Monday, April 11, 2011

A Refugee and Me

I've become borderline obsessed with refugees. In a good way of course. Something about them just draws me in. If you read this newsletter, then you'll know that refugees are one of the ways I was able to cope with my return to America. I'm also half refugee, if I can say that. My dad arrived in America in 1985, one of the boat people fleeing Vietnam and the communist regime. I love refugees.

I left Washington D.C today and arrived in Dallas, Texas. Part two of my epic adventure, which was about to become even more awesome. Fast forward 1 hour after my landing and I was sitting in an emergency room as a translator. Yeah. I was listening to Burmese, translating it to English, and vice versa. How did this happen?

I walked out of the airport and into baggage claim. (Remember the good old days when your loved ones waited for you outside your gate? When it was fun and exciting to go through security instead of some bizarre game of airport stripper?) Anyway, waiting for me was a woman I had never met before, but I felt like I had known her all my life. She was in fact, the mother of one of my best friends I worked with in Thailand. Cindy and I walked to her car and she told me about the ministry she is involved in, a ministry where they reach out to and support the hundreds of Chin families living in the greater Dallas area. Now, if you've chatted with me in the past few months, you'll know that I've been desperately searching for a group of people from Burma that I can serve and learn from. Who would have guessed they'd be in Louisville, Texas.

We arrived at the house of her family, a man opened the door and I smiled when I saw he was wearing a longi, the traditional skirt worn by both men and women in Burma. He was carrying a tiny little girl and I small boy peaked out from behind the door. He ushered us inside, greeting us warmly and disappearing to the back of the small apartment. A moment later a woman hopped into the room.
"Esther! What happened?" Cindy cried out.
"I fell of stairs." The woman grimaced and I quickly scooted over to allow her room on the couch.
She had fallen down the stairs outside her apartment. Her ankle was swollen and bruised. She explained to me in Burmese that she was too shy to call anyone to take her to the doctor.

We took her to the emergency room, and that's how I found myself translating for doctors and nurses, asking everything from how she landed after she fell to what medicines she was allergic too. I fumbled for words that had left my mind in the past 2 months, slowly warming up to using the language with a native speaker.

Esther and her husband Tacido moved to America 3 years ago. They had been in a refugee camp in Malaysia before that, and had lived in Burma before that. He works 13 hour nights in uncomfortable conditions to provide for his family. She recently took on a job assembling cell phones. They both make minimum wage and trade shifts to take care of the children, neither of whom are old enough to go to school. She was anxious the whole time we were at the hospital, asking about how long it would take for her ankle to heal, she knew she would lose her job if she missed more work. Her husband had already used two of his vacation days because she couldn't take care of the children or the house.

There are many people like this here. Men and women who are willing to do any kind of work to feed their families. People who can barely speak English and are trying to assimilate to American culture. People who are trusting that their hard work will pay off, that their children will be able to live more comfortably in the future.

Esther's ankle is fractured. She has to wait to be able to see a special foot doctor who will tell her how long it will take to heal her leg. Until then, she is unable to go to work, and will probably lose her job. She has pain medication and crutches. We sat in the hospital with her for three hours to get that diagnosis. This town is full of refugees, most uninsured, and most unable to communicate with people.
"We need you here." One nurse told me when she found out I spoke Burmese.

We dropped Esther off at her house. She made the long climb up the stairs, hopping on one foot, using a crutch to support her. As she neared the top, her husband rushed out and used his strength to help her up the last step. Her son looked amazed at the bulky bandage on her foot and the metal crutches. Her daughter reached for her mother, eager to snuggle in her warm embrace.

"Thank you. Thank you so so much." Esther said to me in Burmese.
I smiled back. "It's okay." I said.

Cindy drove me to Denton, to my grandparents house. I was tired, after a 3 hour flight and the evening activity, the time change was catching up to me, but I felt joy in my heart and peace in my soul.


Mia Helen said...

God is so good! what an amazing opportunity you had! How awesome!

Lisa said...

Impressive. Very nice post. I liked it a lot. Thanks for sharing.

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