Helping an Afghan family settle in the U.S., friends discover the real need they have in common
After the Taliban took control of Afghanistan last year, some of us in the Community wanted to respond in some way to welcome and accompany the many Afghans coming into the U.S. Local resettlement agencies were inundated, making it hard to find a way to get involved. We saw it as a clear sign when a friend of Andrew’s, who was involved in efforts to evacuate Afghans who were at risk, reached out to him about Simina, a young Afghan woman living in Northern Virginia who was anxiously anticipating her family’s arrival. Her parents, four young adult siblings, brother-in-law and three young nieces and nephews were trying to escape the country they love and make their way to the U.S.
We accompanied Simina as her family made its way to Qatar and then her parents, Mohammad and Fatemeh, and three younger siblings, Sadiq, Fareshta and Moshfiq, finally arrived in Alexandria, VA, in January. Simina’s other sister, Aziza, and her young family had a few-month detour at another resettlement camp abroad before they, too, joined the rest of the family. Now they are all together!
Getting to know this beautiful family has been a real gift of friendship, with them and among ourselves. Upon arrival in Virginia, after months at an Air Force base here in the U.S., Mohammad pointed at the flowers Andrew had brought, then pointed at Margaret and said, “Flower, you flower, you flower.” Even with his few English words, his poetic, Persian way of expressing himself came through immediately. He was welcoming her as much as she was welcoming him. His deep eyes convey tremendous suffering, even as they also light up with joy and gratitude, revealing a deep religiosity and profound love.
Recently, Margaret was sitting with Fatemeh, trying to converse, but not getting very far without the translation help of Fareshta. They had been talking about Fatemeh’s skills as a seamstress and weaver, so when she pointed to Margaret and then to herself, Margaret thought she was making reference to the clothing they were wearing. But then she also pointed to her mouth and Margaret’s mouth. Fareshta came and explained that her mother was saying, “We don’t speak the same language, but we have the same heart.”
This time together has been a journey of discovering a “non-measure”: cultural and language differences have made us abandon our personal ideas of what it means to offer help or to successfully communicate solutions. In the months we’ve spent trying to figure out the best way to help them adjust to life in America, we have discovered that what they need even more are relationships that are gratuitous and real. The desire is not simply to “introduce them to the American way”. The greater need is for friendship: friends that share their struggles, difficulties, sufferings, and joys. They need to be in communion, and this is the same need we have.
This has been a path for us to grow in the awareness of belonging to a body in which there are many parts, each with a role to play. So many times, we have been given to see the wonderful diversity and richness of our friendship: Ilaria stepped in right away to help with the many medical concerns, Gina started talking ‘needs assessment’ right off the bat and put together a list of items; Claire got English lessons going and then started working on helping them with technology and other matters; Brittany wrote to tell me she wanted to buy them a computer, and who would’ve guessed that we have a friend – Michele – who speaks Persian? What a Body we are, what a gift to belong to it, and to take up our own place within it!
Their culture values hospitality a lot, but it is clear that when they offer tea, food, and anything that they have that could be of use, it is coming from a place of real gratitude. They are as grateful for our presence as we are for theirs. Aziza recently said, "When we are together with all our family, we just cannot stop talking about all of you. How is it possible that we are so close and that you are helping us without knowing us?" She is right. How can this happen when there are no common cultural or social backgrounds to build on?
This is the experience of living like Christ, within Christ, that He draws us and the reality around us (including our Muslim friends) in. We are certain that His Presence happening right there is the possibility for all of us to experience His Beauty that enters and transforms our reality, the way we face it, and ultimately, our hearts.
This family that we now love needed to be welcomed, to know they belong, and each one of us have this same need. Meeting them has made us more certain of our own belonging. It has also made the question burn more strongly: what is my task in this Body? And how can my life serve it always more?
Margaret and Ilaria, Kensington, MD