As usual, whenever Vince and I are over, the family asks to use our phones to make phone calls to their family members in different states. This time however, they had used a phone card to contact a relative in Nepal, someone I believe still in the camp.
The over all mood was pretty lively, until this particular conversation. When the minutes on the phone care ran out, the son of our family was obviously set back. He told us, a younger cousin of his, a 13 year old girl, has been missing for two days. He explained that the camps didn’t have any protection or guards, and that it was common for young girls to go missing. He ended the conversation with the quick comment that the girls are often sold in India.
Generally thier phone calls ended on a happy note. I told him I was sorry to hear the news and left it at that.
I’ve been pretty wrapped up in their family affairs, and despite the many challenges they still face, I feel like they’re starting to get the hang of things, that things are looking up for them. The news really set me back; I’ve read about the brothels and sex trafficing in India, knowing how grim these conditions are. I hope their cousin is spared this fate. Sometimes it’s hard to believe just three months ago this was a very real threat to the 4 young women of our family.
Our role with our Burmese family is pretty much set in stone at this point. We are homework tutors for their kids. Earlier in the semester, both Renee and I would try to offer other types of help- nothing drastic, but things like taking the kids to the library or going over their mom’s ELL homework. For the most part, however, we have been homework tutors and little more. I don’t feel regretful about this at all. I know homework tutoring is important, and helpful to both the kids and the family. Every time we visit, we are able to get substantial work done, and so I don’t feel like I’m wasting the family’s time.
However, I know there is more I could be doing for this family- it just seems virtually impossible to negotiate any other roles. When Renee offered to take the kids to the library early on in our visits, for example, the kids’ mother objected profusely. But now I am rethinking, and wondering whether those early objections set the wrong precedent for our actions now. We’ve spent a lot of time with the family now, and the kids were allowed to come with us the the Halloween party. Perhaps it is only my discomfort with the idea of intruding on the family’s rules and comfort level that has kept me from trying to offer services beyond tutoring.
This may indeed be the case. I feel I need to do some self-reflection to see whether this is the main issue, or whether the family really doesn’t want or need anything more. It is confusing, because they haven’t asked us for anything (they are a Burmese family, and so this could just be their politeness). And at the same time, they have visible needs that we could potentially attend to. I’ve noticed one member of the family limping, and the kids don’t always wear warm enough clothing…….
More time and attention will probably clear some of these discrepancies over my role with the family up. But it’s almost time for finals- I hope the rest of my life won’t interfere with any progress I could make with the family.
Last week Mary and I visited our Nepali friends on a week day. Usually we visit the family on Sundays but Mary and I both had conflicts on the weekend so we were able to reschedule it. We helped the the girls with their homework, as usual, and afterward they tried to teach us some Nepali words.
We stayed around at the girls’ insistence and they cooked another delicious Nepali dinner for us. As we ate we talked, and the TV antenna that Mary’s dad brought for the family came up. We asked one of the girls what her favorite shows on TV were and she kept telling us Channel 37. We had no idea what that was until she told us it was the Spanish channel. We all had a laugh and set up a time to meet next week.
“For nine months we have waited to go to the zoo!” said the wife of my refugee friends from Iraq. An extra long winter last year followed by a busy summer of missed communication and several weeks of lost of contact had pushed this outing beyond our reach. Originally, I think the trip had been promised by another volunteer from a separate organization who had been visiting the family, but she had moved out-of-state in the meanwhile. Fortune was definitely on our side on last Saturday as my wife was able to score 6 tickets to Brookfield Zoo from a friend and we had bright autumn sunshine and rare 70 degree temps – the kind of day that makes fall a favorite season for many people.
My friends now live on the far west side so the trip to Brookfield was not too long. I drove the minivan the husband had purchased and completely refurbished mechanically. It looked a bit rough but it was mechanically sound – it reminded me of the series of used vehicles I fixed up and drove during my early years in graduate school. He tells me he drives everywhere now and has even passed the test for a truck driver’s license (one of his many skills). His wife had awoken at 6 AM to go to the store and buy groceries and cook a massive lunch for us to share.
After we arrived at the zoo, we rented wagons for the two little boys and our feast and we hit the trail in search of exotic animals. Surrounded by hundreds of other children and families, this seemed to be a perfect outing for our friends who were pleased to be able to provide such a nice experience for their boys, who had doubtless been deprived of such opportunities during the hardships of war and refugee life. The lions, tigers, bears, rhinos, monkeys, and gorillas were big favorites, but the children’s zoo was equally fun. We spread out our lunch buffet on a picnic table next to a playground and we helped encourage these shy little boys to join in the fun. The husband reminisced about family parks they once had before the bad times came. We all took many pictures to share with each other and our families and to help us save the memory of this day’s events.
Before we left, with the youngest son now sleeping soundly in his wagon, the wife of this family wanted us to enjoy a ride on the carousel with their oldest son. They purchased tickets for their son and my wife and I to go for a ride. I was curious to see which animal he wanted to ride and he chose the tiger – one of the first big animals we had seen that day and one that clearly engaged his interest. As we drove back to their apartment, the husband began quizzing me on the names of roads and the directions we were taking and was urgently jotting English and Arabic notes – he wanted to know how to get to this park again and to share this location with his Arabic speaking friends. We joked that next time we may be taking 3 children to the zoo because his wife is expecting in July. With luck we will be able to take some trips to the Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum that can help us all get through their second Chicago winter.