An Iraqi refugee in Lancaster, PA

He waited outside as I gathered my things. This was one of the steps he had to take in order to adapt to life in the US. I was to escort him to his first ESL class in his new country along with his interpreter. They were patient with me while I haphazardly gathered my belongings and waited around for other clients to show. I explained to the interpreter the ongoing situation and why we were waiting. I nervously bit my lip as I did often when feeling unequipped in my nascent intern state. Both men were incredibly understanding and spoke back and forth in Arabic. The interpreter relayed the message back to me, “He has been waiting for years to come to the US so he is not bothered by waiting a few minutes.”

While we waited outside in the heat, the men offered me a cigarette. I do not smoke so I refused the offer. It seems so silly to me that many people have a wide sweeping, biased view that men from the Middle East don’t think of women as their equals. Their offer contradicted the prevalent misconception. We talked casually as we waited in a circle. They were respectful and I never felt uncomfortable.

As we walked, the refugee didn’t speak about his past. All he could do is look to the future in his new country. He spoke excitedly about his new home. “The United States is a beautiful country. I love America,” his interpreter translated.  He had already pledged his loyalty to a country he was in for 72 hours.

The refugee was ready to start learning English. When he sat down with his translator, he look intently at the blank blackboard and waited for the teacher with his hands folded. I kept that picture in my mind as I walked away. I uttered a quick “shukran” (‘thank you’ in my most elementary Arabic) to both of them.


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