Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Driving Around with Refugees

Two Vignettes from Behind the Wheel


I am driving with a young man from Africa. We're on our way back from a job interview, and have been explaining that it's OK that he wasn't hired on the spot, that there is an abstract hiring process here, that it takes time.

Young Man: It's very hard here.

michael5000: Yes, America can be a hard place in some ways.

YM: When I was in the camp, my friends who were already here would call me and say "Come to the United States as soon as you can! It's easy to get work, there's a lot of money, it is going to be great, come and join us!" But now that I'm here, yes, it's a rich country, there's a lot of money, but you have to work very, very hard, and it is so hard to get a job.

long pause

m5k: Do you have friends that are still in the camp?

YM: Yes.

m5k: Are you ever able to talk with them?

YM: Sometimes.

m5k: What do you tell them?


YM (laughing): I tell them, "Come to the United States as soon as you can! It's easy to get work, there's a lot of money!"


I am driving with a man from Southeast Asia. We are going to pick up a teenager who, having lived his whole life in a refugee camp, has tried to travel across the city after only two weeks in the United States and has become hopelessly lost.

michael5000: I'm surprised this kind of thing doesn't happen more often.

Man from Southeast Asia: It happens sometimes, though. I have a friend from camp who got lost one day after he got here.

m5k: How did he get home?

MfSA: Well, that's the funny part. The morning after he arrived, he decided to go to Safeway to get cigarettes. And the Safeway, it was just across the street from his apartment, so he walked over and bought the cigarettes. But then, I think he walked out a different entrance than he had come in.

m5k: Uh-oh.

MfSA: Yeah. So he was completely lost, and didn't know what to do, and he didn't speak any English at all. He was totally upset, and started crying. So he did what they had told him to do in an emergency, and dialed 9-1-1.

m5k: Oh no.

MfSA: Three police cars came! Their lights are flashing, sirens going.... He's there crying, and he shows them his address. The police start laughing, because, well, there's his apartment right there across the street. They can see it from where they are standing. He gets very upset and starts shouting in his language, "Why are you laughing at me! Why are you laughing at me!"

m5K: That's a really bad first day in a new country.

MfSA: Yeah. After he told me that story, I gave him a new nickname.

m5k: A new nickname?

MfSA: Now I call him "9-1-1."


Yankee in England said...

When I was five my parents moved a few miles across town. As they were unpacking the truck they told me that I could play on the side walk between our house to the end of the street. I think it was only a few houses till the end of the road. So I ran and skipped and wondered as a five year old does. When I decided I wanted to go back I walk from the corner back but misjudged where my house was and walked in the door for the house before ours. There were all these strange people there that were not my parents and I started wailing that I thought this was my house and its not and now I will never find my home again. Luckily the woman who lived there had seen the moving vans earlier and realized I belonged next door.

By the way you did not update us on you weight

Rebel said...

why does your blog hate me? half the time I try to leave a comment it doesn't let me. =(

Rebel said...

Ok - second attempt.

The story about poor 911 had me laughing and crying right along with him. I am SOOOOO there right now! It's so hard. You can't really single out any landmarks because everything is so new and so different, you can't read the street signs, you can ask anyone for help. It's so easy to get lost and you can become completely overwhelmed.

I think it was pretty damn smart of him to remember to dial 911. I mean, it was an emergency to him, and maybe it wasn't the most ideal solution... but obviously they got him home right??? When you're that far out of your comfort zone, you just have to find a solution - *ANY* solution. If it gets the job done - call it a success!

Rebel said...

(*can't* ask anyone)

Chance said...

Those were both hilarious, yet touching stories.

Anonymous said...

Oh 9-1-1 had me laughing too but in commiseration. When I have a car and go into a place like Target sometimes I come out and wander around in near tears not being able to find the car.

Shoot, I get lost in the town I grew up in and it is tiny.

As for finding a job, I hope the man does and quickly so his words are proven true.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater said...

I got the shits real bad the other day and considered dialing 9-1-1.

gl. said...

good stories! you write them deftly and kindly.

Michael5000 said...

@Yank: Oops, my mistake again. Down 2 to 211, still one pound over plan.

@Reb: Dude, my blog doesn't hate you. My blog totally loves you.

@Chance: Thanks man.

@boo: You're in luck. The first of the two conversations happened around six years ago. Although I'm no longer in touch with him, he was doing very well last time I saw him and I have every reason to believe he is doing well now.

@Dr. Ken: Physician, heal thyself.

@gl.: Thanks man.

Yankee in England said...

But you have lost two pounds and that is great. They say loosing 1-2lbs a week is optimal. That make you optimal!