We had climbed up the narrow stairwell in a stark concrete box of a building. The apartment was on the 4th floor. I had brought someone with me, who had "never met a refugee", and who registered in her expression, amazement at how different living conditions in this area of the city were from the areas with which she was familiar. There was no sign of a tree or a blade of grass in the whole city block; nowhere to play safely or ride a bike. Even inside the apartment very little light entered through the small window that served the kitchen/sitting room area. I had chosen this family to visit, because, unlike almost all the other newcomers, the mother spoke English quite well. I knew my guest would have lots of questions. The father spoke no English, but watched the proceedings from a chair at the tiny kitchen table. Two children shyly sat at their mother's feet. They showed great interest in the clothing and food we had brought. A third came in from school, bursting in, and then hiding his embarrassment, by leaving to "go next door".
My guest asked about school, and was surprised that the children had to walk a long way to get there. Most of the families in the block did not have a car, and there was no school bus. The idea that if the family members could not walk to any destination, they could not get there, was a revelation. A bus pass was well outside the reach of a new family with only one wage earner at $8 an hour - and riding a bus required English skills and experience still to be gained.The mother described how for most of the new refugees in her group, coming to America, first by car and then by plane, was frightening as they had never ridden in either before. My guest asked our hostess whether she missed the refugee camp, and was amazed when she burst into tears . Yes she missed the camp terribly.;She had lived there for 20 years - since the age of eight. Many of her friends were resettled in other places and she would not see them again. She did not have to worry about having enough money for food or rent there. She did not have to struggle with language, and she knew what the expectations of her were. Living in a city was scary, and unpredictable. She did not know how to keep her children safe here......... That mother now has a full time job and is a leader in her local community, But now that she is working she no longer qualifies for the medical insurance she received when she arrived. She is only one sickness away from not earning enough to cover rent and family food. Her English has improved greatly and she has learned new skills. But until she can find a job that provides her with medical insurance, she is very likely to still need emergency assistance from time to time. She has almost made it across the bridge.
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