You know how when you are in the midst of one thing and then all the stars line up and God puts something in your path and you just can’t ignore all the signs? Although I had intended and even made good headway on a blog on an entirely different subject for this month, the whole refugee thing was just – there. So with abject apologies to our miracle worker Tawny Branaman, who makes the Power blogs come to life on the page – sorry for my tardiness, Tawny: let the blogging begin!
I have skittered around the edges of refugee work for awhile. I met an Iraqi refugee in Jordan who worked for a remarkable organization, Collateral Repair Project. Amazing how things line up. He once was again resettled in – of all places – Richardson, Texas; practically my backyard! He’s equally remarkable in that whatever assistance I offered or whatever tips or info were suggested, he flew with them and got it done. In a short time he had a driver’s license, a car, a job, and was off and running. How gratifying to help someone like him!
Last year I met another power house of a woman, Anne Marie Weiss Armush. She rather single handedly founded and runs the DFW International Community Alliance. I am sure many of our readers have participated in or enjoyed one of the hundreds of festivals they sponsor each year. In addition to the International Community, Anne Marie has worked closely with the various DFW refugee communities for over two decades. This includes and is not limited to Iraqis, Somalis, Afghanis, Syrians and now Rohingas.
Anne Marie is another one-chic show, running most of it out of her home. There is always a pile of donations stacked up against her front door and garage. La Garage de Anne Marie rivals Walmart, Ross, Tuesday Morning and several of our more ethnic stores with its treasure within! Donations come in daily as do text messages from refugees that read “I AM HERE”. They are often too shy to ring the bell! Recently she collected a bunch of bicycles and they were being readied as gifts for Muslim kids for their holiday celebration. And what smiles did those bikes bring to little faces!
Perhaps if I put a more human face on this immense diaspora that now is larger than any seen before in human history, we all might be a little more understanding and welcoming.
With the stars lining up and all, this morning I awoke to this amazing short film, Let Me In, with Alicia Keyes. It hits a bit closer to home by depicting an average American family right in the middle of a fictitious war and refugee crisis, resembling the real thing in Syria.
Seeing thousands of Syrians pouring into my second home in Jordan, certainly gave me pause. They were not the poor or impoverished. They were just like me. They were educated. They were professionals. They had a home like mine. and stuff like mine, and a life like mine. And here they were, walking, sometimes fleeing in terror from forces in pursuit, across the desert into Jordan with only the clothes on their back. Some of them merely children who’d lost or been separated from their parents like the girl in the film. This time I could easily imagine a crisis like this happening to me and those I love. I encourage you to watch the film because we just don’t know where the world is going anymore.
More stars…I started reading a recommended book whose catchy title caught me, Where the Wind Leads by Vinh Chung. This one is about the Vietnamese Boat People and their refugee experience. What I learned is that all refugees share a common narrative: no one wants them. Be they Vietnamese, Korean, Arab, Latino, African, it’s all an equal opportunity NOT ON MY TURF. Not only are they turned away, but some are thrown out, locked out or towed out to sea and left to perish – slowly and cruelly. The inhumanity of it is astoundingly appalling. Just when you think mankind has reached a certain level of maturity, wisdom, and knowledge – that we are better than this – it seems not. One would hope that knowing/experiencing ‘the other’ would be viewed as a gift not a trial or an evil.
I am not here to beleaguer humanity but just to draw a little more personal attention to an overwhelming international crisis. The book about the Vietnamese Boat people needs to be on the required reading list in all high schools. The narrative is so strikingly similar among all refugees. Often the men, who were once professionals, must now work for minimum wage the remainder of their lives just to support the family since there is no time to learn English. The book chronicles the bullying of kids and adults who look, sound and smell(!) different, and even the violence committed against entire communities whose presence is so not welcome.
There are of course wonderful and heartwarming stories of success as well as those of sincere and dedicated people who go way above and beyond to help. There are always stories like these that keep life going. Women are more often than not the heroes of these sagas: be they refugees or volunteers; women from all walks of life who survive against incredible odds and who give their of their precious weekends or mornings to help.
As a Muslim I am all too aware of the crisis and its implications not only for my own flock, but all of us. I hearken back always to a verse from the Qur’an that says “God created us all from a single soul, Adam, then made his mate, Eve, and from them scattered countless generations and made us into tribes and nations.” To what end? To hate each other? To fight over possession and rule of the earth? To cling to our own kind? No. What is meant is that we were created to know each other – to learn, to share, to grow.
No Mean Girls. Let Them In.