Today my partner and I took two out of the five children in our family to the LRO Halloween party: the third grade girl and the fifth grade boy. We told them we would be at their apartment to walk over with them at 1:30, and when we got there they were waiting downstairs, bouncing around with excitement. They chatted eagerly the entire walk there. Once we got there, we made Halloween necklaces and then it was time to go trick-or-treating. We got dressed up in the costumes that LRO had there- the girl insisted that I wear a white ghost dress, so I did. We played several games outside and then went trick-or-treating inside an academic building. I felt like it was a very good bonding experience. Normally our visit time is split among the five children, so it was fun to spend some more individual/focused time with just two of them. Both of them seemed to have a ton of fun playing the games (a Halloween version of duck, duck, goose and tag) and were very excited to go around and get candy. We are going back to their apartment tomorrow night to go trick-or-treating with them around their neighborhood. My partner and I promised to dress up.
I’m starting to realize how much our visits mean to the kids. They show such excitement when we come over and when we say when we are coming back. I asked the girl if she was going to wear her costume to school tomorrow and she said no because everyone would laugh at her. She then said that she would wear it tomorrow night though since she knew we wouldn’t laugh at her. Although I wish she felt more comfortable in school, it made me glad that she feels so comfortable with us. She also told us today that her birthday is coming up soon, but they aren’t going to do anything for it because it’s too much work. I’m not entirely sure why that is the case, but I am hoping my partner and I can help do something small for her for her birthday.
Today was Penny’s 10th Birthday party. Sarah and I arrived early and played games with all of the kids while the food was being prepared. Sarah gave her a coloring book, and we spent a good half-an hour meticulously coloring Hello Kitty while the little boys scribbled everywhere. It was a good time.
Guests started to arrive around 11, and the small apartment quickly filled up with family members, neighbors, and friends. We sang “happy birthday” to Penny and had cake, followed by an array of Nepali food (too much for me to handle, but delicious none-the-less!).
The warm generosity of Penny and her family will never cease to amaze me. Sitting in the midst of at least 30 people, all talking and laughing and enjoying each other, I was reminded of my own family – most of whom I haven’t seen in a long time. To my chagrin, I actually started to get emotional. Sarah and I haven’t had the chance to get to know the family very well yet, we haven’t even known them a full week, and yet we have been treated as if we belong right there with them.
I feel like I’m the one getting the most out of this arrangement. It’s like all of a sudden I’ve been adopted into this wonderful family, who are so happy to see me when I come through the door and so eager to share their lives with me.
Today Sarah and I met with our new family for the first time. They are a Bhutanese family of five; two parents and three children, and they came to the U.S. from Nepal about 18 months ago. We met the mother and two of the children, Penny (9) and Peter (18), along with several members of their extended family who live nearby. The father and eldest brother both work evenings, so we have yet to meet them.
What struck me about our first visit was the hospitality that Penny, her mother and the rest of the family showed us. Though English wasn’t very strong among the older members of the family, they welcomed us with smiles and greetings of “Namaste”. It felt a bit odd at first, albeit a welcome change from what I am used to – Americans can be very wary of strangers. We’re taught from a young age not to talk to strangers, much less let them into our homes. The immediate comfort and kindness I felt was wonderful. We’ve already been invited to Penny’s 10th Birthday party on Sunday.
We talked with Penny about school and her favorite subjects. She likes math, and asked if we would help her with her long division and multiplication. (I had to brush up on my elementary math skills when I got home later that night…) We ended up drawing pictures of animals for most of the night, and exchanging English and Nepali names for what we drew.
Another thing that struck me about Penny’s family was their strong ambition to succeed. I don’t know their whole story yet, and hope one day I will, but for now I can just admire how hard they are working and how thankful they are to be here. As I mentioned before, the father and oldest brother are working when we come to visit – but I found out from talking with Penny and her mother that they both also attend school. Penny’s father goes to classes from 9am-12pm, and then goes off to work from 2pm-9pm. Her mother also goes to classes during the week.
We had the chance to meet some neighbors too, since people were coming in and out of the apartment throughout our visit. One man, whom I will refer to as Ray, told us how lucky we were to be going to Loyola. I’ve always felt lucky to be going to Loyola, or to be going to college at all. I feel lucky to be in Chicago. I know how lucky I am to have been born in the United States. But to have someone else say that to you, someone who has likely experienced so much in his life and who feels lucky to be alive with his family…it strikes a chord. It makes me wish I could give them more, though in reality my time is really all I have to give to them. I hope that I can give them something worth-while – a teacher, a mentor, a friend, whatever they need.