Refugees, our neighbors.

 Photo by Angie Smith

Photo by Angie Smith

What if we treated our neighbors like refugees?

And what if we treated refugees like neighbors? 

 

African Neighbor:

 Photo by Angie Smith

Photo by Angie Smith

I remember coming in and the teachers introducing me to my classes and me introducing myself to my classmates. And I remember them saying ‘Where are you from?’ ‘I’m from Africa,’ and they would say these things that never happened in Africa. Never. At least to me. They really think that we have this communion with animals, like we love wild animals very much.They thought I lived in a tribe, which a couple people do still live in a tribe there but I didn’t, I lived in a city. It was pretty weird seeing how they view us. And the difference between how we view them. I don’t think I felt offended, I think there was an empathy that I had because when I lived in Kenya, there were pictures painted about the US that were very untrue. So I was like ‘I was like you when I was there.’ I understood. I just think some of the notions were very ridiculous. I don’t blame them. But some of them were very far from the truth (via).

American Refugee:

She’d missed the bus because her sister overslept. She couldn’t go home because nobody was there and she couldn’t make it to school because the roads were barely plowed and most of the sidewalks hadn’t been shoveled. Plus, she was cold. She wasn’t wearing socks or a hat or even a jacket, and at eight o’clock in the morning, it was still a few degrees below zero.

So she came to our home.

She knocked gently and waiting quietly. But the door only opened half way, “Hey,” Josey said, in her soft and calming voice, “What’s up?”

The little girl explained her plight quickly, because she was cold.

“Oh,” Josey said, but didn’t open the door any further. Elias began to cry in the background, “Sorry kiddo, I have two of my own children who are hungry and cold and I need to make sure they’re okay.” The little girl stared blankly. “Sorry,” Josey said again, gently closing the door and heading back to the kitchen.

After helping Elias to a handful of Cheerios, she picked up her phone and texted her husband and explained what just happened. She ended with, “Can you believe these parents? What kind of shithole home does this girl live in that she doesn’t even have socks!”

The girl stood for a moment, staring at the woman with long blond hair walk around the kitchen, smiling and laughing with her two little kids. She wondered if she should knock again, if the lady would change her mind. She raised her hand, stopped, then let it fall. She turned and slowly walked down the steps and sidewalk littered with ice and clumps of salt. At the corner, she turned toward her house knowing it would be locked and nobody would be home. She fought back tears and fear and jumped over a large snowdrift that covered the sidewalk. Snow slipped into her shoes and packed beneath her bare. She jammed her hands into pockets and bit her lower lip. Crying wouldn’t help.

 

Ethiopian Neighbor:

 Photo by Angie Smith

Photo by Angie Smith

The Boise people I see, they are very welcoming to refugees, they encourage us to improve our English, to have better job, to have better life. From Create Common Good I met a lot of interesting people, amazing people, they change my life. I don’t want to forget my volunteer, Michael. I will never forget him in my life. He is making me a man in this city. He was teaching me to ask, ‘are you guys hiring people at this time? Who is your boss?’ Pushing me to speak with people, and teaching me how I can be successful. He is the first person making me successful in this country. And still he is beside me if I have any difficulty. At this time, I am trying to help anyone who is lower than me. Wherever I am from, inside my community or outside, I don’t care, if someone need help, whenever I can, I help (via). 

American Refugee:

Okay, I made that part up. It didn’t happen that way. Here is what really happened.

She’d missed the bus because her sister overslept. She couldn’t go home because nobody was there and she couldn’t make it to school because the roads were barely plowed and most of the sidewalks hadn’t been shoveled. Plus, she was cold. She wasn’t wearing socks or a hat or even a jacket, and at eight o’clock in the morning, it was still a few degrees below zero.

Josey wasn’t expecting anyone, so when she heard a faint knock – almost like a whisper – coming from the front door, she assumed Judah missed the bus and had locked the door on his way out. But when she opened the door and found the little girl from down the street standing on the doorstep, she wasn’t surprised. “Hey kiddo, you okay?”

The little girl explained her plight and Josey’s heart ached as she listened. When the girl finished, Josey fought back tears, knelt down, and looked the girl in the eyes, “Oh kiddo, I’m so sorry.” The girl smiled slightly but kept her eyes on the frozen ground. “I’ll tell you what,” Josey said, standing but still holding the little girls shoulder, “All day today, I promise to keep you in my thoughts and prayers, okay!”

The girl’s smile faded, “Okay.”

“Great,” and Josey’s hand fell from the girls shoulder and reached for the door, “All day kiddo, I promise.” And as she gently closed the door and slipped the deadbolt back into place, she whispered to herself and to God her hopes and desires that things might get better for this little girl, that she would have parents who loved and cared for her, and that the evil that flooded this little girl’s home would be washed away and the home renewed. She prayed God would once again be welcome in the schools and courthouses and public meetings. Then she walked over to the chalkboard that hangs above the coffee pot and wrote, “Today, as you pour your coffee, remember to pray for the little girl.” And she did. All throughout the day, whenever she reached for her mug or poured milk for Zion, she read the message and sent up simple but lengthy prayers for the little girl with freezing fingers and uninvolved parents.

Later in the day, while the wind blew snowdrifts up the door or covered the windows and sidewalk, Josey sipped her coffee and played with her kids. She worked on her spread for a magazine that wanted to feature her. When her husband came home and asked her how the day was, she said it was good – “nothing outside the norm,” and when they all gathered around the table, plates steaming and hearts warm, she remembered the little girl and, as a family, they prayed for her. Eden cried, because she has a soft heart, and Josey wrapped her up in her arms and told he she loved her and that she was proud of her for caring so much about people.

Iriqi Neighbor:

 Photo by Angie Smith

Photo by Angie Smith

. . . I came here in May 2012. Then a whole new problems started here. Language, culture, no one, no friends. After three months, I just gave up on my life, I tried to kill myself, but it didn’t work. I took a lot of medicine. I just wanted to kill myself because I’m tired. They said if you ever do that again, you will be in jail forever. That’s what the judge said. It scared me, to be honest. At the same time I thought, wow, I gave up on my life but now I am back in life. Let me just start a new life. I always start a new life, since left my country I have been starting over and over. Sometimes I smile when I talk about it or I laugh, but inside it’s killing me.

I’m tired of losing people. I have been losing people my entire life. Losing my friends, losing my best friend, losing a lot of people to stupid ISIS. I’m like no, I will live my life however I want it. And people will accept it or not. Not just accept me as being gay or straight, but accept me as who I am. Once I open that, now I am not afraid to say to anyone, I am gay. They can decide if they want to be friends with me. If you want to be friends with me, you are more than welcome to be friends. If not, move on, and I move on with my life.

I decided to do what I did in [Gay] pride, to be more open to everyone. So I wrote down my first and last name, Iraqi, refugee, gay, and that’s how I become out.

It felt great. I feel like I am not afraid of anything. I am more open to a lot of people, more open to myself, being who I am. I have always wanted to live a life as who I am. People will accept me as who I am, not just accept me being gay or straight. Once I open that, I’m not afraid to tell anyone I am gay. I was even shaking when I walked. Even when I did it, I still got scared, but I just walked. Walked with a big smile and waving at everyone, proud being gay in Idaho (via).

American Refugee:

It didn’t happen that way either. Here’s how it really happened. I promise.

And I let her in and made her some hot chocolate. “Don’t call my mom,” she said because her mom was already at work and her older sisters at school and she didn’t want anyone get into trouble. Our van was still covered in snow from the day before so Josey called the school and asked them to come pick her up. They weren’t surprised.

“This won’t be a problem next year,” the little girl said, “because I’ll be in Texas with my dad and it doesn’t snow in Texas.” She sipped her hot coco and played with her fingernails.

“Why are you moving to Texas?” Josey asked.

“Because I have ADHD and my mom can’t handle three kids by herself,” she looked around the room, at Elias eating Honey Nut Cheerios, “she’s keeping my other sisters because they aren’t as difficult.” Then she finished her hot chocolate.

A few minutes later, the school bus arrived and the little girl grabbed her bag, said “thank you” for the hot chocolate, and headed off to school.

Josey rinsed out the cup and listened to Zion talk about all she wants to buy with the money she got from the Tooth Ferry who had visited the night before.

After pouring a fresh cup of coffee, Josey sat down. Zion, holding a favorite book, climbed into her lap while Elias crawled on the floor.

After school, the little girl stopped in and asked if she could come over tomorrow, after school. When Josey said yes, the little girl handed her a note, a to-do list of activities.

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A lesson from Boise:

 Photo by Angie Smith

Photo by Angie Smith

I think a refugee is not just a person fleeing disaster. I think a refugee is a person that strives to liberate a whole generation. Because the reason why there is America is because a group of people went from Europe to here because they wanted a better life, and look what we have now. So a refugee is not just a person who takes space and eats your food and takes your money. I think a refugee is a person who strives to make a better way for their generation. It’s not just a one-sided perspective. When you see one person getting out of another country to come into yours, it’s not just one person, it’s a lineage of people. And when you reject that one person, you are rejecting his whole generation. So I feel like having that perspective of consumerism and what it’s going to take out of the country, I think that’s human. I think it’s very natural for us to look at the compromise and say ‘What if we lose this?’ Sometimes it’s very hard to see what you will gain because what you will gain is definitely not money. It’s something more beautiful and abstract and less tangible (via).

“Being chosen" says Trevor Noah, "is the greatest gift you can give to another human being." 

May we choose to choose, over and over again. 

 

You can read more refugee stories at Stronger Shines the Light Inside.