A couple of weeks ago my friend Chuck Breen, the Communications Director for the Michigan Darfur Coalition, asked me if I would drive to Grand Rapids to interview a woman from Darfur. The meeting was to take place at the Lutheran Social Services office in Grand Rapids with her interpreter, case worker and volunteer. So today, I dropped my three children at three different locations, grabbed my GPS, a Mint Mocha from Biggby and headed off.
During the interview, we discussed so many things. Many of them relating to the assimilation of the Darfuri woman into American culture and local community. At some point my translator began to discuss the rifts between the many tribes and languages of the people of Sudan and how the Government uses those differences to manipulate the diverse population to work against each other. He expressed a need for unification amongst all of the people from Sudan for the common good.
It made me think of how we, as Americans, struggle with our own divisions about who we should help and why. We pound on our chests and say only help people in America. Some of us preach that those of us who are sick deserve it because of their sin. We don’t dare deal with the homeless and impoverished because they are ignorant and have no interest in working for an honest wage. Prostitutes, drug dealers, cancer victims, holocaust survivors, troubled youth and veterans, all worth something and nothing to all of us.
I am not the best follower of Christ. I tend to be self absorbed. I like to cuss like a sailor which speaks volumes about my maturity level. I pray more about being respectful to my husband than anything else and still manage to fail. I rarely wake up excited to go to Mass ( I blame the lame music). My ability to preach is very limited. What I do know is that Jesus hung out with prostitutes, tax collectors and cripples. I know that he even talked about Samaritans, you know those people from across the rail road tracks, as being the charitable ones. I am a follower of his ability to love.
During the interview, I said that Americans should not get their panties in a wad over the fact that we are helping refugees. Everyone laughed but none as heartily as my interpreter. He said he didn’t know what it meant but he knew it was funny. After we moved on, he quietly asked me if I would write the phrase on a piece of paper with the meaning so he could remember it. I giggled and did, of course. I would not be myself if I was not able to pass on a cause for laughter.
As we got up to leave, the translator asked me why I became involved with helping the people of Darfur. I related to him that I had seen the movie Hotel Rwanda and in a matter of months I found out that a genocide was happening somewhere else. Something in my soul broke off. I couldn’t sleep and I kept thinking that my children were no different than their children. My children are safe because they were born to me during this conflict and not to the mother’s of Darfur.
My translator said,”Tashmica, I want to thank you. Many people saw that movie but you were different. There are people like me that are different. Remember to teach your children. You are my friend.”
I told him I would always be his friend and said good bye to the refugee I had come to interview in the few English words she understood.
“Have a good day and later, have a good night.”
On the way into Grand Rapids I was listening to NPR. Miep Gies, the woman who found and saved Anne Frank’s diary, died at the age of 100 yesterday. In an interview she said that we should never say that there is something extraordinary about those who help others. She said that if we did that, people would be less likely to help others when they have the opportunity.
I think in America we look for a hero to often. What we really need to do is redefine the extraordinary as the norm.
The people of Darfur are now being sent out of Africa and into America. I am happy to be their friend. Jesus would be too. So don’t get your panties in a wad.
*No names for my translator or the Darfuri refugee because they deserve privacy and peace