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.

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 – 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.

 

9/11 – Moving Beyond Fear

IMG_2012Square

I’ll never forget 9/11 for reasons of my own. Halfway around the world, in a Muslim country, Austin and I watched the towers fall. We sat in the living room of our neighbors, who had become dear friends of ours, and together we watched the events unfold, each of us wrapped in a cloak of horror and disbelief. I will never forget how they turned to us with genuine sorrow and apologized for the events that were unfolding, assuring us that this was not real Islam. As the night rolled on, knowing we had lived in New York, they made sure that our families and those we knew were okay. They cautioned us that this could stir up local extremists but, if it did, we would be safe with them. I had no doubt that they would have given their lives to protect us, if need be. That need never arose but their love and concern for our family was mirrored by many others in our circle of friends. Everywhere we went, they would ask us if our family was okay. Sorrow and compassion were everywhere.
.
For nearly a decade, I was not “Marita”. I was “Bhabi” (sister-in-law) or “Sister” to pretty much everyone I met. “Auntie” to the little ones. My boys had hundreds of aunties and uncles. My husband had thousands of brothers. We were family within a much larger family.

We shared countless meals in Muslim homes, and I became chagrined to realize how paltry the best American hospitality is when held up to Muslim hospitality. The food. The love. The laughter. The respect in spite of our differences. And the food – did I already say that?!

Muslim hands held my babies when they were little and washed their dirty diapers without complaining. Muslim hands washed the filth off my son when he fell in the sewer even going so far as to recover his shoes with  bare hands. They pinched my boys’ cheeks and doted on them. They served us tea and showed us where to go. In countless ways, Muslims in Bangladesh loved us, served us and bent over backwards to ensure that we felt at home in their country. If Americans would show half of the hospitality and respect that the Muslims we met showed to us, our land would be a much better place.

And now, “Inshallah” (If God wills it) we may have the privilege to show love and hospitality to 10,000 of them or more. If that happens and you are given the opportunity to cross paths with one of them, don’t be afraid to love them, show hospitality, to serve them, to help them settle into this land, to become family. Don’t be afraid to wield the most powerful force on earth. Love.