along and around 73rd Street, lines snake outside grocery stores, and some pharmacy shelves have been picked clean. The same scene is playing out in other areas nearby: Little India, Little Colombia, Little Manila. People who have known faraway conflict are steeling for war.
Friday, March 20
‘We have not gone through something like this across our whole city in generations.’
— Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York