It always is very interesting when our family shares with us stories from their refugee camp. On our last visit they showed us a youtube video of a fire that happened in March of last year when they were still there in the camp. As we were watching the video I didn’t see anyone rushing to extinguish the fire, so I asked about it but they said everything was just burning because they had no way of doing anything. The dad from our family said many were injured and since he worked at the hospital. Fortunately no one died, however half of the camp burnt down and it was very sad!
Here is the video they showed us if anyone is interested: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CwjN-SOj2E8
And an article that I found:
Since the wife in our family was a journalist back in Benin, Jessica and I took her to the ABC 7 news studio to stand outside the windows and watch the broadcast. She seemed really tired when we first picked her up, but once we got downtown she perked up. She was telling us the French words for different things in the newsroom and described them in English until we understood. Her English is really improving! Once the broadcast was over, we looked at the window displays at Macy’s. We went in for a while to look at their Christmas tree and work on some vocabulary. I’m really glad that we took her downtown since we’ve been staying in their apartment a lot and it wasn’t too cold out. But she did seem really tired. I think part of it is that she’s really frustrated with her English teacher. She always tells us how her teacher doesn’t teach well and never corrects her homework. We always go over her homework with her and she understands really well, but I can see that she has to try even harder to make up for what her teacher lacks.
Since our family served us such a great meal last week, Jason and Alex and I decided to share Thanksgiving dinner with our family yesterday. I brought a rotisserie chicken in place of a turkey, and we also had stuffing, cranberries, sweet potatoes, and rolls. We were a little nervous that they wouldn’t like it, but they really seemed to enjoy it! The only thing they didn’t seem to really like was the rolls — probably because they are so different and maybe even tasteless compared to the bread they are used to eating.
At first we were confused when we got there because we fixed everyone’s plates and were about to start eating, but the dad had left. We thought maybe he just wasn’t hungry. However he returned about fifteen minutes later with popcorn, which they sometimes serve to us with coffee. It was a typical act of how hospitable they are to guests — the father letting his food get cold, just so he could have something to serve us after dinner was over.
Also, two other Eritrean guests came over after we had finished eating. One I have met before — he has been over one other time and translated for us. Through him as translator, the father of our family joked to us that he doesn’t have to say thank you to us anymore because we’re family now and we’ve adopted each other — so we’re expected to come visit them! This made me really happy. I do feel like I’m becoming closer with them, and I know I’ll want to keep visiting them when the class is over because I really enjoy my time with them. Being in the class and recording our monthly hours of visiting them for the ECAC can at times make it seem like visiting is something we HAVE to do — something we have to squeeze into our schedules even during a really busy week because we are supposed to for class. This can make me feel anxious about “fitting in” the time to see them. However I know once the class ends, I’ll still want to visit them and, even if I visit them less often next semester than I do now, I know I’ll not be worrying about doing other things when I visit them, and will be able to stay longer each visit and be fully in the moment with them.
Though I’m supposed to write on Thursday because of Thanksgiving I knew I wouldn’t. So instead of writing late I’ll write early.
After last week when our refugee family surprised us with a huge feast of a meal. Margaret and I discussed bringing them classic Thanksgiving dishes to return the favor. Alex liked the idea and the three of us worked on making or bringing dishes. I made mashed sweet potatoes with brown sugar just like my family actually has on Thanksgiving. It was simple to make and really good. Alex made stuffing. Margaret rounded out the menu by picking up a rotisserie chicken, cranberries, and rolls. It was a pretty good replication of typical holiday food, and the family seemed to enjoy it, especially the toddlers. Most importantly, I liked being able to give something more than just my time. This visit was much of an “investment” than in previous weeks. Not to say that I haven’t been committed, but this feels different for me now somehow.
Later once the meal was over two visitors came into the apartment. One I recognized, a previous translator. The other was an older Eritrean Muslim. He didn’t speak any English. Despite this through translation he carried out a very detailed, thoughtful, and intellectual conversation with me.
To begin with it was easy to tell a few things about him. First of all, he gave of the air both of being a community elder of sorts and a very devote Muslim. While the family is Muslim sometimes it is easy to forget that they are. This was very apparent with the older gentleman when Margaret, Alex, and I went to leave. He refused to shake there hands. He quickly explained through translation that it was improper in his religion for him to shake hands with them and instead did so using me as the medium. The way in which this was explained was interesting, but then I’m getting ahead of myself.
He was very open about his desire to learn English despite being somewhere around sixty years old. He asked me earnestly if I thought he could learn English despite his grey whiskers. I told him if he had the proper ambition and dedication I knew he would. He followed this by saying how difficult for him it is to know four languages but be so inadequate communicating in America. I told him I felt ashamed that America schools and America society does not encourage more of us to learn languages other than our own. I told him it is as much my fault not being able to speak Arabic as it is his not being able to speak English. His reply was simple, none of that matters if you simply help us all learn English. I said as humbly as I could we would do our best.
Having the older Muslim man present really changed the experience for me because with the toddlers providing comic relief it is often easy to forget the seriousness of the situation. He lent a certain gravitas to the proceedings that I really appreciated. Here was a contemplative and opinionated man largely trapped inside his own mind because of the obstacles of language. I hope he reaches his goals. His success would be a great help to all the Eritreans I know.
Last week was when Evan and I got handshakes for the first time, and I was so excited about that. I didn’t have any expectations for this week’s visit though. I thought the handshake was more a ‘thanks for the baby clothes’ kind of thing.
We worked with the mother on a lot of new material this week; bathroom and kitchen items, some outdoor things, and a few random added words from other sections we’d been working on. We reviewed numbers and colors, both of which she is getting really good at.
I could tell the mother was getting exhausted though. She had her newborn, who I’ve only heard cry once and it was short lived, plus the 3 other children were using the room as a playground. I think she might have been a little stressed and frazzled. It kind of hit me how much she must have going on for her right now. We think the father is at work when we visit, but it’s hard to know. She has a nanny lady who is always there, but she’s essentially on her own it seems. Breastfeeding two children, trying to learn English and more. I’m sure it’s hard on her, and I hope we’re not over exerting her.
Even though she seems tired most visits, she seems amused by us. Evan and I bicker a bit, and that gets her to laugh a bit, though I don’t suppose she knows what we’re saying. I like it when she laughs, whether at us or with us, I’m not picky.
We received handshakes on the way out again, which I’m hoping might mean that she finally believes that we aren’t going anywhere. That we want to spend with them and help them as we can and learn with them. We’ll see what happens.
Gracie and I saw our family last Wednesday. The girls seemed a little tired and not totally up for homework. We worked with them for about an hour and then we decided to stop, as it was just kind of tired day. However, both girl’s reading seems to be getting better. I am not sure how much they understand, but they are able to read out loud a lot better then before. The younger girl loves drawing, and every time she gets to do an assignment that involves drawing she gets really excited. Sometimes after we are done with homework she will just start drawing or coloring. Last week we discovered that the boy (who does not interact to much with us) seems to understand more English then we had thought before. Sometimes we would be trying to explain things to the girls and he would say something really fast and they would then understand. We tried to get him to talk more, but he seems pretty shy. I am not really sure how much he understands, but I do think he understands some. I wish he would hang out with us a little more. He was reading with me and the older girl wo weeks ago, and would kind of just whisper along with his sister.
There is this really cute baby (He is maybe one or two) who is in a family that is friends with our family and he is often in our families apartment. A few weeks ago we were playing a game where he would look under the table and I would then look under the table and he would just start laughing (kind of like peekaboo). It was funny, and then the next week when we came back he remembered it and started doing it again. It made me happy he remembered me and the game.