Sunday, December 4, 2011

In a bare apartment on Park Lane

We drive to Park Lane, past the four or five other sprawling apartment complexes that house Hispanics, Blacks, and refugees from around the world. We turn right into the complex we head to every Wednesday and drive around to the very back. We pass a tall Sudanese man, two Burmese men in their sarongs (Isaac says, "skirts"), and a crowd of refugee kids playing soccer.

When we knock on the door they answer with enthusiasm and we shake hands and take off our shoes and set our bags on the couch while we all settle on the woven mat in the middle of the carpet. Their apartment is about as big as ours, ours only looks nicer because it's decorated and theirs is pretty barren. They have the couch, the floor mat, and a tv on a tv stand set up with a dvd player (how is that the TV is ALWAYS first priority?). On the wall are pictures of Jesus. They've told us firmly they are Baptist, but all their religious decor looks Catholic to an American eye. There's a map of the public transport system and a photo of the Chin Baptist congregation at the church they attend.

In what was meant to be the dining room is a small table with two chairs that no one sits at. In the corner are two old Huggies diaper boxes, now filled with hand-me-down toys for the twin two year old girls, Mary and Elizabeth. The kitchen is small and it seems that they're using the dishwasher as a storage facility. The rice maker is always on and the stove usually has some sort of stew or curry that obviously includes parts of the animal I wouldn't be comfortable eating.

Dal Mang and his brother-in-law Mung Pi have been in the country three months and a month, respectively. They are Burmese but were living in Malaysia, just like the first refugee family I worked with. That's great for all of us, because when the language barrier becomes a problem we resort to Indo/Malay and I get my personal language fix for the night. Dal Mang works at Pei Wei as a dishwasher and Mung Pi is waiting on a job. Right now he's playing nanny, though, because Niang, Dal's wife, has been in and out of the hospital for weeks. The first week we were there she was happy and healthy, but after that they told us she was pregnant and sick, and eventually was so sick she got dehydrated and unable to keep anything down for days on end. For the last few weeks she's been home but nearly bedridden because she's weak and can barely walk. I can't even imagine how scary it is to stay at a hospital when you know nothing about the language or culture.

Dal Mang and Mung Pi settle on the floor in front of Isaac, who brings a white board and ESL worksheets he makes. They work on grammar and vocab and trying to say the English out loud and with confidence. While they work I attempt to keep Maria and Elizabeth and Judah entertained, which is basically impossible. The girls find Judah alternately intriguing and annoying, and when he walks up to them they push him over or hit him. He, however, thinks the place is fantastic with all that space to practice toddling, and mysterious things like salty plums to find on the floor and eat until Mom spots it (!).

I ache for them, as I have each family that I've worked with when they're new. I think this family in particular catches at my heart right now, when their initially cheerful mother is lying pale and weak in her bed while the girls run around a house and dad struggles to work an intro level job.

Psalms 10:

But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted;
   you consider their grief and take it in hand.
The victims commit themselves to you;
   you are the helper of the fatherless....
17 You, LORD, hear the desire of the afflicted;
   you encourage them, and you listen to their cry.


Rach said...

Great post. Do you work through World Relief, or what organization?

Kacie said...

I worked through World Relief with the first family I worked with, but their headquarters is on the other side of the city in Fort Worth. I now work with the International Rescue Committee. They're fantastic, very impressed with their organization and the way they've helped the refugees I've worked with and trained their volunteers. They aren't a Christian organization, which I'm great with, almost preferred that - a chance to mingle more. :)

Jen said...

Whoa, I didn't know you worked for IRC. I've wanted to work with them for years, but I lack refugee experience. :-( Actually, the reason I came to post a comment is because I'm finally working with refugees now...and they're predominantly Burmese. :-) I just started a job last week in my old school district as an ESL tutor. The school has a couple hundred Burmese refugees (as well as a handful of other refugees), and they even have two entirely refugee "newcomer" classes, so I am doing small group pull-out with those kiddos. I love the job so far! But I really want to start working with their families as well, and I actually have time to since I'm not at school 12 hours a day like classroom teachers. I don't know anything about Burmese culture - would it be appropriate for me to just show up at their apartments for a visit? I know that's totally great with the Arab families, but I'm not sure if that would work for Burmese. I'd love to hear some of your insight.

Kacie said...

Jen, that sounds amazing! I think you can just show up. It seems like their friends and extended family are always walking in and out. Our second week with this family, two teenagers saw us drive up, were intrigued and followed us into their apartment. We assumed they knew each other, but they later told us they didn't really, just wanted to join in!