October 24, 2007


Posted in Uncategorized at 8: 14 pm by MK

I taught a class tonight at a public library on credit/debt management. There were 12 people in the class and seven were refugee-status Americans. The refugee office sent them my way because they could attend without needing a translator.

After the class a (non-refugee) woman lagged behind to tell me about her personal financial woes. After everyone had left the room she said, “So what were all those people doing here?” I said, “Excuse me?” She asked again, “Where were those people from?” I said, “I assume you were talking about the Burmese Americans in the class?” I then proceeded to give a brief explanation of how someone gets identified and defined as a refugee (one unable to return to his/her country due to war, danger, or persecution). She shook her head and said, “This country…I just don’t get it…accepting all these people and we can’t help our own.” I replied, “I guarantee you if you took the time to know any of the people in this room, or the struggles refugees go through you would feel very differently.” She said, “But what about the ones who come here and don’t work?” I said, “What about the Americans born here that don’t work?” I then encouraged her to become educated on refugee issues.

The sad part is I know there are a lot of people who think like this racist woman.


October 22, 2007

Table as metaphor

Posted in Uncategorized at 10: 54 am by MK

I am welcomed and quickly urged to sit at the mismatched kitchen table.  Before I can say yes, please to the hand motions asking if I would like to eat, a bowl of flat noodles is placed in front of me.  I am encouraged to spoon out coconut flavored soup over noodles and told, this is a Burmese traditional dish by my interpreter for the evening.  I’m given a drink to calm the spicy flavors:  a bottle of Sunkist orange soda is placed next to my glass.  You know, the kind you would drink at the roller skating rink on Friday night to make your upper lip turn orange.  Noodles, coconut soup, Sunkist soda and a slowly becoming familiar grocery store two blocks up.

October 21, 2007

Building trust

Posted in Uncategorized at 6: 48 pm by MK

Some kind friends cleaned out their closets and gave me things (bedding, towels, clothing, a hairdryer!?) to give to A. and K.  I brought my husband, P., with me when I went to deliver the items.  They have been so welcoming of me into their home, meeting their family and friends, I thought it might be nice for them to meet mine.  After introductions were made, K. tapped my arm, smiled and gave me a big thumbs up sign.

From the welcoming I receive when I visit A. and K. and the information they confide in me when we have an interpreter, I feel they are beginning to trust me.

Today, after P. and I brought in all the stuff we had to give them, we sat, drank juice and ate cookies.  I’ve learned not to rush out after stopping by, because it usually takes a little time for A. or K. to bring up a problem or issue they are having.  After a bit, A. brought me his food stamp card and K. called a friend who speaks English to relay the problem:  there should be money on the card but when they went to the grocery store they were told the card was inactive.  I tried to call the 1-800 number on the back.  Get this:  it tells me to refer to the handbook I was given with my account if I have questions.  What wonderful advice.  And of course the local D.S.S. office is closed on Sundays.  I promised A. and K. I’d come back tomorrow, and in the meantime try to figure what is going on with their food stamps.

I’m going to try to find out the information on my own.  As they distrust their case worker, I do a bit now as well.  Of course I will probably need to contact her to get everything figured out, but the more I know the more I’ll be able to help.  Again, it’s about trust.  If they don’t trust their case worker, who else are they going to ask for help.  At least maybe they’ll trust me.

October 16, 2007

Warm blankets

Posted in Uncategorized at 8: 57 am by MK

I stopped by A. & K.’s last night to drop off four blankets, which they took gladly.  I’m sure they’ll sleep better tonight.

Just a reminder:  if you clean out your closets and are looking for a place to donate clothing, blankets, sheets, towels, furniture, and any other household items check to see if there is U.S. Committee for Immigrants & Refugees in your area.  They are always accepting items to give to refugee families in need. 

October 13, 2007

Myanmar Refugees Strain U.S. Aid Groups

Posted in Uncategorized at 7: 52 pm by MK

Just found this article on MSNBC.com…

September 20, 2007

Technical help!

Posted in Uncategorized at 11: 06 am by MK

So I realize the font in that last post is really small, and I promise I’m not trying to ruin everyone’s eyesight!

A. How do I enlarge the font?

B. Will it be more readable if I just show part of the post and then do that fancy “more . . .” link thing other bloggers do?  And if so how do I do this?


C. Does it look fine to everyone and it’s just my computer??

September 12, 2007

The baby

Posted in Uncategorized at 12: 42 pm by MK

The one-year-old is finally warming up to me.  When I first use to go to the apartment he was absolutely terrified of me, and would cry if I tried to go near him.  I wonder if he had ever seen someone who looked like me before?

Last night he was very curious about me, and even sat on my lap for part of the lesson.  He was also curious about my purse.  After digging through it to see what he could find, he decided he liked the book I had, Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose.   But more specifically it was Prose’s picture on the back of the book that he spent most of the night staring at. 

A perfect collision of worlds.  

Why aren’t the kids in school?

Posted in Uncategorized at 10: 50 am by MK

I can’t quite figure out why the two children are not in school yet.  We are almost a week and half into the new school year, and they have yet to go.  As of last Thursday their case worker told me she was going to pick them up Monday morning and take them…but as far as I can tell that didn’t happen.  I’m sure there is an explanation; their case worker seems very conscientious.  But she also appears to be pretty overworked…  I worry that the longer they wait to start the harder the transition may be if other students have already fallen into a routine with friends and classes. 

September 7, 2007

The unexpected

Posted in Literacy Needs, Second language learning, Uncategorized at 11: 56 am by MK

I went to the apartment last night with an array of lesson plans & activities.  I was prepared to teach, and teach well.  And I was ready for one student, or ten.  I thought this was going to be the night we would make some real progress; I was determined.

When I arrived, I quickly realized that just because I have some nice, neat lesson plan packed in my bag, doesn’t mean that the family is sitting there waiting for me to show up.  They are dealing with real, concrete, functional issues of life:  like sending two kids to school for the first time.

Ordinarily the junior-high school both children attend would be a short one-block walk from their apartment.  However, it’s currently being renovated so now the trek to school consists of two city buses and a transfer half-way.  Their case manager O. was there last night trying to get things sorted out.  O. and I ended up driving the children to their new school so they could see what it looked like, and then figuring out the best bus-route for them to take.

I felt for the two kids.  When we pulled up to the school, I really tried to look at it through their eyes:  it was big and looming and scary.  I gave them encouragment and acted excited, but their fear was evident.  Going back to school for any child can be overwhelming, let alone in a new country when you don’t speak the language.  And I know adults (okay, myself included, I’ll admit it) that would be nervous about taking the city bus and negogiating a transfer…how are these kids suppose to feel? 

O. is going to do a dry-run on the bus with them and take them to school herself on Monday (their first day).  I am sure this will help.  The school has also assured her that they have a number of refugee-status children, are familiar and comfortable working with the families, and have the experience to do so.    I am sure the first few weeks will be rocky, but it will get better.  And the children will become sponges, learning the language quickly. 

As I drove home last night, I realized my lesson plans never left my bag, but it felt like I got a lot done.  My concept of “progress” is always changing.

August 23, 2007

Where is Scotty’s snake?

Posted in Uncategorized at 8: 55 am by MK

Shelter takes in pair of slithering guests

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