I miss my friends
Well, the good news is, almost everybody got a job. I’m trying to focus on that. The woman in her early 40s with the big smile, and the shy younger woman (who swears she’s 18 but looks 15) she’d taken under her wing, giving advice on things a caseworker might not understand, they both got jobs. Maybe they’re on the same housekeeping crew.
The Afghani father found work and the kids are in school. Undoubtedly doing well, as long as we give them a chance. Those kids had a wonderful brightness to them. Energy and attention, sincerity and kindness.
And the tall man got a job. An electrical engineer in Kabul, I think he’s changing sheets too. Nearly all of my students do. If you stay in a hotel in the Bay Area, there’s a good chance a refugee made the bed for you. Be kind to them. They were kind to me.
The shy man was one of the last two students, at first he didn’t know how to answer “hello” but last week he taught me Arabic numbers after we breezed through an hour and a half of everything I could throw at him. He got perhaps the best job. He’ll wash windows from now on.
Everyone but the grandma got jobs. She was so proud of her son! And she tried so hard to learn English, or at least stay in her faltering Spanish, knowing that the Mayan language of her village is completely unknown in her world now. How hard it must be for someone who never got to go to school in their native language, much less their second, to now be surrounded by a country in a third? But she showed up to every class, learning the shapes of letters with hands that have raised children and crops.
I could go through the whole class. But I won’t. The deep gratitude and happiness of meeting them is still inside me, will last longer, but right now, the sadness of seeing them go is standing closer. But that’s not quite right. It’s not seeing them go.
Because my students were always short relationships. They would come to class for a few weeks before getting some job the native born don’t want to do, then they’d disappear. I’m used to that. What’s sad today is not that they left, but that no others have come.
I am out of students. Because America is being (mis)led by a morally bankrupt man who apparently feels it when he sees dead children on TV, but lacks the vision or moral capacity to care about anyone the rest of the time.
So last week I stood in an empty classroom. At the end of a quiet hallway that normally bustles with activity. The heroes of the International Rescue Committee helping the innocents who were forced from their homes. Showing the soul and moral fiber of America, the goodness in us, to people so brutalized by the international order that preyed on whatever weaknesses it could find in their homelands.
The window washer? His country is bleeding for oil. The electrical engineer? His is hosting a proxy war for external powers who jockey for position through bombs that tear apart the people below.
I’m sorry. It’s Travel Tuesday. I should be talking about that eco-preserve in Ecuador. I WANT to be talking about it. But I can’t. Not today. Because today I’m sad, and today I’m angry. Angry that those controlling my country have forgotten that our flag is more than a brand of bombs. That it’s for wrapping around those in need, not for covering the eyes of the American people, blinding the American soul.
And today I’m sad. Today I miss my friends, the refugees I met, the friends I made. America is still a good country. Humans still a good species. But today, I see the ways we’re failing to show it.