I am recollecting memories from the unexpected introduction I had to the stateside refugee community 3 years ago. Initially hired as a caseworker at a resettlement agency, I was in constant learning mode with my work. Within the agency they’d been called “clients”, “refugees”, “immigrants”, etc…. but I preferred to call them brothers and sisters. I told my friends and mentors all the time how much it amazed me that any form of authentic relationship could possibly be developed with those whose case files I handle. I was their advocate, their counselor, their resource hub, but their friend? That is the work of the Lord.
I met my first Muslim friend Muntaha when I was asked to tutor her son, Mohammed. 2 times each week I would go to their apartment and work with Mohammed. Each time Muntaha would bring me coffee and homemade Jordanian pastries on a silver tray. After a time I asked if she would teach me how to make them. Muntaha was overjoyed. While making desserts, stuffed grape leaves and toubuli we became friends. Our children would play together as we cooked and talked about marriage, raising our children, and our religions.
When I was in Afghanistan, I spent a lot of time just walking the streets, praying for someone to take me hope. It’s kind of an odd way to meet people. I suppose I should add – I said hello to everyone I could.
One day, I met a young teen aged girl by a water pump. When I said hello, she smiled and immediately asked me to come to her house. I thanked her, but she insisted. Still, I wasn’t sure. Finally she said, “You must come. My mother is waiting for you!”
I’ve had the privilege of cross-cultural friendships for years and years. I tried to think of the first non-white/non-American person who was ever in my life. I remembered a Cuban woman who worked at my pre-school when I was a little girl. She was so sweet to me. I remember sitting on the kitchen counter after lunch, eating fruit while she taught me kitchen words in Spanish. “Vaso”, cup. I think that was the first word I learned. Prescient, perhaps, considering how many cups of tea I’ve drank with so many people from so many different places.