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VOICES FROM THE FIELDTHE IRC BLOG
Lost Chronicles Found - Part 2
July 22, 2008
By The IRC
|Photo: Rosalie Hughes/The IRC|
|Last summer, Rosalie Hughes volunteered at a summer school program for refugee youth run by the IRC’s New York resettlement office. The six week program, which is located at Marymount Manhattan College, helps prepare newly arrived refugee children to go to school.
Hughes kept a journal of her experiences, however, her writings were never posted on the IRC’s blog as intended because of last summer’s steampipe explosion in Midtown Manhattan, which temporarily closed the IRC’s offices. We are happy to post them now.
Normally I don’t look forward to my weekly sports class with the junior high. The students are loud and rarely listen. The girls can be cliquey and the boys can be mean.
Today is great though. Alex, the teacher’s assistant, and I split the class into two for the walk to Central Park, which is something we had never done before. I took the boys and she took the girls.
There are seven boys. I feel rested, playful and in the mood to joke with them. When Abu asks me to hold the ball for the thousandth time, instead of saying “no” again, I bug out my eyes and stick out my tongue at him. “Noooo!” I say, in a monster voice. He laughs.
Most of the boys seem to be in a good mood, too. It is hot – probably 90 degrees. But they are excited to go to the park. Way is bouncing. (Yes, his name is Way.) Kunga is singing a song to himself.
Moussa and Abu are playing a game. Abu holds Moussa’s wrist in his grip and shakes it, gently. With each shake, he says a word in a language I don’t understand. After a few shakes, they laugh and switch positions – Moussa holds Abu’s wrist. I ask what they are doing.
“Playing a game. You wanna play?”
Moussa takes my wrist. He tells me he will say the names of meats and when he says an animal I don’t eat, I make a fist. Ok, ready? He holds my wrist and begins to shake it.
“Chicken, chicken” two shakes. I leave my wrist wobbly. “Cow, cow, dog dog…”
When he says dog I hear duck and I don’t make a fist. Abu and Moussa burst out laughing. “You eat dog?” they say. I laugh, no no! Ok, try again.
“Chicken chicken, fish fish, cat cat…” I make a fist at cat. Phew.
“Way eats everything,” they say.
“Even dog?” I ask.
“Yeah - he eats snake and cat, too.”
“Way!” I call ahead. “What is dog like?” He waddles back. He is the shortest of the seven and has short spiked hair. Way is from Burma.
“Rosie, dog is good. It is like food.”
He tells me a story, in broken English, of a dog in Burma that took food from their house everyday. One day, his dad shot the dog, but the dog did not die. I do not entirely understand, but it is important enough to Way that he tries to tell it two times. I feel privileged that he wants to tell me a story from home.
Next, I ask if anyone has seen a chicken killed before. Everyone says yes, of course they have. They are eager to tell me stories of how people kill chickens in their country. Abu says that in Liberia, they cut the heads off. Then the chicken legs run around without heads! He makes the motion of the machete with his hands, then imitates a chicken flopping its wings. Everyone laughs - they can relate to this scene, since most have seen it many times.
Kunga says in India, where his family lived for many years after leaving their home in Tibet, that they put the chicken in very hot water until it dies. Way tells us how in Burma, they collect the “red” when the chicken is bleeding and eat it.
There is more chicken and food talk on the way back from the park. Way, Abu and Kunga, in particular, are eager to talk and share.
Way says that his father and older brother used to kill the animals. “But my brother is dead now,” he says. Two years ago, he explains, men came to family’s home in Burma. The men tried to shoot his older sister, but his brother stepped in the way and was killed. His sister is now in Thailand, he thinks.
Abu, from Liberia, asks Way if Burma is hot. “Yes, it’s hot,” he says.
“Do you like it there? Do you miss home?” Abu asks.
“Burma is bad now,” he says. “Too many people kill each other.” I put my arm around Way and tell him I am very glad that he is here now, and that we are lucky to have him in this country. He looks up and smiles. It is one of the first smiles he has given me.
Then the conversation turns to other people’s relatives. Kunga’s brother was kidnapped. Moussa’s brother was killed. Neither say much about it, but they want to mention it. When we arrive at the school, we’re still talking about it.
Way mentions his brother and sister again. I ask him who the bad guys in Burma are. Where do they come from?
Kunga, from Tibet, pipes in, “China. Bad guys from China.”
Way says no, not China. Chinese people in Burma are good and live together separately. He does not know who the bad guys in Burma are.
When Kunga, who does not talk much, says, “China,” I think of Kunga’s living room in the Bronx, which I saw for the first time in photos today. A huge Tibetan flag covers one wall. On another wall is a large framed picture of the Dalai Lama, surrounded by candles and incense. Strung around the room are orange, red and yellow Tibetan prayer flags.
In some ways, these boys are immature. But in other ways they are experienced beyond their years. They have eaten dog, cat, snake and rabbit. Most of them speak three or four languages. They have seen rebel groups and armed soldiers invade their towns, things I will only ever read about in the New York Times. They have witnessed the deaths of their brothers and the beating of their mothers. I may be the teacher, but I feel like I have more to learn from them.