Lenten Rememberings – The Biharis

Bihari FoodThe year 1947 brought about the great split of India. Pakistan was born amidst great upheaval and loss of lives as Muslims and Hindus were divided up into two countries.

It was at this time that many Urdu-speaking Muslims from the Indian State of Bihar escaped into East Pakistan where they lived among the Bengali-speaking Muslims.

25 years later, when East Pakistan won independence from West Pakistan, after a bloody war over language, Bangladesh (literally the country of Bangla) was born. The Urdu-speaking Biharis again found themselves in a land that did not want them.

As Urdu speakers they had not supported this war for independence and about half a million fled into Pakistan. Pakistan, however, would only accept about a third of them so many today are living as stateless Pakistanis. Many who remained in Bangladesh were killed or lost their homes, bank accounts, lands and jobs. Today they live in slum-like, crowded camps throughout the country, where families of up to ten share a one room hovel and up to 90 families share one toilet.

In 2008, the Dhaka High Court gave citizenship and voting rights to 150,000 Bihari refugees who had been minors during the war. Children born since the war were also given citizenship. Life remains hard for them as they try to hold on to their language and customs, while living in squalid conditions in a country that still looks down on them. Many youth would like to leave and get jobs in other countries but passports are not issued to anyone who has an address inside of a camp. As of yet, the UNHCR has not addressed the statelessness of the Biharis.

During our years in Bangladesh, we were privileged to get to know one Bihari woman especially well. She would tell stories of life inside the camp while she scrubbed our dusty floors and share her dreams for her children while she washed the dishes. She was a tiny woman with a big heart and impressive strength.

The Biharis in Bangladesh are famous for their kebabs and fried snacks so tonight we had some friends over and shared Shingaras  (a deep-fried pastry filled with savory potatoes and chilis), Bihari chicken boti kebabs, Parotas (a flat bread fried in a bit of oil), and Shemai (angel-hair vermicelli cooked in a sweet milk spiced with cinnamon and cardamom).

For a glimpse at Bihari life in Bangladesh, check out this video.

 

Lenten Rememberings – Burundi

Burundi MealBurundi, a small African country hemmed in by Rwanda, Tanzania and the DR Congo, is no stranger to hard times. A civil war that lasted from 1993-2005 left 300,000 dead and many fled the country as refugees during those years. Some of those same refugees, having returned home after the war, are once again on the run as refugees. Since the election of President Nkurunziza, the police, intelligence officials and the ruling party’s militia, known as the Imbonerakure, have been on a killing rampage. Nearly 400,000 have fled the country, fearing for their lives, with an average of 724 refugees arriving daily in Tanzania. Camps are full in Tanzania, with only one, Nduta, still accepting new arrivals. Nduta recently passed its capacity of 100,000 and the struggle to shelter the refugees is huge.

In the DR Congo, refugees from Burundi are finding healing by performing dramas based on real-life experiences. You can read more here and watch a short video clip.

The refugee camp in Rwanda has passed capacity, with many people living in overcrowded communal hangars covered with plastic sheeting.

In Uganda, Burundian refugees are given small plots of land to build homes and plant crops.

Burundi cuisine is simple but delightful. Red Kidney Beans with Plantains, Fish with Tomato Sauce, and Pili-Pili hot sauce served over white rice made a delightful meal.

Lenten Rememberings – Iraq

Iraqi FoodAs Iraqi Security Forces push deeper into Mosul, attempting to take back the city from IS or Islamic State, many are fleeing their homes and looking for safer places to stay. According the the UNHCR, 238,236 Iraqis have been uprooted from their homes in Mosul and surrounding areas since October 2016. Since January 2014, three million Iraqis have become internally displaced, meaning they have not been able to flee the country to become refugees, but have left their homes and have moved to other areas of the country in an effort to find safety. Refugees who have made it out of the country number roughly 250,952 and are hosted in surrounding countries.

Three million…internally displaced people!
That blows my mind!

How can we be moved to compassion by starving children in one part of the world, but turn away from dying children and their families in a Muslim country? How easily we hide behind bans or labels as an excuse to brush aside what is going on. Iraqis are our neighbors, just as much as anybody else. If you are afraid of terrorists, you should feel compassion because the Iraqis on the run are experiencing terrorism on their own soil. We have no idea.

What if three million Americans had lost their homes and were on the run to stay alive?

While most Iraqis have not been able to make it out, love and hope are on the ground as a group of peacemakers called Preemptive Love Coalition goes into the hard places, confronting fear and hate with the transformative powers of love. Providing food, shelter and emergency medical supplies to families on the run, education to at-risk children, and grants for small business owners, they are love in action. I’ve followed them for some time now and highly recommend getting involved in some way, so that your love for those in need moves from an idea to action. “Love” for them is an action verb and they do it so well.

You can purchase products made by refugees.

You can donate your money.

Follow them on Facebook and see for yourself the power of love under fire.

Our evening meal consisted of Khubz (Iraqi flat bread), Hummus, FattoushMujadara ( a rice and lentil dish), and spinach chickpea stew. We topped it off with Qatayef for dessert, a fried pastry filled with nuts and soaked in sugar syrup.

 

 

Ten Things You May Not Know About Refugees

10 Things1. It is VERY difficult to officially become a refugee.
To officially be a refugee, one must flee from danger in one’s own country, to a second country. In that second country, one then applies to the UNHCR for refugee status, a process that takes 18 months to 3 years. Only then can application to a third country for resettlement begin.

2. Coming to the US as a refugee is even more difficult.
If a refugee is chosen to go to the US for resettlement, it takes a minimum of two additional years for all the screenings and interviews to take place. Less than 1% of all who apply to the US are accepted.

3. The refugee problem is NOT going away.
As of June, 2016, there were 65.3 million displaced people and 2.3 million of these were refugees. Less than 5% of these refugees will ever be resettled.

4. Stay in a refugee camp can last well over a decade.
Refugees receive a stipend of roughly $30/month while they wait for resettlement. About 60% of adults find jobs and 13% of children also work to have enough to survive. One-third of the world’s refugees stay in camps and the average stay is 17 years, although some say it is less.

5. Refugees are given a LOAN to purchase airfare to their country of resettlement.
Refugees are not given a free ride. The International Organization for Migration gives them a travel loan with which to purchase their airfare. This is an interest free loan which they have to begin making payments on within 4 months.

6. Refugees CANNOT choose where they are resettled.
Refugees do not choose where they are resettled, although if they have family in an area, the resettlement agency will try and resettle them near there. Most agencies work with the new refugees for 90 days to find housing and help acclimate them to life in their new country.

7. Refugees who resettle in the US do NOT have it easy.
Refugees are not given a life of ease. The $925 one time stipend they receive, per person, barely covers rent and transportation for more than a month or two. Many do not speak English and the amount of stress they face to navigate a new city and find a job quickly is daunting.

8. It’s not uncommon for refugees to face identity crises.
Refugees must leave their past behind them. A doctor in the old country now works in a menial minimum wage factory job. A teacher cleans toilets. Qualifications and paperwork rarely transfer across borders and they are forced to start at the bottom all over again. Their self worth is often pummeled and depression not uncommon. There were recently two suicides in a refugee community near where we live. The struggle to find meaning is real.

9. Refugees are fleeing horrors, NOT taking advantage of an opportunity.
Refugees come here because they don’t know where else to go. They are not coming to the US because they’ve heard all kinds of warm and wonderful things about this country. Many of them have clear memories of a beautiful life they once had. Rolling green Syrian hills or a small farm in the Congo. Loud family gatherings with food so unique to who they were. Walking to school with their friends or haggling in the market. All they loved has been stripped away. They land here, after fleeing the horrors of terrorist attacks in their own countries, after living through nightmares that we cannot even begin to imagine, and we act like they are the terrorists.

10. Refugees create WEALTH.
Refugees give back. A 2012 study in Cleveland, Ohio shows how refugees in that area generated $48 million in economic activity, supported 650 jobs and created nearly 2.8 million dollars in local and state taxes. The cost to resettle these refugees was $4.8 million. That is a ten-to-one return! Refugees do not take away from us, they give back.

Now, stop reading about refugees and go out and get to know them. They need you to welcome them and you need them more than you know.

Lenten Rememberings – Yemen

P1350173Yemen, the poorest of the Arab countries, shares borders with Saudi Arabia and Oman. It sits on the coast of the Mandeb Strait, a thin waterway that connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden, which empties into the Indian Ocean. Most of the world’s oil supply sails through this strait, like banners of wealth and luxury waving on an unconcerned breeze while a child dies from hunger every 10 minutes on the shores of this country wracked with suffering.

For nearly two years, a war between Houthi rebels and the Saudi-backed president has ripped this country apart. Using weapons sold to them by the US, the Saudis have escalated the war in an effort to defeat the rebels. Before the war, Yemen imported 90% of its food supply. Now, due to air raids and blockades, very little food and other aid is getting through and most of the people have no food or medical supplies. 183,483 refugees have left Yemen and wait in surrounding countries. Most of the displaced Yemeni people, however, are unable to flee the country.

Despite the depth of the tragedy, there are voices of hope and courage within Yemen. One such voice is a street artist known as the Banksy of Yemen. Using the ruins of war as his canvas, he uses his brush as a way to protest the war. He urges his fellow Yemenis to pick up a brush and join him, creating solidarity in this fractured land.

As we ate a light meal of Shafoot with Lahooh, a spongy flat bread similar to Ethiopia’s Injera, we held this suffering country in our hearts and prayed for peace. It’s humbling to have so much, when those who should be eating these dishes are starving. It is hard to sit with these stories and be able to do nothing but honor their suffering by becoming aware of it and praying for it to end.

 

Lenten Rememberings – South Sudan

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Guest Post – Riley Miller – Age 13

South Sudan is located between Ethiopia and the Central African Republic. There are more than 2.25 million displaced people in South Sudan and across its borders. Nearly 1.5 million South Sudanese have registered as refugees with the UNHCR.

One of the main reasons there are refugees in South Sudan is because they have been displaced due to war. In school, at Early College Academy, I learned about South Sudanese refugees. One of the refugees was a boy named Chuol, a 9 year-old boy, when his village was attacked and bombed by soldiers. He was with his mother and grandmother and they fled to the swamp. Chuol’s mom ran in a different direction so Chuol and his grandmother kept going. They went into the swamp water and hid for hours so they wouldn’t be caught by the soldiers that raided their village. Chuol was constantly afraid that he might die but he was more scared of soldiers then the most vicious crocodiles and poisonous snakes. Eventually they found their way to a camp on a tiny island with at least 80,000 other people running from the war. Later they were able to find a camp in Juba, South Sudan’s capital. When Chuol was in the camp, he felt very traumatized because he had seen so much blood, gore, and killing. He has dreams just like every other kid and hopes to become a doctor some day. You can read more of his story here.

Our meal consisted of Asida, Red Stew, Spinach with Peanut Butter and Peanut Salad.

Lenten Rememberings – Afghanistan

P1350153A people unwanted.
Rejected.
Humiliated.
Brave souls who escaped terrorist attacks and war in their country, sometimes fleeing with nothing more than the clothes on their backs, are now viewed by much of the Western world as being terrorists themselves.

Currently Afghanistan is the world’s second largest source of refugees, numbering 2.7 million, according to the UNHCR. In addition to this, there are an estimated 3.7 million displaced Afghanis, mostly residing in the neighboring countries of Iran and Pakistan. Many refugees are being forced to return to Afghanistan, mostly from Pakistan but some also from Iran and the EU. The EU no longer considers Afghanistan to be a war zone even though the fighting has not stopped.

In Pakistan, Islamabad issued a mandate that by the end of 2017, all Afghani refugees must return home. Tensions are high in Pakistan, where many Afghani refugees have lived for two or three decades. Some have already made the choice to return home even though their children have never known life outside of Pakistan. For many this seems to be the only choice due to escalating harassment since the mandate. Yet upon their return to Afghanistan, many are harassed all over again being suspected as Pakistani spies.

These refugees who have spent years in “the wilderness” are returning home to what? Despite the promise of shelters being built to house them in the early stages of repatriation, none are ready. Winters are harsh and lodging scarce in this land that has been blown apart by bombs. In one study’s estimate, 60% of Kabul’s buildings are damaged or destroyed. Reconstruction is a long way from being finished in this land that has known so much fighting.

Tonight as we ate our Kabuli Nan, with Afghani Chicken Karahi and Sabse Borani, we held these brave and beautiful people in our hearts and pray that their homeland would once again become safe and strong.

Lenten Rememberings – Syria

P1350045Today there are nearly 5 million registered Syrian Refugees. This means that these millions of people have fled their homeland, are staying in a second country and have applied for refugee status. Once they receive their official refugee status from the UNHCR, they can then apply to a third county for resettlement. This process is tedious, with only the first step of applying for refugee status taking anywhere from eighteen months to three years. The second step of applying to a third country for resettlement can take up to two years. One third of refugees today live in a camp somewhere and their average stay is seventeen years. While there are more than 20 million refugees in the world today, less than 1% will ever be resettled in a third country.

These numbers are staggering to me and this doesn’t even take into account the number of displaced people within Syria or those who have crossed borders and have not registered officially as refugees.

These refugees are people like us.

Hard-working fathers.

Brave and strong mothers.

Wise grandmas and doting grandpas.

Ornery toddlers and elementary kids with big dreams.

Beautiful babies and crazy but awesome teenagers.

People like us.

If they are fortunate enough to make it out of their war-torn country which has taken all they have and ground it to dust, breaking their hearts and their bodies, they are then relegated to a tent among thousands of other tents. Here are some images from various refugee camps to help give some perspective. In talking together as a family tonight after a meal of Fattoush and Manoushi, a Syrian flatbread, my thirteen-year-old reminded us of the trauma these folks have endured and of the nightmares they have at night. Even while removed from immediate terror, the violence of their past still haunts them.

I’m tired of fear closing the doors to people in need. I follow One who lived bravely, took risks, and hung out with those in need, One who simplified the greatest commandments to loving God and then loving other humans as much as we love ourselves.

What does it mean to love someone who exists in a tent having lost everything or someone who has lived her whole life running while bombs drop in the background? I grow weary of people who enjoy every physical comfort imaginable justifying a tightening of our nations borders in such a time of great need.

Friends, we have so much!

Let’s not be so afraid of change or death that we stop living.

 

Lenten Rememberings – Democratic Republic of Congo

Congolese Food

Decades of civil war and brutal ethnic conflicts have left many Congolese on the run. At the end of 2015, there were nearly 500,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Additionally the UN estimated there are 1.8 million internally displaced people within DRC. And while many Congolese have left their country and are living in camps in surrounding countries such as Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi, Kenya and many more, there are more than 400,000 refugees from other countries who have come to DRC for refuge. When I read the history of the DRC, full of wars, genocides, mass rape, and more violence than I can wrap my head around, I picture a volcano inside of a volcano. Desperate people leaving, desperate people coming in from other erupting places.

This lush and beautiful country in the heart of Africa, home to nearly every valuable resource known to man is also the world’s largest source of cobalt. Without it, our smartphones and laptops would be powerless. The Washington Post has put out a story called The Cobalt Pipeline which gives an eye-opening look behind the scenes.  In 2012 UNICEF estimated there were 40,000 children working in cobalt mines in DRC. Children as young as 7 years old work in the mines in very dangerous conditions and are paid one to three dollars a day and many sacrifice their lives so we can carry technology in our pockets and scroll with our fingers while waiting for the next thing to happen in our lives.

With my belly full of Chicken Moambe, Eggplant Curry and Banana Fritters, I type these lines on my laptop which very likely has cobalt sourced from this country of incredible suffering and I feel a volcano within a volcano inside of me, beauty and horror colliding and I don’t know what to do with these tears but I let them come. I grieve for the lives lost, the lives now in terror, the lives in camps waiting and hoping. I grieve for the racial hatred between ethnic groups, for the greed of our wealthy and powerful who are all too willing to take advantage of black bodies to grow our prosperity. When you clear away the clutter, there’s not much difference between a cotton field and a cobalt mine…just a bit more distance.

Today I remember the Democratic Republic of Congo. I’m grateful for the 16,370 Congolese Refugees accepted into the US last year. I’m grateful for the geeks that are out there who continue to develop technology that doesn’t require slave labor to thrive. And all the while I pray that the Democratic Republic of Congo, this country so rich in natural resources, will find healing and restoration.

 

Lenten Rememberings – Somalia

P1350026 Today we remember Somalia. This country on the horn of Africa is the world’s third largest source of refugees . According to the UNHCR, a third generation of Somalians are being born in exile. Nearly three decades of civil war, border clashes, fighting clans, and famine have practically bankrupted the economy. Over one million Somalians are refugees in nearby countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia and Yemen while many more remain displaced within Somalia. Most of them rely on foreign aid for the most basic of needs such as food, health care and water. While nearly 100,000 Somalian Refugees have entered the US in the last 6 years, the current Travel Ban is prohibiting any more from entering at this time.

It was hard to reconcile the delightful flavors of Surbiyaan, a Somalian Rice and Chicken dish that we ate with a Caulifower Curry, with the harsh realities of what life is like for those who remain in Somalia. We wrapped up our meal with Quadret Qadar, which means made by a miracle, which seems fitting for this country in dire need of a miracle.

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