IN MY OWN WORDS: Reflections of a Refugee Family Mentor after the first visit with her "matched" family

Posted 01/10/2017

We were greeted at the door with smiles and "As-salam alaykum." We greeted in return. We presented a soccer ball, the universal ball of love. It unfolded in a natural way. As much as is possible given the circumstances.

Y'all. They cooked for us. They have so little. And they cooked for us.

They gave us stout coffee in their delicate and beautiful cups ... and cookies. And they shared their food. They fed us dinner. They had it ready for us when we went to give to and share with them. I need to add, be very jealous because it was so freaking good. They served us hot tea in their best tea glasses. They waited on us. They treated us like royalty.

I am overwhelmed by their love, resilience, generosity, hospitality, and ability to laugh and to be vulnerable. There were some stories of their process and tears of acknowledgment when we realized their specific losses. We speak none of the same language, but we laughed and gestured and showed universal signs of warmth, gratitude, kindness, and admiration.

We were embraced and kissed on the cheek and the head. We shared hours with 9 total strangers from across the world who are as different from us as can be...except in the ways that really matter. They love their family. They are close and connected. They want to experience life and love and joy and safety, just like us. We promised to help them do that in any way that we can.

We told them that we have so much to learn and are humbled to have the honor of meeting and knowing them. We asked their patience with us, as there is so much we do not know, and to forgive us in advance if we are ignorant and ever unintentionally offensive.

They have so little, but are content. A small apartment. Warmth. Food. Minimal clothing. One sofa. One love seat. A small dining room table and chairs. A few small end tables. One small, centralized TV. Beds. Enough sheets for each bed. Enough dishes for each person. No toys. No decorations. No books. No transportation.

We asked what they needed. What that wanted. They said nothing. It was almost impossible to get that information. They want nothing from us. They say they need nothing. The only thing mentioned was internet so they might be able to get news from family. We had extra coats, which they needed, but almost would not accept.

We asked the parents if we could bring things for the children. They agreed. The children were thrilled. We came home and gathered all of the things we could gather to take back tomorrow to share. All of Alec's games, some toys, stuffed animals, our Wii (which thrilled the 16 year old and the parents agreed to), books, more coats, etc. We get to see them tomorrow, too.

Alec loved the food. The kids were obsessed with him. They were all smiles. He's an internal and deliberate processor, so he took it all in but talked a lot afterward. We all learned to say hello, goodbye, thank you, you're welcome, and photo. We talked all the way home. He wanted to see the map. He wanted more information. It's a lot to take in for a sheltered 9 year old, but at bedtime, he said, "Mommy, would you please read me everything you can about Syria? About the land and the people and the language and everything?" So we did. And we watched a cool video and listened to their music.

Tonight my heart is full. Bursting with warmth and love for our new friends who we promised to help and protect as much as we can. They are educated and aware of the current political environment here, and they have some fear. They decided to accept this opportunity when it presented itself out of fear that they might never be allowed in. My heart is full for other reasons, as well. Their journey has been long and they have seen death. It feels heavy in light of what our new friends have lived and for what and who they have lost.

I don't begin to know how this will unfold, but I'm thankful for this opportunity thus far. It will change us all.

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