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.
This post will reflect on my visit with my family’s wife from two weeks ago, and later this week I will discuss what we did this past Friday…which was a fun field trip!
Two weeks ago though, we went to visit on a Wednesday because I would be heading home on Friday, which is our usual meeting day. I tried to be as clear as possible with the wife, but she might have forgot that we were coming because when we came upstairs and she answered the door she said she had been sleeping. Then she told us that she felt sick and had a stomachache. I felt so bad, but she seemed like she at least wanted to go over her English homework, as she was still frustrated by the bad teacher she had and how she didn’t really correct the students’ homework. But like usual, she did well. We helped her write out a story in the past tense about her life. It was very interesting to see what she would write. She wrote about how her father died in the late 80′s and how she stayed with her mother and traveled to school. She wrote about when she graduated and when she met her husband. And then of course, she said that now she had moved here, to Chicago. We started to talk about math and she was amazed at how we write out division problems, as they do them differently in Africa. I also pulled out a newspaper for her and went over some of the vocabulary for her, like “headline” and “byline,” which she seemed very interested in. I hope before the end of the semester I can teach her even more journalism vocabulary in English, because she described some concepts, like writing in an inverted pyramid, that are universal rules of journalism, yet she needs to know how to use these rules in English.
At the end of our visit, she looked sad that we were leaving, but then said that she felt a lot better and that because we came to visit, her stomachache was gone!
This week Vikash and I made it a point to talk to the family about healthy eating habits and how to make their foods better for the family. This idea stems from “Kareena’s” recent doctor’s visits. We discussed the food pyramid and talk about what their children should be eating. The main problem they have is that the kids are not eating very much and I think it is due to stress and not having their familiar relatives near them. So we gave them some advice on how to incorporate their favorite things into food. Also oils were a big issue we talked about. Since in a lot of their cooking they use oils, we told them to stay away from trans-fat oils and not to put so much salt on everything. The family was very engage in our discussion and they want to keep their health because they still have a long road ahead.
The other day, as Vince and I were helping one of the young adults (the one who is pregnant) in our family get groceries, we were asking if she’s been considering any particualr names. Her response is always no. We’ve built up a considerable trust with our family, and I am always joking with her, offering potential names for her baby.
She explained that in Nepal, newborns are not given a name until 11 days after birth; the name being chosen by their priest.
Vince had asked if they were planning on practicing this naming ceremony here, and suggested that they might want to have the priest come to the hospital when the baby is being born; we explained that the hospitals usually expect a name to be assigned the day of birth.
She says this wouldn’t be a problem as she plans to have a local Nepali priest hold thier usual naming ceremony at the proper date, but said the baby will be given an Amercian name at the hospital - which she’s leaving Vince and I in charge of choosing!
This week, I really felt like the kids in our family have made significant progress, and I like to think it’s partially because of the time we have spent with them. It’s hard to measure change, but one thing I did several weeks ago was make flash-cards of the multiplication tables to use whenever we get a chance because multiplication is the basis of the math work they are doing. The kids have really gotten much more accurate and quick in multiplying. I think their reading has improved as well. The older boy has been much more aloof and has had very limited English, and while he may not have improved his English so much, he is a lot more eager to communicate and willing to try, which I feel is a great step. Whereas before he would often shake his head ‘yes’ in response to what we’d say to him, seeming too tentative to attempt to respond in English, during our last visits he frequently spoke without prompting. Today, the younger girl told us that she got a D on her report card, but I don’t think this should be discouraging to either of us because there has been progress, and what the kids have been able to accomplish is already amazing, not to mention the very fact that they are so incredibly motivated and eager to learn. I also feel that the kids have really gotten to the point where they are very comfortable with us and trust us and (I hope) enjoy spending time with us. Just feeling that our relationship has grown is in itself rewarding.
I think this visit was very good. Lots of friends were over which is always fun. Also we had their version of spaghetti. Caitlin had their sauce which was basically chili paste. I stuck with the buttered noodles, I am a wimp. Caitlin helped our sister with her homework and I tried to do math homework with her but we ran into a problem. Her assignment was to do 10 problems out of her math book, but she never received a math book. I wrote her teacher a note with my name and phone number asking if she could provide her with a text book. After that we read a story about Thanksgiving. Her English and comprehension is getting better and I was really excited to see the transformation. We found ourselves laughing and talking a lot today that was very rewarding. We started planning a birthday party for son’s first birthday in February. I was excited to plan the party until I remembered I won’t be here next semester. I instantly decided I am coming back for that party. We are also planning on taking our family to the zoo when the Christmas lights start.
Once again this week we had the opportunity to eat dinner with the family, a tradition they start to do every week we visit. I felt a little bad because as a vegetarian I was unable to eat the meat that they prepared. I could tell they felt bad and the mom even went back to the kitchen to make me something else despite my attempts to get her to stay. While we at the dad talked more about Nepal and said how they drink boiling water there. I found this very interesting and after thinking about it for a while, I realized that they probably do that to kill the bacteria.
The tone of tonight’s post will be much different than the last one. Highlighting, I think, the emotional component of this type of work–the upset that happens when you start connecting with people and then experience the chance that these connections may be disturbed. Today was the first time I got to see the family in several weeks (3-4 I think). During all but last week, I would ride the bus with Paige and Lily to the family’s house. We would knock on the door…silence…Some of the times, I refused to believe that they were gone and would not be coming home while we were there. We would usually sit in the stairwell and talk for 15-30 minutes, listening to people singing and talking in their homes. Even though we weren’t with our family, it was great to feel such a strong community and familial presence in the building. I guess, every time I take a trip into different areas of Chicago, I learn something. Anyways, I’m getting sidetracked. Today it was awesome to be back with the family, enjoying our own little community that we have created. Homework was done, conversations were had, beverages and laughs were shared. As for the concerns I had about how the family feels about us, most of them were assuaged today. They seem very happy to have us there. And I feel like it’s definitely not just about teaching English or just about trying to get them material things that they need. It’s also a time for hanging out and getting to know people from other cultures better. A time to interact with children, and a time to interact with adults. A time to play, and a time to work. A time to laugh and talk, and a time to listen and talk about more serious things. A time to ask questions, and a time to try to provide some answers. It’s a time for a diverse number of things. This diversity helps show me that we are creating our own unique and lively community.
At our family visit last night, the son of our family informed us that the reason we haven’t seen their father since the first week of our visits is that he had to move to Iowa. The job market in Chicago doesn’t have a lot of space for non-English speakers (or at least that is how it is perceived by our family). I assumed their father was working, because we haven’t seen him at all, and he had mentioned moving to Iowa, but I had no idea he had moved there. It’s a pretty painful thought- that after all the sacrifices he’s already had to make, this father now has to leave his family in order to support them. An interesting piece of real-life evidence supporting the need for a rehaul of refugee resettlement policy…..
Also, the daughter of our family informed us that she’s getting a D in her social studies class- a class I’ve never heard her mention before. She has never brought social studies homework home. I think this is probably just a misunderstanding that can be fixed.
Hey, guys – I want to use this blog as a chance to get a word out for the Transportation committee. After meeting with Erik, an exec board member at The Recyclery (the bike co-op in Evanston), we’ve come up with a few possibilities for ways to get Loyola students and our families involved. One of these is to host Bike Safety and Bike Repairs 101 workshops in the spring for any of our families who might have a bike or be able to obtain a bike through The Recyclery’s “Freecycle” program. This would entail running a program maybe once a month along with an active volunteer from The Recyclery. I myself am interested about working as a volunteer at the Recyclery, and I would gladly serve as a connection for the Loyola Refugee Outreach group/class. But we want as many volunteers as are interested. This couldn’t be a half-hearted commitment, though – the Recyclery doesn’t have enough consistent volunteers to allow for us to ditch out on them. Hopefully, if anyone is interested, we would be able to get some training for a Safety workshop before the end of the semester. At the very least, we will be able to figure out what can continue as a partnership in the spring.
If this sounds like something you’re interested in, please let me know! E-mail my at email@example.com, and after compiling some more info, I’ll contact you. Thanks guys!
Through my work in teaching English to the refugee family I visit, I have come to understand the difficulty in firmly establishing what “level” of English learning someone has accomplished. The last time I went to the household of my refugee friends, a multi-generational group of their extended family gathered around their dining room table so that Alicia and I could teach them vocabulary from an English picture dictionary.
Because my refugee friends isolate themselves from much of the outside world in Chicago, they have not been effectively gaining English skills through immersion. Therefore, after we teach them school-themed or seasonal vocabulary, what ends up happening is that they can identify “computer” and “snow” but lack the ability to perform basic greetings and small talk.
Of course, now that Alicia and I have identified this problem, we are taking steps to teach lessons designed for conversational English. However, it brings up the importance of prioritizing what types of English skills to teach newcomers. I can tie this experience to the experiences in my role as a member of the class’s Employment Group because in helping train newcomers towards successful job interviews, knowing animal names and camping vocabulary is useless in the face of day-to-day challenges. While these aspects of English should of course be learned eventually, or as people become interested, I recognize the importance of GED and job vocabulary now through my interactions with the refugee family I visit.
After several disappointing attempts to visit last week, Margaret and I finally were able to see our refugee family again last Sunday. Instead of going in the afternoon as we had every previous visit, we decided we would try to go at noon. I think this made a big difference.
Initially, we weren’t sure how things would go because of the questions surrounding the failed visits. As it turns out, one of the toddlers had ended up in the hospital because a severe ear infection. The parents spent nights at the hospital with him. That means when we were ringing the buzzer the daughter was home alone with the other brother. Once we were able to get the situation translated, everything suddenly made a lot more sense.
On our previous attempts to see them we had discussed lightening the mood by playing board games rather than teaching English. Margaret decided to bring Scrabble that day. At first we worried that it wouldn’t work out since they didn’t know English well enough, but it turned out to be an excellent choice. We began by walking them through how the game worked and showing examples. We followed that up with a free form session of word building. I liked the way this session went from structured to unstructured.
Once we were done with that, Margaret and I thought we would be heading home, but the father asked us to stay a little longer. We thought he just wanted us to drink coffee again. The next thing I knew there was chicken, hard-boiled eggs, and African-style flat bread heaped in front of me. The father showed up how to break the egg up into the sauce and then use the bread like a fork or spoon. It was a messy meal, but incredibly tasty. They wouldn’t take no for an answer leaving me with as much food as I could possibly eat; Margaret wasn’t so lucky. The family teased her, and I joined in a little. We all laughed a lot. Once the meal was over, we still had coffee and popcorn! I couldn’t believe how much they feed us, nor could I understand how three hours had elapsed since we had arrived. This Sunday was definitely my favorite experience with the refugees.
As the weeks go by I think I see a little bit of progress in learning English. My four refugee students are excited to learn English. They can make connects now between English words for animals, food, and objects to words in their own native tongue. Even through it’s hard to learn English, they can just laugh at each other when they make a mistake and start teasing each other. Its gotten to a point that at the end of the day my refugee students are correctly English errors I’ll making while teaching them! Sometimes I wonder who really is the teacher! Cause I’m learning so much from them about resilience and strength of character. I don’t know what they went through to arrive in America, but I know what they are going through here. It’s hard enough bring a teenage and trying to “fit in.” Coming from another culture entirely…well, we all know this story. It just amazes me the effort and desire to learn American culture and English. They want to succeed so badly and I can’t think of a better use of my time that helping them get there wherever ‘there’ may be.
In the last few visits, we have been overrun by bugs and mice! Our family has had an infestion problem, where the bugs are multiplying everytime we visit. It has reminded me alot about renting apartments. I have had similar experiences before, where once i have found a group of dead mice under the radiator. I have just been reminded on how conditions in such places are not the best and should be glad to have not had to deal with it for a while now. Of course first on the agenda is to solve this problem!
I wanted to say thanks to those who have been so diligent in posting to the blog. It has helped me understand what you all are doing and feeling and what the range of experiences has been in the class. It is clearly vast and I think that going public with our discussion has been very helpful for this collaborative learning process. Thanks for sharing!
This week began like any other week with Cate and I helping our refugee family as well as some of the neighbors in their homework. Then I helped the father and mother by going over some of their ESL homework they got from their ESL teacher. After we finished with all of the homework, Cate and I usually talked with the family a bit, but this week they wanted us to have dinner with them. The have offered us dinner before but we have not eaten with them yet. So they brought out our plates, one big plate with rice and three small plates with meat, vegtables, and a fried egg. It was a lot of food and both of us were stuffed from this new and tasty meal. Another new experience for me was seeing the family eat with their hands. Now I am used to people eating with their hands, but it is usually limited to things that picked up at a fast food restaurant or bar food. So it was unique to see them eating rice and the other food at dinner with their hands and who knows maybe I will try it later on.