When our youngest was a year old in October 2016, Casey and I were finally feeling more settled in Portland. Then I received a message from a friend that assists refugees as they arrive in our city. She mentioned a single mother of a teenage daughter that would be arriving and wanted to ask if I would like to visit her. At that time we had our friend Annet from the Netherlands visiting and her first thought was, “let’s do it.”
Our eldest was in kindergarten and so that meant that the other three kiddos were tagging along with the visit. I was very thankful Annet was by my side during our first visit so that there would be some interaction while I knew the kids would be all over the place. We parked the car and hauled all the kids up the stairs and knocked on the door having no idea what to expect or how much English would be spoken. Walking into the small apartment filled with only one couch and cigarette smoke, we quickly realized how little these ladies had. The smoke threw Annet and I right back to our days in a coffee shop in Bosnia. It was nice having a friend who understood with me on this visit.
Annet and I tried to hold a conversation with Nella (name changed) but realized that she knew very little if any English. Her daughter, Rose, (name changed) who also knew little but a little more than her mother, tried to translate as much as she could. From that first visit has come many other visits, text messages and phone calls trying to understand the refugee process alongside them.
Casey and I have entered into a different culture not knowing the language, how to get a visa, open a bank account, buy bus tickets, pay rent, set up all the utilities, or the names of food items like canned tomatoes or mustard. So many of these small things we take for granted in our own culture and language. Luckily, when we did live overseas we had a team that already existed and worked alongside us daily to help us get adjusted to that culture. This is not the case for most or even all refugees that have fled their home and left everything behind. Nella left Iraq 6 or more years ago with her very young daughter. They fled to Turkey and waited there until they were approved to come to the States.
Since they arrived in the States nothing has been easy for them. I have had to help Rose get registered at three different schools since they have moved three times. They were even homeless for some time until Nella was able to get a stable job to be approved for an apartment. Nella rides the bus at least 4 hours a day to get to and from her daytime job and then arrives at home for a few hours to then head out to her nighttime job. I have received text messages from Nella asking for help for some food because they have been without food for some time; or that Rose has been without her glasses for a few weeks and need help to get new ones; or that their documentation expired and she needs to know how to start the process for a green card; or that the electricity went out and she needed to know how to pay for it; or even that they needed warm clothes and shoes for the colder months…
With so much to tackle in a new culture, I have seen Nella persevere. She fights hard to make a new home for her daughter and has many dreams for her future. I also have had the privilege to see a community of people work alongside this small family to help them get on their feet. In response to one of Nella’s messages, I asked around our community for extra furniture. They went above and beyond to furnished their entire apartment. When I asked if any wanted to help with their food for the month, many pitched in to provide for them. When I asked if anyone would like to visit with them, they jumped at the opportunity. Welcoming Nella and Rose to Portland has been more than I could have imagined, but seeing a group of people love this little family has been extraordinary to see.
This is just one refugee family of about 1800 other refugees in Portland. Nella and Rose’s story is ever going with ours.