The Plight of Refugees

I saw my Burmese refugee family yesterday for the first time in about a month. One week Po’s son David was sick, another week I was swamped and had to postpone, and then for the past week and a half, my texts went unanswered. It isn’t like Po not to answer texts, so I thought I would swing by just to check that everything was okay. You never know when something could happen, and Mai doesn’t know enough English to know who to contact or how.

Po’s cell phone is a single point of failure, so I imagined that if it got smashed or dropped then that would explain the loss of contact. I was pretty close, but Po had a different, temporary phone, and he said something about needing to pay for the other one. I didn’t catch whether that was from lack of funds, but it could easily have been from contract terms as well.

I wasn’t planning to teach as I knew I would be dropping in on them unannounced, but I turned up because I wanted to check that everything was alright. Knowing that everything was okay was a good thing, but since I was there Po had some questions about the mail he had received, which was pure English legalese. He had applied for a green card but he did not know if any of his mail was related to that. There were four envelopes from Medicaid, one for each person in the household, which said that a particular “primary care medical provider” would be automatically assigned to them if they did not choose a different provider, and the other four envelopes simply stated that their applications for resident status that had been received.

I found a new strategy to help them out: I would type a summary of what I believed the letters meant into my phone on Google Translate and would then show Po the resulting Burmese. It appears to have worked fairly well, but he was still worried he needed to take action, when surprisingly he didn’t. I did a couple small translations to try to clarify that.

Those Medicaid letters. Do those bureaucrats really expect refugees from the far corners of the world to understand what in the world they mean? Oh, sure, the back of the envelope was stamped with Arabic, Spanish, and two other “common” foreign languages, but is there not one America in the whole city who could provide a translation to Burmese? Not one? There is no freaking way you can send these people legal terminology and expect them to understand it.

And I get it. Budgets. I guess you can’t translate everything into every language. But it still makes me angry. I can’t imagine being thrown into a completely different world and then being absolutely drowned in legal paperwork. State societies are notorious for this and they rely on it to function.

I was able to get Po a copy of the first 19 questions of the citizenship test in Burmese, and he was pretty excited about that. I started studying Burmese last year but realized my motivation for it was far too low, so I passed it up. What I do know is the Devanagari script and, like, five words of Nepali, so you can imagine I feel a bit torn right now. My desire to go to Nepal is far greater than it is to see Burma, and you have to pay attention to what motivates you or learning a language will become unbearable. Still. I’m curious how often people take advantage of refugees who do not understand the language. Hey, half the time I don’t read full contracts.

Oh, and Burmese people have difficulty saying “Thanksgiving” =). It happens to us all, you should hear me try to roll an “r”. It took me awhile to understand that Po was saying his work does not give Thanksgiving off, so they are celebrating on the Sunday after. It’s good to see they are getting the cultural experience.

On an unrelated topic, Mai was the one to first greet me at the door, but shortly after I turned up, she disappeared into the back room, which has never happened before. The last time I was there, Po told me that they had another child on the way, and I know some cultures believe that women should remain in isolation when they are pregnant, but Po’s primary desire for English lessons is to help Mai learn. There could have been any number of reasons for this, but my inner Anthropologist is interested. And you can’t just lump people as “Burmese”, this family comes from Kachin State, which has its own customs. This family is also Christian, and that may change how they live out those costumes, too.

Anyway, Po and Mai are of course not their real names, I simply stole these from George Orwell’s “Burmese Days”. I’m thinking of ways to help, it may even be worth teaching them some common legal terms, or at least enough to help them with Medicaid and the green cards.

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Dreams

I read an article today that was written in 2014 about the Christian Writer’s Guild shutting down. So it’s been gone for a few years now. That makes me sad.

Back in highschool, I wanted to be a writer. Some of the stories I wanted to write are still with me today. I found the Christian Writer’s Guild and really wanted to be a part of it, but my parents didn’t have the money. I wanted to write, publish, all that, even considered majoring in English with a minor in Business to that end, but dreams change.

Only this past week did the Guild cross my mind. And it comes at a time in life where I now see that programming and computers will play a critical role in my life and career. I’m not sure how I feel looking back to the past, those days in Colorado Springs, where so much growing up took place. It isn’t surprising that Jerry Jenkins didn’t make any money from the guild, but it seems to have been a dream of his. I don’t believe it was a failure, but I do think of all the failed dreams. The small business failures. I see used book stores go out of business a lot, but every owner seems to really love books, so I wonder what those people must feel when everything goes up.

“But God, didn’t you put this in my heart for a reason?” “I thought I was doing your will.” “I spent so many years earning this education, but I’m still in debt for it and struggling to live a normal life….”

If it weren’t for programming, I would probably still be paying on my loans. And that’s for an Anthropology degree. I’m one of the lucky ones, though of course the story involves a lot of God and a lot of events lining up.

I don’t know. I feel sad, and a bit melancholy. My own efforts in the world have taught me the value of a career, and I think I’m definitely on the right path with software development. I always heard that writing for a living was hard, and I’ve seen the struggles of people with humanities degrees. What happened to all of those dreams? All of the training, the time, the prayers, and the tears? Some do find their place and thrive there. But it took Jerry’s “Left Behind” fortune to allow him to dump his money into an otherwise money-losing enterprise. Maybe that’s why God gave him the money in the first place. Who knows?

What about the others? Who want to serve the disadvantaged, the broken. To kindle art and enthusiasm, to invest in people and who they are and how they express themselves? I’ve been to enough estate sales and seen enough urban exploration videos on YouTube to know that everything rots in the end, but what about the lives? We are so lost without the Lord, and we are so lost without the Church.

I’m waxing a bit, but everyone has dreams. Yet each one seems like just a drop in the bucket. People die and passions fade. All I can think is that we cannot put all of our hope in our dreams.

Psalm 39

I said, “I will watch my ways

and keep my tongue from sin;

I will put a muzzle on my mouth

while in the presence of the wicked.”

So I remained utterly silent,

not even saying anything good.

But my anguish increased;

my heart grew hot within me.

While I meditated, the fire burned;

then I spoke with my tongue:

“Show me, Lord, my life’s end

and the number of my days;

let me know how fleeting my life is.

You have made my days a mere handbreadth;

the span of my years is as nothing before you.

Everyone is but a breath,

even those who seem secure.

“Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom;

in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth

without knowing whose it will finally be.

“But now, Lord, what do I look for?

My hope is in you.

Save me from all my transgressions;

do not make me the scorn of fools.

I was silent; I would not open my mouth,

for you are the one who has done this.

Remove your scourge from me;

I am overcome by the blow of your hand.

When you rebuke and discipline anyone for their sin,

you consume their wealth like a moth—

surely everyone is but a breath.

“Hear my prayer, Lord,

listen to my cry for help;

do not be deaf to my weeping.

I dwell with you as a foreigner,

a stranger, as all my ancestors were.

Look away from me, that I may enjoy life again

before I depart and am no more.”