In an effort to reverse all the bad karma I’ve collected during years spent as a hater, I am mentoring a family of Somalian-Libyan refugees through their transition here.
I won’t say too much about the family and their incredible story, as that would be more exploitative than that Honey Boo Boo show.
All I will say is that they’ve been through a lot. And they still greet me with the biggest smiles whenever I see them.
As I teach them things like simple English phrases (yo, canIgetadietcoke?, that’s hella cool) and how to navigate the bus system, they’re teaching me much more.
If you’re in a travel dry-spell, the way I am (one more week til we hit up New England), volunteer to help people from other cultures. You’ll learn a ton and it will make you feel all warm and fuzzy, like a teddy bear.
1. Muslims are peaceful
This I already knew, but it’s important to repeat, especially right now. It’s illogical to assume that a small group of maniacs represent an entire religion. I am aware of what happened recently at the American Embassay. I’ll “never forget” September 11. (if I do, please me a brain scan appointment).
Religious fanatacism spans across all religions. Being afraid of muslims is like fearing that your sweet Catholic neighbor is going to bomb an abortion clinic.
The family I help just wants peace, quiet, a good place to raise their kids. Their religion is strikengly similar to a lot of other religions. Don’t kill. Don’t steal. Don’t cheat. Don’t be a dick to your neighbor.
We are all humans first. I’d love to get rid of the notion of Them and Us, because no matter what our skin color is or what we wear on our heads or what language we speak, inside, we’re all human. Some people are more sinister and corrupt than others, but we are humans first and of our sex, race, creed, religion second.
There is no Them. There is just Us.
2. Healthy is the real “First World”
My wise new friend enjoys riding the bus, because he sees a lot of people who ride the bus are physically incapcitated and it reminds him of his own good fortune.
This is a man who, as a refugee had to suddenly flee his home country, who has been through war, who likely experienced real hunger. If he thinks this way after all he’s been through, so can I.
Proof I am an ass:
After a job interview, I walked a mile or so in heels, only to see my bus fading out of view. My feet were sore. I wrote pithy Facebook status updates in my head about how sore my feet were and much it sucks to watch your bus fading out of view, knowing you can’t run fast enough to catch it. Followed by a double frowny face.
Then I saw a man in a wheelchair. He had one leg. I was suddenly thankful that my feet hurt. It almost sounds cliche or like a line in a Hallmark card, but I promise it’s true. I stopped the internal whining and for once, was deleriously happy about my thunder thighs.
I was sad that I had no shoes until I saw the man with no feet – Rancid
By the way, I hate the term, “First World.” I agree that I am a lucky person in the richest country in the world, but there is ONE world and we’re all part of it.
3. If you have family, you have everything
I made a lot of friends from developing nations my French as a Second Language School. I noticed that in other countries, the family moves beautifully as a unit. They share without bickering. They welcome other families into their homes. In general, they didn’t understand why in North America, we put people in nursing homes or move far from our parents or why we care so much about our jobs. Family is everything.
I began to realize that although I love America, love the culture, love the freedom to do, be, and say anything I want, love donuts, football, and hamburgers, I could be more family focused. I noticed a striking difference between the American teen and teens from developing nations. Teens who grow up in other places, generally seem more respectful.
My mom’s hella annoying when I am driving. I just tell her to shut the fuck up. ~ actual quote from an American teen.
4. Don’t be that guy
When I ate with the family (fun fact: Somalians eat lots of pasta), I tried to eat my spaghetti with my right hand. All the noodles slipped off the plate. I gave up and started eating the way I naturally eat: left-handed. That’s me. I am respectful, but I am me all the time. Sarcastic. Self-deprecating. South-paw.
5. Citizens of the world
I am American and see things from an American perspective and I realize that. I don’t apologize for it.
That said, I also recognize that I am a citizen of the world. The more I travel and am around other cultures, the more I realize how alike people are.
It’s the complete opposite of what I thought would happen. I thought travel would heighten my awareness of our differences. It’s made me more sensitive to what’s going on around the world. Everyone should be safe and have food and electricity and clean water.
I have a friend from a dangerous part of the world that has a lot of kidnappings. Whenever I hear about what’s going on in his country, to his people, I get nervous. There’s no border between us. We’re friends.