This summer, college and graduate students served in 18 locations around the world through CBF’s Student.Go program. This fall, Student.Go-ers will be at work in 8 locations. This is the first in a series of blogs from these students. Ashleigh Bugg served this summer with refugee families in Fort Worth, Texas. She worked alongside CBF field personnel Karen Morrow.
Would you like to hear about culture? Would you like to know about community? Would you like to listen to a detailed plan for world peace, youth empowerment and other questions they ask Miss America contestants?
I’m not Gandhi, Nelson Mandela or anyone particularly knowledgeable about tradition and culture. I was raised in a small Southern, rural town with a geography teacher who told me Scotland was a town in England.
I’m no professional.
However, despite my lack of ethnic expertise I can do one thing for you. I can introduce you to my neighbors.
They come from all over the world. The come for different reasons, but they have one thing in common. This is their home now. They cannot return.
I’m living in a forgotten corner of Ft. Worth, Texas in a government housing complex with evacuees from all over the globe.
My relatives make faces when I tell them that I live on this side of town, but I’ve been greeted with nothing but warmth and Nepali spiced tea.
My job is simple: help the families adjust to this new place and plan activities for the kids. In truth, they’re the ones helping me adjust; they invite me over for parties and elaborate meals every day.
Bishnu and Puspa come from Bhutan, but they lived in Nepal for nearly 20 years, long enough to have three wonderful children. Ganga, their oldest daughter, tells me when she first came here she had never ridden in a car. She didn’t know English. Now she’s in college working on her degree and holding down a job at the grocery store.
I visit her parents, and we watch the Rangers game and eat watermelon. Bishnu comes over with flowers and plants them in our pitiful excuse for a garden. We head out to Trinity Park with the boys to see their first 4th of July Fireworks Show.
Sarah is old. My grandpa would say she’s as old as the hills. “She’s as old as Africa,” My Congolese friend would add. “She’s as old as the stars.”
Sarah lives alone and is the only African resident to come from Liberia. Everyone else hails from, Tanzania, Eritrea , Ethiopia, Burundi, Chad, Somalia, South and North Sudan.
I tried once to interview her about her past, but it was painful for her. Through tears, she talked about how she misses her children and her twin brother and how the people at the hospital are waiting for her to die.
She loves watching TV shows about cowboys and laughs at the people on Wipeout. She is constantly trying to cook chicken and rice for us and greets us with a gap-toothed smile. I love this lady.
Sarah can barely walk. She was hospitalized for a bad leg, but this doesn’t stop her from being driven to ESL class Thursday mornings. When no one could pick up, she took her walker and set off to the office by herself. It took her nearly an hour, but she was determined. She walked all that way, in the Texas heat just to learn English.
“God will give me power,” Sarah said when I asked her about it. She fixed her ageless eyes on me.
“God will bless you. You are my granddaughter. God will bless you.”
Sarah’s right; God has blessed me with my neighbors. I have a hundreds of stories from hundreds of cultures and limited resources to share them.
Community development is about relationships. Honest, sweat, blood, runny noses, crying babies, lonely widows, refugee camp relationships.
When we stop seeing people as welfare cases, service projects or great topics for blog posts and acknowledge them as neighbors and family, life starts to happen. The real stuff, the good stuff, the life that matters.
I didn’t have to travel overseas to find a place to help.
Those who need friendship and acceptance are in our grocery stores and public schools. They may wear a hijab, speak five different languages or not know how to use a dishwasher, but they breathe the same as me.
Their stories lend me hope. Their children’s laughter teaches me peace. I may be no expert, but I know something great will come of opening our doors to these beautiful, huddled masses.
We’re a nation of immigrants, of dreamers. We forget this. We get scared of things that are different. We’re afraid we’ll miss out, afraid we’ll lose possessions or job opportunities or money.
We’re really missing out on openings to reach out – missing the world that lives at our doorstep, the voyage that comes from getting away from comfort zones and cultural superiority.
If we’re content with our perfectly packaged super-store lives when the real adventure is waiting, then we’re missing the true American dream.
This is wonderfully written. Ashleigh has a gift of description that cuts beneath the surface and exposes the nitty gritty of cross-cultural encounters.