Wednesday, November 29, 2006

rising up

Sometimes people come back after their crisis is over, not as often as I'd like, so when I get the pleasure of hearing the "look at me now" stories I drink them up like sweet water. Yesterday brought one of those unexpected visitors.

C came to us with his son after fleeing Somalia in 2001. He was granted political asylum, but not much else. They were homeless, couldn't speak much english, and needed help. We were able to move him into to one of our projects and over time and with some interpreters, started to learn how we could best help.

C fled during the remnants of the civil war. He was only able to afford passage for himself and one son (of 5 children at the time) and missed his wife and family dearly. C immediately began taking ESL classes and looking for work. Not having any understanding of our social system or ability to speak the language was a barrier, but he took it in stride - all he cared about was getting his family out and safe. He took to our programs quickly, absorbed the help we could offer, was extraordinarily proud of his new place to live, and worked, worked, worked. He had to save $13,000 to prove to the US that he could support his family as well as pay for their passage. He also had to get all the proper approvals and visas and after 9/11, (his family is Muslim), things got considerably tougher.

Stories of all the domestically displaced Muslim families we housed in the years after 9/11 is another tale for another day.

C is so generous, surprising us with Somali delicacies, helping out when we needed some heavy lifting, and working hard to contribute to his new community. C would find other African immigrant families in trouble, and would drop them on our doorstep and translate their needs to us and implore us to help. He was a one man community builder.

C lived with us for over two years. We had committed to keep him housed until his family arrived and we could transition them together, because stable housing was one of the criteria he had to have in order to justify their arrival.

About two months before his family was granted aslyum, one of his daughters died. She had been sick, their village didn't have proper medical treatment, and food was scarce. In essence, she died because it took too long to bring them here. C was devastated, and yet he kept going. There were three children left to bring to his new home.

Finally, the paperwork was pushed and the stamps were stamped and authority was granted. His family arrived, and it was a joyous homecoming. His wife was so breathtakingly beautiful, I'll never forget the first time I saw her walking across the parking lot - orange sari flowing, her regal posture and shy and exhausted smile. His children were beside themselves, they'd had quite a journey and had spent a long time away from their father. Everyone was hungry, and needed to see a doctor, but were ok.

Very shortly after he kept his commitment to us and prepared to move out. He worked several assorted jobs to make ends meet. He'd saved money, but had spent most of it bringing his family here. He still needed help, but again small miracles ensued and a kind landlord was willing to negotiate.

That was 2 years ago. He's always kept in touch, but it's been awhile. He came yesterday to say helllo and to kindly offer me blessings, saying without us he would not have been able to rise up. That he is in touch with others we'd helped at the same time, and we learned one family has bought a house, and another has a son in college. He is working with another family to open a restaurant. And he says they owe it all to us.

Believe me, I know that isn't true. I know the truth is that they helped themselves. That they made the most of every opportunity and never wavered. That they brought community and joy and love and life to our country, and they've blessed us in knowing them.

He brought another family with him today, one he's stumbled upon recently, who've recently arrived from Africa, and one of the kids has some issues. He is 11, but he cannot speak. C thinks the horrors he's witnessed has taken his voice. And of course, they need a place to stay. In the for-profit world, this might equal customer satisfaction and a strong referral base. In ours, it's akin to bailing an ocean with a thimble. There is never enough housing and our arms are weary. But still they come, each with their own stories of trauma and hard times, and each with their exhaustion, shame, and a glimmer of hope in their eyes.

I learned long ago that even when it's thank you, it's never only about thank you.

And I can live with that.

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ah! I always feel stronger, no matter whether your post is about the good or the bad, because YOU come through your writing and lift me up.

Thanks.

Ruth Dynamite said...

You take my breath away with your kindness. What goes around, Jen...

Beautiful story. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

There is always so much negative talk on the news about refugees and immigrants. You should be required reading for all politicians.

mrs.incredible said...

I drink these posts up like "sweet water".

Anonymous said...

Great post, Ms. Jen. On the spectrum you deal with daily, I can only imagine that this man was a bright spot and that you were encouraged by his strength.

The immigrant story is the story of this country, if the powers that be could just open their eyes and see that.

Anjali said...

What an inspirational story. And with all the negative things our government/media tells us about immigrants, it's a testament to all the good and wonderful things immigrants do.

Anonymous said...

Jen, I rarely comment because I am so often left speechless by your generosity of spirit. This was so lovely. You, friend, are a rare gem, indeed.

Anonymous said...

As always, your light shines through. As for the remainder... too many thoughts for the comments section. :)


Peace,

~Chani

Anonymous said...

I think you know that, like you, I am called to serve. These blessings do come sometimes too far and few between, but when they do come they make it that much easier to stick with the important work.

Here's a "virtual" high five, Sister.

meno said...

Look what people can do with someone to help them. Thank you for being that someone.

Anonymous said...

What a noble man.

You too, peach, you are amazing.

Penny said...

Wow. What a great story. I am nearly speechless. You do great work, Jen. God keep you.

The boy with the voice.. reminds me of a young man I knew a decade ago, who had watched some men tie up his mother and burn her alive. He spoke, but if he ever heard my brother speak unkindly toward our mother (he was my brother's friend) he became very angry. He was eventually deported. I have little idea what became of him.

My prayers to the boy and those families and to yours. Love to you.

Momish said...

It's truly wonderful to hear such stories of not just people helping people, but lives being transformed as a result. Thanks for sharing yourself so much to so many, and sharing these stories for all the rest of us. Sweet water indeed!

Anonymous said...

I would be very interested in hearing your perspective on the meaning of the phrase "the American Dream." To me, the concept is present in this story on many different levels, yet there are other aspects of that definition--ones you've touched on in other posts--that I'd like to hear you speak about altogether. I feel like a schoolteacher: "Alright, Miss Jenny Talia, please share with the class your views on The American Dream." ;)

flutter said...

You are sweet water, Miss Jenn

jen said...

game on, ecr. or should i say, headmistress E to the C to the R.

KC said...

Lovely, Jen.

There's a statistical concept applied to medical studies called the number needed to treat. It's the number of people who need to be treated with a certain medicine or intervention in order to prevent one bad outcome, or alternatively, to have one additional person have benefit.

It's not quite the same here since everyone is helped out in some degree by the work you do, but it is successes like this one that make it all the more sweeter.

I've worked with alot of people struggling with drug/alcohol addiction and most will leave the hospital only to go back to their old ways. But, I have seen people turn their lives around. To come clean. And that makes it so worth it.

Anonymous said...

As usual I am inspired by your words - but also by C - what an amazing man.

sweatpantsmom said...

Bless you for all that you do. I am truly in awe of you.

penelopeto said...

what a great post. been catching up on your last few - some of the best, for sure.

crazymumma said...

The giver should always be the one to give thanks for having the ability to give.

Beautiful Beautiful aching post Jen. I cannot even imagine what he went thru, what so many go thru in their hearts.

ecm said...

What a beautiful, beautiful story. I love the title rising up for this. It seems to capture the very essence...the succeeding over adversity, the blessings this life sometimes gives.

Anonymous said...

Amazing. You've warmed me on a cold night.

Anonymous said...

A remarkable story. Thank you for sharing it.

Deezee said...

Your generosity is extraordinary. What a remarkable story.

acumamakiki said...

i loved this and it makes me and my own petty worries/tribulations humbled.