Te weten een vluchteling hielp me vinden van nieuwheid en waardering voor de kleine dingen in het dagelijks leven.

Brian, Sanaa and Shatha.

Wereldvluchtelingendag 2017

Te weten een vluchteling hielp me vinden van nieuwheid en waardering voor de kleine dingen in het dagelijks leven.

I met Sanaa and Shatha nearly 15 years ago through my wife (then girlfriend) who wanted to join a volunteer program mentoring a refugee family. She was the driving force behind this and most other important adventures in my life. We had just graduated from college and moved from the West coast to the East coast.

We met them soon after they were resettled in Washington, DC, from Iraq. Sanaa and Shatha are sisters.

Op het eerste, they were wary of us. Shatha would explain that they were having a hard time getting along with the other refugees in their building and difficulty finding a job. Sanaa would say something quickly in Arabic and they would have an animated debate in front of us for several minutes before Shatha would turn back to us and say something like, “America is so nice …” with a big smile on her face as if we were completely oblivious to the heated argument they just had.

We would meet them at a diner occasionally. I can remember sitting down at the table after using the restroom to find Shatha with a dozen empty half-and-half coffee creamers in a small pile on her plate. She held one proudly and sipped daintily as a refreshment before the meal. We all laughed together at this and many other ways in which they found American culture and customs amusing.

They made my life better by causing me to reflect on all of the cultural things that we don’t notice because of the way they approached life in the US with earnest questioning. This outsider perspective brought joy into my life.

Our relationship ebbed and flowed over the years we lived in Washington, DC. We taught them to ride the metro, took them to see the sites of the city, played games, and drank tea. As soon as they found jobs, they became the hosts. They were older than us and incredibly generous, though they still had very littlea small, basically empty apartment. They would make us big meals, even though we always tried to bring food or take them out. Though this may have been because they thought our cooking was terrible.

Once, Shatha did not understand a diagnosis from a doctor and was very afraid. Though we had seen them two to three times a week leading until this time, they suddenly stopped talking to us or answering calls. We were very worried and wondered if we had done something to offend them. We called their case manager and went to their apartment. Tot slot, after a month they called and invited us over for dinner. Op het eerste, we asked what was going on and they both acted as if nothing strange had occurred. Tot slot, Shatha explained she had received a cancer diagnosis and she was very afraid and had not left her apartment since the diagnosis. For her next appointment, my wife found a translator and went with her. We then helped through the rest of her treatment.

These type of misunderstandings took time to resolve and didn’t always make sense to me. But they taught me that it is possible to trust strangers in a strange land, and that while we all have different backgrounds and experiences, there are more similarities and common experiences of being human that we can share and enjoy than there are differences.

As we shared tea, meals and laughter, we were able to connect despite our differences and these two women became like family to me. When we moved away from Washington, DC, it was hard to say goodbye.

They taught me many things in that short period of time. They taught me that people are resilient. That we must laugh at ourselves.

That we are able to start over.

Ter ere van World Refugee Day 2017, USAHello is collecting stories of how refugees make our lives better.

USAHello believes newcomers make our country a better place. Refugee resettlement is not just the moral or ethical thing to do – it benefits us and our communities as well. These stories from individuals around the country show how knowing, teaching, working with, and perhaps most importantly, being friends with, refugees have improved the lives of Americans.

World Refugee Day June 20, 2017

Find events in your community and learn how you can celebrate World Refugee Day 2017.

Over Brian McGuire
Brian McGuire works for an insurance company. In his free time, he likes spending time outdoors with his kids and dogs.