New Perspectives: Laurent and Thierry Navigate a New Life
By Abbey Thomas, IRC Education Intern
Last month, a group of tall, smiling Congolese refugees crowded around a table in the IRC’s conference room for cultural orientation. I use the word “crowded” intentionally: five different language groups, plus volunteers, interpreters, interns, staff, video projectors, laptops, and course materials made for a tight fit. Yet from the start, despite the large crowd around the relatively small table, our Congolese group arrived eager to participate in cultural orientation. The other interns and I were impressed by their high levels of English and confidence in class. When I asked if a few members of the Congolese family would be willing to do a short interview for the IRC newsletter, I was not surprised that Laurent and Thierry agreed.
Laurent and Thierry, two brothers, ages 35 and 23, had no short trip getting to Tucson. Their journey began by bus in the southern African country of Namibia. When they reached the airport, they flew via Air Namibia to Johannesburg, South Africa. On an evening in late April, they arrived in Johannesburg at six o’clock.
“Actually, when we reached Johannesburg,” Thierry explained, “Each one of us was thinking, we knew that…this was not the destination where we were going…The mind of each one of us was to prepare himself because we were passing.”
“Did you have to run through the airport?” I asked.
“Oh no,” both brothers answered emphatically. Their next flight did not leave for another two hours after they arrived. When I asked what they did to pass the time, Thierry explained that they just sat down, waiting to talk with a group of people from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), an intergovernmental organization that provides travel loans for refugees.
After Johannesburg, Laurent and Thierry told me, they flew to New York, then from New York to Dallas, and Dallas to Tucson—about thirty hours of travel. In Tucson, a case manager from the IRC office picked them up from the airport and brought them to their new apartment.
When I asked about their first day in the US, Laurent explained: “Our first day was good, but boring because we were just alone inside the house.”
“Did you sleep a lot?” I asked.
“We were sleeping all the time,” Thierry informed me, “During the day you sleep, at night you sleep, because of confusion of time.”
Laurent and his wife Pauline had brought their three-year-old daughter with them to our cultural orientation. I couldn’t help but wonder how the energetic little girl had adjusted to the new environment.
“She was totally confused,” Laurent said, smiling. “Asking me to go back… I told her, ‘We will not go there again; you belong here now.’”
Still curious, I asked Laurent how his daughter was doing now.
“Now she is good,” he answered, but later admitted that she wants more friends to play with. Yet he was confident she would find those friends at school soon enough.
Laurent and Thierry went on to explain the adventures of their first few days in Tucson. The first time to the IRC office, their case manager had given them a ride. The next time, their case manager told them, they would have to make the trip themselves.
“For the first time, to ride a bus,” Thierry explained, “It was difficult.” Together, they told the story of passing the IRC, searching for a street they recognized, and then getting stuck.
Now, however, Laurent and Thierry have learned to successfully ride the city bus to all their appointments. Only a few weeks after recovering from jet lag, they completed sixteen hours of cultural orientation at the IRC. They have begun participating in job class and hope to find new jobs soon. Laurent, Thierry, and the other members of their family have remained eager and active as they pursue their new lives, and I have no doubt they will succeed as they work towards self-sufficiency in their new home.
Abbey Thomas is serving her second term as an education intern with the IRC in Tucson. She designs and implements training materials for the Cultural Orienation course which new clients receive upon arrival in America.