As Audrey and her little family settled into American life, they became more comfortable with asking and answering questions. We became more comfortable as well as we came to know their personalities and the people behind the label “refugee.”
Katie, my daughter, relates two short stories about a day out shopping with Audrey. Because there were quite a few groceries to pick up, Katie offered to drive Audrey to the supermarket. Once in the store, Katie decided to pick up a few items for her own family and upon reaching the check-out, Audrey tried to pay for Katie’s items. She conveyed, through what English she had mastered, that she wanted to NOT be a burden. That she wanted to contribute in some way instead of always being the one to receive help. Katie, of course, refused and kindly assured Audrey that she was in NO way a burden.
This is the type of person Audrey, and her family members are. They are here to be useful, productive members of society and are anxious to begin their citizenship and American life as such. As they pulled out of the parking lot, Audrey noticed a youngish man holding a cardboard sign. It was snowing lightly and the temperature had dropped into the teens. She turned to Katie with a sad expression and simply asked, “He is crazy?” Katie answered that no, not crazy, just homeless. Audrey could not understand this concept. She kept asking Katie, “No maison?” in utter disbelief. To which, Katie simply said, “No, no home…he sleeps outside.” This clearly puzzled Audrey and she does not understand why anyone with a sound mind and body could or would be homeless. This does not mesh with her idea of a hard-working successful American ideal.
We asked Audrey, Clarisse, and little Fawouzia if they would like to come with us all to our church’s Halloween “Trunk or Treat” and chili cook off. They did and we’re very excited if somewhat confused at what to expect. When we all met at Katie’s house to carpool over, they realized that everyone was all decked out in costumes. They immediately gestured that they, too, would like to dress up. We raided the kids dress up box and with everyone properly attired, we headed to the church. They shyly smiled at first as they met one after another of our congregation.
Then they ate, and laughed and began traipsing through the parking lot, trick or treating at each trunk and saying thank you for every piece of candy or treat they received. Except little Fawouzia. After one circuit of candy collecting, she came and sat by me as I passed out treats. She calls me “Grrrandma” with the most adorable rolling “r” and Sango/French accent. She asked to pass out some candy and as she did so, I asked her if she didn’t want to go around again and get more for herself. She shyly shook her head and showed me her little bag. She held it up and said, “Is enough.” She then picked up the candy bowl and gestured to all the other kids and said, “I give.”
These amazing people, these refugees, have nothing material to speak of. They have been forced from their native lands by war and atrocities. Their people have been diminished by genocide and wicked governments. Yet…they are kind. They are gentle. They are generous and humble and selfless. They seek to give back more than they are given and to be useful and live meaningful, wholehearted lives. They are the best that humanity has to offer.
As Americans, we enjoy a wealth of opportunity and an obscene prosperity…yes, even the poorest among us. Yet, so often, we choose to squander it, or to be ungrateful for all with which we are blessed. Instead, we often focus on how much better off the other guy is, or how many more breaks someone else got in life, or we even grumble that so and so has bigger and better stuff! How shallow and purposeless it all can become.
What happened to being simply thankful that we live in this amazing country and are afforded the incredible blessing of being an American? Our lives are not threatened every single day. Our homes are not taken and burned by ruthless governments. Our children are not slaughtered in front of us without reprisal simply for being from the wrong sect or class. Yet, we complain that our minimum wage is too low, that the government doesn’t pay enough for healthcare, that we are ONLY offered public school in some places, that our rights have been impinged upon, that not everyone gets the same wage, or same clothes, or same house, or same car as everyone else. That life is not fair.
Tell that to Audrey who, when we asked her where her husband and parents were, she simply held her fingers up as if holding a gun. She made gestures as if someone were firing that gun. Then, with a sad smile, just shrugged in acceptance. No, no…life truly is not fair.