At Saint Benedict’s Education Center, I am most often found on the third floor. Home to refugees learning English and preparing to find a job, usually in housekeeping, a plastic factory, packaging or laundry. I get to work one on one, conversing with these people from across the globe.
At first, I was struck by the vulnerability it takes to take a chance on speaking a foreign language. It is a constant struggle in the hopes of being understood. One Syrian man opened my eyes to the struggle. While we went over new vocabulary words in English, he would ask me to repeat them back in Arabic. We would laugh with each other as we mispronounced and forgot certain words in the other person’s language. I was self-conscious of my pronunciation and concerned if I was saying the correct word. He opened my eyes further to the everyday vulnerability it takes to simply speak.
As I get to know some of the refugees, we would talk about where they are from, what life was like in their native country, their children, where I am from, why I am there, what my family is like. We both have our phones out, showing pictures to the other person of the people we love. There would come a point when one of us would say, “Same!” We would recognize a similarity in the other person. We would make some kind of connection. With one woman from the Congo it was the little bit of French I could remember from high school. I teach one man’s children at the Art House. One Bhutanese woman has three children like my parents. Many of the refugees have not seen their parents for many months or many years. They understand what it is to miss someone who is far away. We found a shared experience of leaving home and leaving loved ones behind. Those stories remind me that our homesickness is the same. We see each other as people who have come from places with beauty and people to be missed. I am in awe of their courage and sacrifice taken for their families. While I will see my parents in two months, many people are unsure of when they will see their parents or loved ones again.
Some other highlights for me from the last month include participating in a Lakota Sweat Lodge with some of the sisters, hearing a presentation by a Buddhist monk and enjoying the Erie Philharmonic. My phone calls home are now prefaced with the question, “What did you do NOW?” I’m grateful for all the unique opportunities I’ve been gifted with since coming to Erie!
Thank you for the prayers and support. Erie is still beautiful, but now with fall colors!
Peace and prayers,