Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving in Michigan

It has been a whirlwind of a few days. Thursday morning I got up at 4:10am CST, went to the airport, and flew to Chicago-Midway. I did not have to go through a backscatter scanning machine, nor did I have to have an invasive pat down. It didn't look like anyone else was going through those processes, either. We all just went through the metal detector, like normal. I got to the airport at about 5:30am, and everything went along smoothly and quickly. We landed in Chicago a few minutes ahead of time, and I was picked up by my dad and littlest brother at 8am CST. We had a lovely drive to Holland talking about politics and various world conflicts.

Our families' tradition, as of the past few years, has been a big lunch and a stromboli cook-off in the evening. Lunch was small and quiet: just me, my brother, parents and grandma. The stromboli competition is always Uncle Dan vs. My Mom. However, since Uncle Dan's wife, my Aunt Mary, was in the hospital, preparing to have brain surgery the next day, their family couldn't make it. Not to bash my mom or anything, but I usually like Uncle Dan's stromboli the best because he puts chicken and green pepper in it. Kara, Evan and our cousin Alex did come over for my mom's stromboli, so the dinner table was much more lively. There was plenty of reminiscing about the old days of our childhood (oh-so long ago for 18 year old Matt). Lacking Peter, though, it certainly didn't reach the levels of raucousness that is possible for our family. It was certainly a nice day, though. I had some old friends come over later in the evening. It was lovely to see them and we played a fun game.

Spontaneously, Amanda and I decided to go Black Friday shopping at Kohl's at 3:00am and to Target at 4:00am. We had never done it before and were kind of excited to see what the big deal was all about. We stayed awake by looking at ads and drinking caffeine at Denny's. Nate joined us there, and we got to Kohl's just in time to be squeezed through the doors by the rushing crowd. There were some pretty good deals, so we did our shopping, and it was at the moment I was looking for the end of the line did I realize I would probably never do this again. We waited a little less than an hour at Kohl's. Our plan was to go to Target next, and so we did. Nate got in line immediately. That line took much longer, almost and hour and a half. We were out of there at about 6:30am and I was exhausted because I had been awake for over 24 hours (except for a 2 hour nap I had taken in the afternoon). I can't even remember the last time I did that. I went to bed around 7am, and got some mediocre sleep until about 1:30pm, because I kept getting texts (I should have turned my phone off).

After waking up and eating (apple pie for breakfast) and showering for the first time in almost 2 days, I went shopping again at Woodland Mall in Grand Rapids for a few other items I wanted to pick up. I'm not a big shopper, nor am I a bit fan of buying things (aka consumerism). However, I must say that I did get some useful items that I know I will use a great deal. Because I don't shop often, when I do shop, I make sure to get only the most needed items. I think I'm all set for another year now. I'm most excited for 2 purchases: my new jeans (it's extraordinarily difficult to find jeans that are long enough for me) and my Cuddl Duds (aka long underwear). My Cuddl Duds are another chapter in my quest to be warm during the winter.

I mostly went to Woodland Mall because it was very close to my Iraqi friends' home, which I planned to visit. I was there from about 6-10pm. It was really great to see the family and their latest addition, a baby girl named Hala. I had missed my little Aya and was so happy to get lots of hugs and kisses from her all night. I gave my camera phone to her, and she took about 25 pictures, mostly of Hala, but a few of me. Hala is such a gorgeous baby. She has hazel eyes, not brown like the rest of her family. She was very well-behaved, as was Aya, which is not always the case. I was pretty exhausted, though, so I headed home around 10pm.

For some reason, it never feels strange to be in Holland. I always think of it as the town of my youth. But driving around in GR was strange, because I'm not used to thinking of that as a part of my past. I still had the impulse to drive to the house on Herrick. It hasn't been that long since I was happily living in GR. I miss those days a lot. I miss all those people and all those places and events. I think it would be harder if I didn't have such a great life started in Nebraska, though. I have a fantastic job and an amazing boyfriend in Nebraska (who I have spent time missing in Michigan). I kind of feel like most of my life I have spent missing things, because I have chosen to move around so much. I often miss Korean food, and the excitement of living in a foreign culture. I often miss rowing, and how I was in such good shape and on a team working toward a goal. I miss friends in various parts of the country and the world. I miss familiar places, like seat 4 in a shell and the chicken galbi place in Nowon and Baldwin and the WYCE studio. Over my short years, I've learned to just deal with that. Sometimes the sense of missing something is stronger than other times, and it's just particularly strong for my former life in Grand Rapids.

I shall enjoy the time I have Michigan for what it is, though. Today I will play games with friends some more, and probably do a little dancing. I get to see Zika soon, which will be wonderful. And tomorrow I get to back to my great life in Nebraska.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


I did not expect today to be as crazy as it was, though I guess more accurate words would be heavy and hectic. Hectic because this afternoon I sat at the front desk because our secretary in on vacation, and it was our department's turn to cover the shift and I volunteered. I think it was a quiet afternoon, as afternoons in our office go, but for me, who usually gets all her time to focus on her job, I got interrupted all the time for phone calls or walk-ins. And most of the walk-ins' appointments were canceled, but they weren't notified, which was rather backwards. Usually it's the client not from our culture that doesn't show up for their appointment. Adding to is all, I had to do all this accounting crap, which added a bunch of stress to the package, because I don't understand "ledgers" and stuff very well.

That was hectic, and heavy was this phone call I got from a girl who has had some problems with the landlord. She called me originally because she wasn't sure about a bill she got from them about fixing some things in their apartment. Today she called with a few follow up questions, and she was really upset. She told me all this stuff about how the landlord charges people for things that they shouldn't. For example, her apartment has bed bugs, but they told her to buy her own pesticides at the store (which she did, though bed bug experts always say that you should never, ever do that). Then she asked to have the carpet removed and have laminate put in, which helps a lot with bed bugs. The landlord said that she would have to pay for that, which she did. That was not true, however, because the landlord should have covered the cost of that. She was really hopped up and frustrated, going on and on about how it wasn't fair that the landlord was taking advantage of her and her people (Burmese refugees). It was such an intense conversation. I talked to her about the fair housing center and gave her ideas on how she could start to record the neglect the landlord has shown. It was hard to get her to move past being very, very upset and onto action, though. It was like she was so used to being helpless and mistreated that she couldn't understand that I was making offers that would help fix the situation. I hope that I can help improve the situation in the long-term. But it will take a looooooot of work.

On a light-hearted note, I learned about this refugee's name. It's "Po Karen James Bond Zero Zero Nine". That is his legal name. This refugee will not be resettled by our organization, unfortunately, but we all got a good chuckle out of seeing this guy's names on an official document. 

Anyway, I'm looking forward to going to Michigan for the weekend. I hope to see lots of friends and family.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Yesterday was incredibly busy for me. I worked all day, then went to an informational seminar on bed bugs at the Douglas County Extension Office. Now you know who to come to for all of your bed bug questions. It's kind of a daunting prospect when you know a large amount of your clients have bed bugs. I mean, where do you start? Really? I think I decided I've got to try to organize some major information sessions with the refugees, with translators and translated materials for them to take home. That has got to be where we start.

After the meeting I went to the airport to see a family reunion for a Kachin Burmese family. Two teenagers were coming, a girl age 16 and her brother age 18. They hadn't seen their mom in 6 years and their dad in 10. The story is one of the remarkable kinds that blows your mind at how bad and good things can be for people at the same time. It was extremely touching, though. I took video that I won't post for privacy reasons, but I'll describe it. The mom stood at the end of the long, airport hallway, watching her children walk up to her. I was a little amazed that she didn't run toward them, but they're from a different culture, I guess. Plus, it made the moment that much longer and easier to hold on to. All three of them were crying. There were hugs all around. Even us, the Americans, were hugging the newcomers. The teenage girl was a happy, overwhelmed wreck, but it was beautiful. The kids got to meet their 1 1/2 year old brother, who looked like he could be straight out of a Kohl's ad he was so cute. The dad was holding the baby, and they just lingered back, being all stoic or something while the mom greeted the kids with great emotion. Dad hadn't seen his kids since they were 6 and 8, so I imagine it was a bizarre moment for him.

I got home very late last night and went straight to bed. I'm lounging a little bit this morning, heading into work late. I have to stay late today again, though. Tomorrow will be a short day, thankfully.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Good book

A volunteer at LFS lent me a book called "The Middle of Everywhere" by Mary Pipher. Pipher is from Lincoln and has done a lot of work with refugees, though she is a psychologist of sorts. It's a pretty amazing book and I recommend it to everyone. She refers to many of the people she has worked with as "newcomers", and I think she uses that term to include people who have come here in a lot of different ways assylees, economic immigrants, etc). Some of the things she writes about aren't applicable to refugees, especially the part that talks about struggling to achieve legal status in the USA. Also, so far, I kind of feel like she is trying to make people feel sorry for refugees, which is difficult to stomach when you're reading a book. Who wants to feel guilty about that? And these people don't need our pity. They are often incredibly strong-willed and hard working, putting American born people to shame. But there's a lot of very accurate information and amazing stories in there, and I would recommend everyone read it.

Work is going to be a little tough over the next few months. Our program manager announced his resignation the day I started at LFS, and now, the woman who was sort of filling in is quitting. As I am fond of saying, it's like we are going to be on a raft in the middle of the ocean with no lifeline. We are not in the same building as our headquarters, and two other programs co-exist within our building, but we have no leader. It's putting a great deal of stress on us. *sigh* I keep saying that our strength is our awesome employees who are remarkably dedicated to the well-being of the refugees, even though they are over-worked. Hopefully not too much slips through the cracks, because bad service for us means people go hungry or don't get heat in their apartments or kids don't get in school or people don't get jobs or people get evicted. I feel like we're just going to have to hunker down and try to make it through these next few months as best we can, avoiding disaster as best we can.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

adventures in multi-culturalism

Guess what? I got a work credit card! With my work credit card, I will be buying things for refugees. For example, I really need to buy a vacuum cleaner or 2. One of our clients actually asked for one! I also will probably be buying winter items from time to time. There also may be bed bug related purchases. One never knows what sort of items a refugee needs.

On Sunday I went on a "multi-cultural tour" that visited Omaha's Hindu temple and a mosque. Here are some pictures!

This is a picture of Kurt eating ice cream before we met for the tour. It was delicious and it was a gorgeous day. It did get cold when we were eating ice cream in the shade, though, so we went inside.

This is the Hindu Temple of Omaha. The tour was extremely enlightening and I learned a lot. The same could not be said about the tour of the mosque. It contained some pretty common information.

 We took a few pictures in front of the temple, but they all were terrible. This was the best one.

Me and two of my coworkers, Claire and Leah, all ready to go into the mosque! Leah did research on how to do a head scarf the right way and she taught me (after this picture). I'm very excited now that I know how to cover my head properly. :0)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Burma = :0(

Things have been pretty slow at work this week. We had some people arrive on Monday, then no one is scheduled to arrive until November 17. Since so much of my work involves pre-arrival preparations, things have been slow. Yesterday was a bit boring and tedious, but today was slow, yet enjoyable. The staff meetings are always a good time, because we all get together and talk about stuff. Afterward, I ended up talking to our Karen case workers. I had a few items of business to talk to them about, and then I asked them about the "elections" that are scheduled for Burma on Sunday. I had heard a story on NPR about it that morning. I then listened to about a half hour of explanation about the Burmese government, refugees, refugee camps, Thailand, "elections", Aung San Suu Kyi, her father, ethnic cleansing, Burmese spies, and the like. I love my job because I get this kind of insider information from my coworkers. They like to tell me, and I like to listen.

They were telling me that the military government sends spies to monitor expat populations (Omaha being a GIGANTIC center for refugees from Burma). Community leaders who don't support their home government get their names sent back to Burma, so that if they ever enter the country again, the government will know and deal with them. My coworkers will likely never return to Burma. They're happy to be Americans, though (or at least, when they are able to apply for citizenship). I told them that my family came to America just a few generations ago, and that their grandkids and great-grandkids will be just like me. God bless America.

Also, I learned that the Bhutanese community is starting up their own community organization. The Karen did this and have been extremely successful, though they have thousands more in Omaha than the Bhutanese. My Bhutanese coworker wrote bylaws and filled out the 501(c)3 paperwork all by himself! That's amazing! I am hoping that I will get the opportunity to help them out nonprofit organization-wise...maybe help them get a grant or two.

My job is pretty great. My boyfriend is also pretty great. He made me dinner this afternoon, brought it over and put it in my fridge so I could have it when I got home (he works 5-9pm). It looks delicious.

And Happy Diwali, everyone!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

license/work/plane ticket

Today was kind of a cool day.

I got up early (which was probably the least cool part) and went to the Nebraska DMV to get my new drivers license. Interestingly, I now have an F restriction on my license, because my left eye doesn't see very well. Legally, I must drive with 2 side mirrors, which is a fairly normal practice, except I broke the passenger side mirror a while ago when I hit one of those stupid construction signs. It's not news to me that my eyes are bad, though. I am working on locating an ophthalmologist to get myself a new pair of glasses. My insurance includes eye exams every 2 years, and I have only a $10 copay.

Along with the new ID, I registered to vote at my new address. I didn't get to vote today, which is kind of a bummer, but I'm not too worried because of all the transition I'm going through these days.

At work today, I helped this older couple look at an apartment. They have quite the story. She is from Sri Lanka. He is from Sudan. They met while living in Lebanon. Then they came as refugees to the USA. She has had a lot of health issues, and they don't have any kids. They are very adoring of each other. They've worked so hard on their English the past year they've been here, and it has paid off. Unfortunately, the apartment we looked at was not well-suited for them, considering it has a reputation for drinking and drugs, which does not mesh well with their Muslim beliefs. I tell ya, working to find housing for the poorest of Omaha is tricky and difficult and I am gaining insight into what it's like to live in poverty.

Exciting news...I booked a plane ticket to fly home for Thanksgiving! I'm very excited for that. I hope to see many friends and family members.