Friday, December 3, 2010


They are on my mind. Today I was helping my co-worker set up an apartment for some people coming from Bhutan on Monday. Normally, I don't do that, but because we have such an onslaught of refugee arrivals next week, I wanted to make sure everything was ready. When I got into the apartment, I just got to work...unloading my car (a nice, strange looking guy in a man-dress and boots with no laces helped me out a bit), unwrapping all the goods (toothbrushes, shampoo, can opener, pencils, maxi pads, alarm clocks, etc), and putting everything away. I find it very enjoyable to see and/or set up apartments for refugees before they arrive. The whole place has such an aura of hope and excitement. As I was putting stuff away in the kitchen, though, I realized there were bugs EVERYWHERE! Half dead ones writhing on the floor, totally dead ones in the cupboards, tiny alive ones all over the walls and ceilings, cockroaches lounging on the living room wall. All of a sudden I ceased feeling excited and wanted to get out of there ASAP. And I felt bad that this was what they were going to get. Besides the bugs, though, the place was really nice. Huge kitchen, big living room, tons of counter space in the bathroom, gigantic closets. As my coworker who had this job before me says, though, "If we don't rent places that have bugs, we will never find places for our clients to live." It's an unfortunate truth. I have several refugee apartments, though, and this one was pretty darn buggy.

When churches or volunteers encounter these type of things ("Ack! Cockroaches!" Or "Why don't they have cable?" or "They have to take the bus?!") we sometimes have to explain that the refugees are very poor, and they get all the trimmings that come along with that. Even though I know this in my head, it doesn't make it any easier when I'm in a buggy apartment, or see one of those bugs scuttle out of my shoe when I get home (I did take my shoes off in the hallway, though).

Another issue of the week: bad landlords. One family went without heat for a week. I called the office manager a total of 3 times before it was fixed. I don't think I have encountered anything so frustrating as landlords who ignore your requests. I mean, it's one thing to ignore the accented immigrant, because you think they don't have a clue (this particular landlord thought the family had broken the thermostat, blamed them for all the problems, and gave me hell on the phone about it when it turned out the furnace was actually broken), but to ignore the American that can call the Fair Housing Center on you (which I did, and she was furious) is another step into horrible landlord territory. Then, this same week, I mention that my heat is doing strange things, and I get a new thermostat that same day. It's pretty amazing. And frustrating.

On the brighter side, I had a few encouraging meetings. I have another church sponsor committed for a family arriving in a week and a half, and another potential church sponsor. I met with half of the Bhutanese Community of Nebraska board of directors and we talked about their organization and what they can do to get 501c3 status and really grow to help their community. It does seem as though the holiday spirit is inspiring people to do good things for the refugee community of Omaha, and that is a beautiful thing.

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