Saturday, November 20, 2010

A refugee family, after a year and a half in the US

This week Isaac and I went to hang out with Tee Reh and Soh Meh (the refugees from Burma) for the first time in a while. The commitment to weekly mentor meetings through the International Rescue Committee is over, so the level of ongoing relationship with have with them is up to us to determine. After our trips to China this summer, we managed to get Tee Reh set up with ESL courses at a local community college and those courses took the place of our weekly English lessons.

P1090155This week we met up just to chat, and it was so fun. Their daughter is a lot bigger and was not so sure she liked these white-faced people invading her space. We actually got to meet a lot of extended family members for the first time. Tee Reh and Soh Meh live in a two-bedroom apartment with their daughter, Soh Meh's mom, sister, and two brothers. Six people in one little apartment. This time we were introduced to her brother, who is the head of the other household of family members across the apartment complex. He supports his three little boys, wife, father-in-law, and maybe another brother? In any case, there are seven people in their apartment.

It's always such a crazy mix of emotions to view their lives. On the one hand there is always the blatant truth that they are living in the low-income stage of a newly arrived family. Their apartments are small, they're living with cockroaches and eating off of food stamps and minimum wage income. On the other hand, there is so much potential. They are the classic American immigrant family who arrives with nothing except dreams, family, and a drive to give a better life to their children. Tee Reh is a hard worker and is very intelligent. He's working his way into a better paying job right now (apparently putting together cell phones in a factory pays better than working as a dishwasher) as well as taking those English classes. He also translates for friends since his English is decent, and since he has a car he's a virtual taxi for their little Karreni refugee community.

Mr. Long 2It's amazing to see the kids. Tee Reh's brother-in-law's three boys that we met are all in elementary school and when we asked them questions in English they answered with ease and very little accent. These kids, raised in the American school system, will soon be teaching and leading their parents through the American culture and society. Even if the parents never get out of minimum wage jobs, with English and an education, those kids can do whatever they set their minds to. So much can change in a generation.

Tee Reh cracked Isaac and I up with his stories about cars and directions and cops. Apparently he got a ticket the other day. He does have a license, or so he thought, but it turns out to be a visitor's driver's permit, which looks like a regular license but still requires him to drive with another driver. He had car trouble and did some illegal move to pull out of traffic, and a cop pulled him over and ticketed him. This was incredibly ironic to him because earlier in the week and his friend got lost and drove randomly around for FIVE HOURS until the wee hours of the morning, and apparently looked for a cop for ages in hopes of asking directions and never found one. Tee Reh said with great chagrin over and over again, "When I need police they are nowhere, but when I don't want to see them they are there!"

I asked Tee Reh this time how he felt about America now that they've been here a year and a half, and he chuckled and shook his head. He now laughs at the fantasy world that people overseas think America is and how starkly that contrasts to the very hard work that their life here really is. He says he gets overwhelmed by work and bills and problems that come up. In his words, "Sometimes it is good here, but sometimes it is very hard."

Other than the link at the top to the post I wrote after our first meeting with Tee Reh and Soh Meh, you can also read about their accidental and HUGE phone bill here, and see photos from their baby shower here.

1 comment:

Jaimie said...

It sounds like they are doing so much better. You've got be so proud of them, like a cultural momma seeing her kids growing up. How exciting!