Sunday, August 26, 2007

post Buduburam

There is life after the refugee camp. (No surprise there.)

Morris, who's story has been shared here for over a year, was recently, and finally, resettled to the US. He's now living in Boise, Idaho. I've been in regular contact with him via email, and it sounds like all is going really well. He has begun the process of getting into the system here, including various medical appointments to follow up on his general health, his lungs in particular, and even his hearing. I hope to get a chance to visit him sometime soon.

Another friend of mine, who I wrote about shortly after I arrived on the camp in 2004 and was sending out "newseletters" (pre-blog era for me), is Patrick. He is an excellent tailor who also does his own embroidering. He is able to: copy anything from high-fashion magazine photos, create his own "western" designs, make something from a drawing brought to him, and design spectacular African fashions. I lived near Patrick, who was a Liberian refugee, while I was in Ivory Coast from 1993-1996. Then I was sent to work in Ghana, and about a year later I ran into Patrick on the bustling streets of Accra. He was interested in becoming involved with some of the work I was doing at that time with people with disabilities, and voluntarily began helping us by training some of the people in tailoring and embroidery. When I left Ghana in 1998, he and I stayed in touch for awhile, and then, somehow, we just lost contact.

Then, early in 2004, during my first week or two on the camp, I was walking around and there, across the way, was Patrick. He now had his shop on the refugee camp, where he trained people as well as ran a nice tailoring business. He also had a wife and 4 girls (and it turns out I knew his wife from when we were all in Ivory Coast - occasionally she would cook some droolingly-delicious Liberian dishes for us and she worked for awhile with Doctors Without Borders, who were in the same town at that time). Patrick was also continuing to care for some of the people around him - one day he had met Otis (who I wrote about in my last entry) on the camp, and Patrick is the friend I referred to who took Otis on as an apprentice.

In November, 2004, Patrick and his family were notified that they had been chosen to be resettled to Norway - and they had only 1 or 2 days to prepare. They asked if I could help to take them to the IOM office on their day of departure (I wrote more about IOM and my thoughts about it in the second blogposting I did about Morris. The first post about Morris was just a mention, in the July 4 entry at the bottom of this page), and from there they would later be carried to the airport. I had a tiny car at that time which semi-comfortably could seat 4 (including the driver), and with a little squeezing seat 5. For the trip to the IOM office we happily (if not comfortably) sardined 8 of us - and baggage - into that car and were grateful that it was one of the days the car was able to make the trip into Accra without breaking down or needing spark plugs or tires changed. They left the country in style.

SMA is an international organization, and most of the countries where SMA is established also have lay programs. The French lay program associated with SMA (FLM - their website is in French) has just celebrated its 25-year anniversary and decided to combine the celebration with the first international meeting of representatives from all the other lay programs associated with SMA. The American lay program, SMA Association of the Faithful, of which I'm a part, asked me to represent them at these meetings and for the celebration. The point of this diversion from Patrick and his family is that I happily agreed to take part in the meeting and celebration (and to go into details of all those events here would be too much of a digression - but I'll sum it up to say it is a really good, exciting step we are taking), and it was worked out that I was able to arrive in France a little early so as to have time to make a side trip to visit Patrick and his family in Norway.

This was my first time to visit African friends of mine who I met in Africa and were now living elsewhere. Norway itself I found beautiful and would love to explore sometime, but the primary purpose of this trip was just to visit Patrick and his family.

They told me that when they first arrived, the initial focus was on learning the language. They're all doing well with it now; even the little girls, when talking to each other, are often conversing in Norwegian. There were times when we were together that Patrick needed a little help in translating and turned to his girls. After learning the language, the adults have the chance for further education - and the kids, of course, go to school. Julia, Patrick's wife, went as far as she wants (for now) with school, and is currently working. Patrick's still in school at the moment. Recently, they opened up a shop together - tailoring in 1/2 the shop and the other 1/2 selling some hair care supplies and some soft drinks and kenkey. Patrick will usually spend his day there, when he's not in school, and his wife will come to the shop after she finishes work. They had no problem adjusting to different foods - and Julia is a great cook (I think this was my first time to eat reindeer and it was delicious).

And they were happy. I felt like a part of their family. They were settled, yet still had more goals and dreams for themselves and their girls. And the girls, as children will do, have acculturated extremely well. While I was there we went one day to McDonald's where the youngest girls played in the playland, then to the shopping mall where Patrick had promised he'd get something for them, expecting it to be some kind of toy. Instead, first stop was the pet store, where hopes and fantasies of a hamster were seen in the eyes and heard from the lips of each girl. Patrick had promised, so, instead of a toy, we walked out of the mall with a hamster, the hamster's new home, and 4 very excited little girls.

Throughout my experiences in West Africa, I saw that kids would also be excited about hamsters, which were synonymous with rats, mice, other vermin. (Patrick and Julia referred to this one as a rat.) But it was a different excitement in Africa. Patrick's girls were excited to have a pet, to love it, to care for it, to name it (Stripe), to watch it, to one day have it get married, etc. Children who haven't left Africa are excited because it's protein. It's meat. It's a snack. Who would think of capturing one, putting it in a cage, and taking care of it? Craziness. In Africa, you capture, kill it, and grill it. The girls have adapted to their new culture. They give food to stray cats in their neighborhood. In Africa, strays, even pets, are on their own for food. And now, they hold, pet, love and give food to a hamster. Patrick and Julia just shake their heads.

pet?................................................................or snack?


At 6:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is wonderful to see such a great update on Morris and his family and to know that he is doing so well. It must have been a great thrill to be able to share some time in Norway with him.


At 9:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just noticed that I put the wrong name on my previous comment--I should have said that is was great that you could spend time with Patrick, not Morris. Boy, this getting old really takes a toll on a person's mind, doesn't it?



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