Thursday, October 24, 2013

Letting the Outsider In

The very dark skinned man from Eritrea with the curving deep scar across his forehead reminds me very much of my own father.  They are almost the same age.  He came to this country as a refugee earlier this year, and his stipend has run out leaving him with no resources for survival.  It was my privilege to connect him with resources over the last month or so.

The story of what it took to keep him from homelessness is a story of red tape, beurocracy, kindness, ignorance, and tenacity.  It is winding and twisting, often frustrating, sometimes boring with minutae and thus not worth detailing here.

The end of the story happens tomorrow when I get to help him move in to his new apartment.  What led to his point was a roller coaster.  He admitted to me today that he never slept at all last night after the stressful meeting we had with a very kind apartment manager who did not understand the intricacies involved in immigration.  It was a heart breaking point in a very long meeting that my client refers to now as "the storm."  All was well until the storm of ignorance and confusion descended.

The storm came at closing time of governmental offices, so we had to wait until this morning to procure the documents being requested.  As I obtained each one, I took jpeg photos and emailed them via my phone "just until I can get to my office fax" to the manager so she could have them before our 2pm deadline.  Turns out that even though I faxed them in time, what appeared in his folder was a printed copy of my smart phone jpeg, my pink fingers in the shot.  Noticing this pleased me immensely.

Also calming the storm was a well-timed phone call by the manager of my nonprofit branch directly to the apartment manager explaining, in the voice and words of an African, what I had been telling her over and over the day before.   She and her boss were convinced, and I got the call several hours later that he could move in.  I ran as quickly as possible to him to tell him the news via thumbs-up, huge smiles, and "it's okay!"  He took his hat off, covered his face, praised God.  What relief.  He is so happy.

In the midst of the storm this morning, I had a conversation with the African manager of the nonprofit where I work about the anger I found overcoming me as I drove home last night from the apartment manager who was denying us (or at least withholding approval).  My anger wasn't directed towards her; it was directed towards the greater society in which we live, the one where the majority of people out enjoying the beautiful weather were oblivious to the suffering and struggle of others right in their midst.  It was a beautiful warm fall day with the changing colors right at their height of beauty.  Nice people were out throwing frisbees, drinking over-priced artisan coffees, raking the leaves in their perfect lawns surrounding their perfect houses.  I had the urge to yell at them to wake up to the struggle of the alien in their midst, to welcome these good people, to help them and have their own lives enriched and made better by their presence because that is exactly what has happened for me.

My manager smiled and nodded as I told him this.  I'm not certain what he was thinking.

1 comment: