Posts in Refugee Resettlement
What Are You Afraid Of?

One thing I’ve learned about myself is that, probably because I grew up in a war, I tend to have an air-raid siren going off in my head. Sometimes it’s in the distance, other times not. Sometimes it fixates on the most trivial of things. We don’t always get to choose what’s in our heads. Maybe we don’t choose what we’re afraid of either.

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Every breaking wave

It’s good thing to be alone and small in the presence of breaking waves and shifting dunes and the incredible beauty of a cold fog when some of your life work seems threatened.  When I checked my phone, it told me I was walking in open ocean.  For some reason that made me laugh out loud. The whole peninsula had shifted east since Google maps recorded it.  I keep thinking about that now. I'm a little person. 

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Semi-hostile, Slightly-Fantastic Interview with myself about the election and implications for refugee resettlement, Evangelical Christians, and Beautiful Day.

K: But what’s your best guess. Prognosticate.

K: My best guess is that on January 21, President Trump will issue an order to stop or pause parts of the US refugee resettlement program. No more Syrians.  Possibly fewer from camps and countries that are majority Muslim.  I’ve heard a few people wonder if the entire resettlement program could be paused.  My own view is that the new administration will put a moratorium on Syrians, Somalis, and maybe designate certain countries or camps as off-limits.  It’s kind of bleak.

K: What’s the rush? Can he do this? 

K: From what I understand, absolutely, yes.  He can't change the Refugee Act of 1980, but that law allows the president broad powers to determine or change the ceiling on the number of refugees that can legally be resettled in a given year.

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Muscles Matter

A couple months ago, on our way home from visiting my parents in Switzerland, Kathy and I spent a few days in Paris and a morning at the Rodin museum.  Next to Chagall, Rodin is my favorite artist. There are moments when I wonder if he might have benefited from a better sense of humor, but I love the way his sculptures reach past the anxious buzz of my mind and tell my soul how much people matter. Emotion matters, gestures matter, hands and feet matter, the interplay of bodies in space matter, the movement of a body—even in bronze and without a head (okay, he does have some sense of humor)—matter.  Muscles matter.  In a way that is message of Rodin for me: every muscle matters. 

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Funny Summer

It’s been a funny summer.

 In February I went to LA and pulled out my back.  I woke up. I yawned. I stretched.  The two kind of overlapped.  Then it was, uh oh, here we go. 

Kathy had arranged to meet a friend at a burger place at Venice Beach, so we went early and I popped into a Chinese deep tissue massage stall I found on the Ocean Front walk. I’m not sure I’d recommend it (it’s the one near the muscle guys, not the more expensive upstairs place that requires an appointment).  I pretty much cried my way through a 20 minute session. The guy actually placed the tip of his elbow between my vertebrae and pushed down on his fist in like he was staking a tent.

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Pantophobia (Part 2)

Okay, pantophobia or not, there are at least a few things I’m not afraid of.

Like, Turks, for example. 

Let me explain:  Earlier this month I visited my father who now lives in Basel, Switzerland. Basel is a beautifully quaint, sophisticated, cosmopolitan place with historic fountains, ancient Roman ruins, and modern pharmaceutical factories.  Nearly everybody I met had traveled widely and spoke English.  And yet, I kept overhearing the same kinds of worry-mongering that we’re used to hearing in the US about the dangerous lower-income immigrant section of town.  Who knew?!  Turks.  Turks not learning German.  Turks not assimilating. Turks keeping their wives under lock and key. (And don't get me wrong--I don't mean this as Swiss-bashing.  The Swiss have far more refugees per capita than the US.)

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We Don't Live in Amarillo

The other day, I spoke with Erneste Ntahondereye, one of the pillars of the 200-plus strong Burundian refugee community that has made Providence home. Erneste complained about all the Burundians moving to Amarillo, Texas, to work in the meat-packing factories. He’d gone to visit recently and was appalled. Parents were working, but refugee children were staying home or dropping out of school. There were minimal social services. He thumped his skull. “Their heads,” he said, “empty, empty!”

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On Suffering and Giving

I send updates about Syria or Sudan or C.A.R. in our Twitter and news feed, but I’m not always sure this is wise or healthy.  While I believe that bearing witness can both honor and protest suffering, seeing without responding can also make us callous or nihilistic or afraid or depressed.  Reduction to 140 characters (!) sent or read while walking the dog  (and intermixed with pictures of what Uncle Joe ate last night) threatens to trivialize.  Yet deep compassion without action or interaction can sometimes shake us. 

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Interview Part 3: Sweat, Elephants, and an Acrostic Poem

I grew up in a war.  I also trained as a fiction writer.   What both experiences have in common is they nourish an impulse to park the mind in a different place than the body and live with some inner distance or disconnect.  With war it’s basic survival.  Fiction writers just feel compelled to apprehend or explore or comprehend experience—which leaves some part of their brains observing at a distance.  Great for being reflective.  Not so great for being in-the-moment. 

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Building an airborne vehicle mid-flight

I’ve heard start-up entrepreneurs describe their job as trying to build an airplane while it’s in flight.   Yeah, that feels about right too.  Maybe airborne vehicle.  Capable of crashing.  It would have been nice to design and build this thing on the ground first—but that would have taken the backing of a well-funded non-profit.  Or a functioning business could have shifted its mission from primarily making money to primarily training.  But these two sectors [small business manufacturing and non-profit adult ed agency] don’t typically cross paths.  They don’t think alike.  So they don’t tend to fund big initiatives that might be outside their primary mission.  Yet the only way I could imagine us being effective in our mission [to jumpstart refugees into the job market] was at their intersection.  So we’re a hybrid and we’re building and we’re in flight.

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Pinball, Haute Cuisine, and Holiday Giving

At Beautiful Day, we are sold on the importance of refugee resettlement in Rhode Island—not as charity, but as vital to the health, growth, compassion, diversity and joy of our community.  Sure, resettlement is expensive on the front end.  Ultimately, as refugees get jobs and get organized and integrate and eventually start businesses, it can be a sweet deal—a black Friday kind of deal for our state.  But only if they actually settle here.  And unless they see opportunities to contribute economically, refugees will not want to stay in Rhode Island.  This, of course, is one reason Beautiful Day exists.

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