By Kim Wyatt
In my work with refugee resettlement I teach an English as a Second Language (ESL) class two mornings each week in conjunction with the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants in Raleigh.
The classes meet in a store front office that is a part of the First Presbyterian Church. Newly arrived refugees attend meetings and classes every weekday for approximately 3 months as a part of the resettlement program. After that they are pretty much on their own. There is a huge mountain of orientation that folks who have fled from persecution must climb as they integrate into the American mosaic.
My heart goes out to each one. Even jet-lagged from long journeys abroad and having navigated the city bus system each Monday and Wednesday during rush hour, as they walk into my classroom they are hopeful. Hopeful that today they just might learn a few words that will help them complete a job application, decipher a food label at the grocery store or make sense of the street names where they now live.
One morning as I was helping the class learn the names for the parts of the body I thought it would be good to include some fun activities, including the Hokey Pokey. You know the song and gestures:
You put your right hand in,
You put your right hand out,
You put your right hand in,
And you shake it all about,
You do the hokey pokey
and you turn yourself around
that’s what it’s all about.
About the time we got to ‘put your left leg in’ several of the Congolese women began to giggle and laugh. I thought to myself, they are getting it and having fun too. Fantastic!
And then we put our right legs in and all class decorum collapsed. The women nearly fell to the ground in full on belly laughter. I mean they lost it completely. I decided to let the Hokey Pokey go as a teaching aid and move back to a more desk positioned posture. Class continued and ended but smiles remained well planted on each new friend as they left our *safe place and headed back out into the strange new world in which they now reside.
The Hokey Pokey is known as the Hokey Cokey or the Okey Cokey in England. It originates from British folk dance. The story goes that a wise old priest would perform movements with his back to the congregation, who not hearing his words or understanding Latin would at least be able to follow his gestures as they worshipped. In New Zealand, the Hokey Pokey is usually called the Hokey Tokey. And in the Philippines the silly song and dance is known as the Boogie Boogie.
I’m not sure what the Hokey Pokey is called in Congo or what the dance may have implied to my refugee friends. But considering all they have gone through to get here and what they continue to have to do to remain – well I just have to say I think the angels in Heaven were doing the Hokey Pokey with us on that particular Wednesday morning in the First Presbyterian Church of Raleigh.
*God is our safe place and our strength. He is always our help when we are in trouble. So we will not be afraid, even if the earth is shaken and the mountains fall into the center of the sea, and even if its waters go wild with storm and the mountains shake with its action. (Psalm 46: 1- 3)
Kim Wyatt serves as a CBF field personnel alongside her husband Marc, working with internationals in the Research Triangle of N.C.