Oscars for Airlines: A Third Culture Kid’s Airline Review

It has been said that Third Culture Kids feel far more loyalty to airlines and airports than to nations and governments, so with that in mind when Jet Blue banners fly across my computer screen with $44 fares highlighted in their familiar blue I always look. The flights are cheap, you get one checked bag at no cost and their boast of “extra leg room” is entirely accurate.

I flew before I walked and can’t count the number of flights I’ve taken, or airlines and airports I have had the privilege to meet. At the risk of sounding annoying and “remembering the good old days”, when it comes to airlines, it was the good old days.

International flights often included overnights in major cities world-wide at the cost of the airline. All inclusive packages with meals and transportation vouchers to and from the airport were the norm. In-flight meals, drinks and toys were complimentary and we even got little wing pins to proudly place on shirts or jackets that said “Fly the Friendly Skies“.  Extra baggage didn’t come at an exorbitant fee and you could often talk your way out of the cost through smiles and thanks.

Consider the average flight today where a grumpy airline employee checks you in, or you check yourself in, and then wander over to make sure your luggage will get on as well.  You wait, sometimes for hours with no information, to find out your flight is delayed and once you finally leave, peanuts, pretzels and drinks are thrown at you across the aisle.

But even in the current abysmal state of the industry there are those airlines that rise to the top and get high marks for everything from flight schedules to customer service, so today I bring you the “Oscar” awards for airlines

For domestic airlines in the United States the Oscar will be shared, going to Jet Blue and Southwest. Both offer great prices, generous luggage allowances, credit cards to help you build miles and all in all a good flying experience. News this past fall that Southwest has purchased Air Tran put a smile on my face!

Bottom of the barrel – no doubt American airlines with their frequent cancellations and rude interactions, and NO – getting an email telling me that my flight scheduled for 8am will be leaving at noon is not ok. United is right down there too, with equally bad schedules, although perhaps not as quick to change flights.

If flying internationally the Oscar goes to Swiss. With their hot towels to refresh you in economy class and their attention to detail and comfort, even with a delayed plane, they rise to the top.  A stop in Zürich, particularly if you have young children, is a treat as the airport has a fully equipped play room/nursery with a special room just for babies. Memories of hours in that nursery remind me that it saved us from what could have been miserable times of waiting by gates during long lay overs – we owe this airport our sanity. A close runner-up could be British Airways as I have always had lovely flights on British Air.

Virgin Air gives a cheap but uncomfortable flight to London, and if you are patient you can usually find British Air tickets for almost the same price. I have heard that Singapore Air could probably get a world-wide Oscar for the best airline (which I tend to believe as the efficiency in Singapore is legendary) but I can’t speak from experience on the airline. Lufthansa could be up there as a competitor, though not winner, and after our recent trip to Egypt, we would swear by the Egypt Air New York/Cairo Nonstop flight.

I’ve been told that Iceland Air is the bottom of the barrel internationally so I will not be swayed by their cheap prices, realizing I will pay the cost some other way (like having to make sure of change in my pocket in order to use the bathroom). I assure you I am not being dramatic – Ryan Air out of Ireland does have a “pay when you go” policy on using the loo.

So what about you? Who gets the Oscars from your experience? Would love to have you weigh in – Favorite Airlines, Worst airlines, Worst airline stories – we want to hear it all!

Goodbye~ God Be With You!

The A train serves JFK Airport via the Howard ...

We entered into New York’s JFK airport with a plane full of other passengers yesterday. While we headed to the line that bore the banner “US Citizens”, a majority of the passengers on the plane headed to one of the other two lines: Residents or Visitors, located farther down in the large impersonal immigration area.

We had said goodbye the evening before to my daughter and oldest son, who is staying on with his sister in Cairo for the next couple of weeks. We held each other tightly and didn’t want to let go – I know we both wish that we lived closer. Just as my mom would love to pop over for a cup of tea to my house without planning, so would I love to grab tea or coffee with my oldest daughter spontaneously, without purchasing a plane ticket.  How I have missed through the years and many goodbyes I have said that the origin of the word “goodbye” comes from “God be with you” is a mystery, but miss it I did. This changes the word completely for me, for to say “God be with you” is at the heart of my world and to say “Goodbye” to my kids with that meaning in mind is a comfort to my ‘mom’ heart.

The collective goodbyes represented in the large immigration room were many. We were all strangers to each other so who knows the scope of the stories and goodbyes that were present, but knowing many immigrants, all with amazing and poignant life stories, allowed me to understand that there was far more beneath that which is visible, there is so much more beyond the surface.  Some were permanent residents of the US, probably visiting relatives in Cairo and now back home. Others were newcomers to the US and the slightly confused looks on their faces and making their way to the wrong lines gave away their confusion and lack of familiarity with the “rules”.

Those of you who read this blog are no stranger to goodbyes. Perhaps your first goodbyes were said at the young age of six or seven as you went to boarding school for the first time, brave on the surface but your stomach knotting inside as you passed through that boarding school “rite of passage” for the first time. Others may have said your first goodbyes in high school, going back to your passport country to complete school to compete successfully in the country of your parents. For others it was when you got married and left your family home, entering into a new world with either your in-laws or a world apart with your new husband who could hardly grow a beard, so young was he.

Regardless of when it was, the feelings of nervous stomach and throat catching are universal. It’s the butterflies and the uneasy energy that seem to take over, and the tears that remain unshed, stored up for a more private time to be poured out like water when you are parched.

And today we say goodbye to 2011 – a different kind of goodbye to be sure, but some of the same elements of joys, regrets, losses and gains, sorrows and happiness. In August I wrote a post on saying goodbye to my daughter, Stefanie as she went off to college for the first time. I am posting it here again as I think of the goodbyes that have been said throughout the year and may be remembered today – It is the bittersweet taste of that word “Goodbye!”. As you close out 2011 and open your heart to 2012 may your goodbyes have the sweetness of “God be with you!”

August 2011 – The Bittersweet Taste of the Words Goodbye

We’re up early. While the rest of the house is sleeping our college-bound girl is doing the last-minute packing, grabbing a winter coat she reasonably forgot given the 89 degrees and 90% humidity of our August morning, and trying to calm her stomach. And though I had not intended to do a blog post as I think on those bittersweet words “Goodbye” I had to reflect.

Those of you who are third culture kids or international travelers know these words all too well. The most poignant memory by far in my life comes from a long ago time when at six years old with my favorite doll in my arms I was driven with older brothers to the Hyderabad train station to catch a train that would take me 800 miles to Rawalpindi station where a large army-green bus would pick us up and take us the remaining 2 hour journey up to our boarding school in the hill station of Murree. The tears flowed without embarrassment – I was, of course, only six. Even after all these years the bitter taste of goodbye and all that meant for me is a sweet and hard memory. The hardest part for my mother came when the train rolled away. At that point her tears fell, and mine stopped. I was with friends. As suddenly as the train left the station, my world was immersed in six-year-old imagination and friendship.

That was the first of more goodbyes than I could possibly count. Whoever first coined the phrase “bittersweet” had tremendous insight. For we know that usually what is beyond will be wonderful for the person to whom we are saying goodbye. But the present brings up that all-too familiar knot in the stomach – a mixture of pain, sadness and nervousness. What I remember even more than goodbye was the memory of waking up the next morning in an unfamiliar bed in complete confusion until I remembered that this was boarding. I had left home. Mom was not there. The hot tears that fell on my six-year-old face were accompanied by a clear whisper – “No, you’re not home – but I am with you. I will be with you”.  I knew without a shadow of a doubt that this was indeed the voice of God himself. And those words were stronger than any verse of scripture or any theological doctrine could be.

Those are the words I hope each of my children hear as they say their very frequent goodbyes. Those are the words I hope Stef wakes up to tomorrow morning.

Those are the words I wish for you as you close out 2011 and move into 2012. God be with you!

“Ragaouna Misr” Take Us Back to Cairo!

“We had barely drifted out of Alexandria’s harbor when I heard my father cry ‘Ragaouna Misr!’ – Take us back to Cairo! It became his personal refrain, his anthem aboard the old cargo ship…from The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit

Just as the Call to Prayer greeted us at midday on arrival a short 9 days ago, it woke us this morning to bid us goodbye as we rushed to pack our suitcases and get to the airport to board Egypt Air Flight 985 nonstop Cairo to New York. Carefully wrapped perfume bottles, colorful scarves and other treasures unavailable to us in the bazaars in the U.S (otherwise known as “malls”) were placed into our bags to greet us on the other side. The side where memories sometimes need tangible items to awake their wonder.

The cry of our hearts has often been that of the fathers’ in The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit. “Ragaouna Misr!” Take us back to Cairo! Our children could verify that this was our cry for 7 years after leaving in 1996. And leaving a piece of our heart in the form of our daughter gives us more reason to want to return, to be a more consistent part of her world .

But arriving in Cambridge, my heart is satisfied. We are indeed where we are supposed to be. Unlike when we uprooted our family, we now recognize that though the cry may be loud at times, we are given the occasional gift of a visit to rekindle our hearts and spirits. Though we may still cry out “Ragaouna Misr” – sometimes like the Israelites and other times in a far healthier way, sometimes audibly and other times silently – we are living where we are for a purpose. Even as the cry comes up to my lips, I walk in and put a kettle on for tea and smell the scent of home. Right now that home is Cambridge, Massachusetts surrounded by our memories, pictures and life thousands of miles removed.

View from the Minarets by Bab Zuweila
Another View
City Street leading up to Bab Zuweila
“Ragaouna Misr! – Take me back to Cairo!”
View of the citadel
Minarets of Bab Zuweila

All photographs taken by Cliff Gardner, who climbed to the farthest point on the minaret.

Tahrir Square – Walls and Graffiti

During the 18 days that changed the course of modern-day Egypt Tahrir Square, in the heart of downtown Cairo, became known throughout the world as the epicenter of freedom and change. We couldn’t wait to get a glimpse of the square and talk to people about what had transpired and what is transpiring.

Just a few days before our arrival the area around Tahrir was in chaos, so much so that we made contingency plans for where we would stay. Our daughter lives just a couple of blocks away and by the time we arrived things had quieted down. Quiet is a relative term. We headed out on Friday with plans to eat Egyptian pizza (fateer) and head toward the Nile for a felucca ride. At one end of Annie’s street ten soldiers in full riot gear blocked any movement and just past the soldiers sat four army tanks, ready and waiting to be used at the sign of any trouble.

As we attempted to get to the Nile, every where we turned we ran into obstacles. Large circles of barbed wire blocked street after street. And then there were the walls. These walls are like nothing I’ve seen before. They are massive square boulders built into 12 feet high walls. They are strategically placed in the downtown area to restrict movement and prohibit protesters from gathering. They are quite simply a clever means to block civilian dissent. To put this into context, it would be like New York City blocking off all side roads leading to Zuccotti Park with massive, immoveable, concrete boulders, sending all traffic in the area into chaos and frustration. Taxi drivers shake their heads in disgust as all attempts to drive places are met with detours imposed by the walls.

As quickly as the walls have been built, the graffiti has appeared. It was my children and Shepard Fairey that first challenged me to look at graffiti as an art form and a means of expression. The graffiti on the newly constructed walls does just that as it communicates powerful messages from civilians related to both the January 25th uprising as well as the violence that has been perpetuated this fall. This graffiti is well done. A common theme includes a patched eye, an accusation toward a young soldier who is infamous for shooting out the eyes of protesters – “Yes! I got another eye” is his arrogant quote.

More than anything, the graffiti is evidence of frustration and division regarding the ongoing role of the military in the new Egypt. For me the graffiti was a look into a society where I am an outsider. My Arabic is not good and even as I struggle to communicate, I want to learn more of what people are thinking and feeling. As with any kind of art, those who create the graffiti wish to use more than words to communicate their thoughts and ideas. Take a look and get a glimpse of Tahrir Square through the graffiti in these pictures.

These are the Moments – Alexandria, Egypt


It’s amazing that when I sit in Cambridge, Massachusetts with my computer and my thoughts I have no problem writing volumes about Cairo. Now as I sit at eleven o’clock at night on a couch in the guest house where we are staying, the cool night air busy with the sounds of horns, shouts of vendors and others on the street,and the hum of the city that never sleeps, I am struggling to put my thoughts into words and words into font.

Part of it is the understandable desire to live in the moment, knowing the moments are going all too quickly. They are speeding by like the cars and taxis on the corniche in Alexandria as I stand like a pedestrian trying to stop these moments like I try to stop the cars rushing by. And yet the other wish is to communicate the moments so that I have them next week as life settles into the more normal and the new year takes over with its demands.

So what are the moments? A speedy train to the city of Alexandria on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea; a city with a mixture of Middle Eastern and European flavors that breathes a rich history. Eating lunch at the Metropole Hotel in Alexandria where the ghosts of Christmas past linger in both the decor and methodical slow service of the staff. Walking on the Mediterranean Sea with the sea and palm trees to our left and minarets and old buildings on our right. Cappuccino at the Athineos hotel, known to seasoned travelers as number 47 in the list of 147 things to do in Alexandria, Egypt.  A taxi ride to find a hotel that seemed real online but a figment of the internet and my excitement of a “cheap but beautiful” hotel as we drove…and drove…and drove, finally finding it off a dark alley called a street. Our fears that this would be a dive never materialized – the hotel was as beautiful as represented and the owner even more so. If you’re ever in Alexandria look up Alexandria Mediterranean Suites. And then the moments of talk and mint tea – moments that will be treasured a life time.

These are the moments.  These are the moments to live in fully alive and present, the moments where there are no regrets.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Cairo Christmas “A Weary World Rejoices”

There is no Christmas tree and no turkey. We have not not heard “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” one time since arriving four days ago and our gifts fit inside small stockings. Our world is stripped of some of the traps that catch me at Christmas time in the U.S where slick advertising tempts all my senses with color,slogan and promise. With this stripping has come a delightful freedom and joy. Joy in cooking over a tiny three burner gas stove with my children and substituting ingredients to mimic familiar tastes; freedom to not put pressure on each other or on the day to be something it can’t be. Tahrir Square is but a block away from where we are preparing our Christmas feast and we are acutely aware of the struggles of many just minutes from our festivities. This is Christmas in Cairo.

At a late night service on Christmas eve we sang Christmas carols in Arabic and English side by side with refugees from the Horn of Africa, Egyptian Christians, and expatriates from around the world. My senses feel alive with the joy of being here and witnessing in person this time in Egypt’s history. Here I have to wrestle with the words of Christmas carols instead of blithely singing them. Here as I read the words “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of peace.” I ache with a longing that people may know how much God loves them.

As I watch the resilience of Egyptians continuing to hope in their world and future, I think of the hope that is personified in the birth of a small baby, helpless and fragile, yet history cannot keep silent of the joy that came that night. As night falls and I view the scenes around me from high balconies and close encounters I am reminded of the beautiful words that speak to that holy night, where a “weary world rejoiced” and woke to the miracle of a “new and glorious morn.”

Christmas Day - Cairo, Egypt "A Thrill of Hope, A Weary World Rejoices"

Guest Post – Into the darkness there came a Great Light

Ganges River, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India.
Image via Wikipedia

Bhai Lal was our electrician in Varanasi. He lived down near the Ganges River. His wife had died years before and he parented half a dozen hooligans on his own. Bhai Lal was an entrepreneur. He had crazy ideas and they worked! One year he created a boat entirely out of recycled water bottles. He would row into the middle of the river to demonstrate how clever his little boat was. His electrical skills enabled him to add lights to his boat. It glowed red and blue and green down into the water. We’d shake our heads and laugh, which was exactly the reaction Bhai Lal wanted!

Bhai Lal was an electrical genius. If our electricity ever went out, or if there was a mysterious brown out that affected just our house, or if half our house had lights but the other half didn’t we’d go up to the south-eastern corner of our roof and call down for Bhai Lal. If Bhai Lal wasn’t there we’d groan and ask whoever was down in the darkness to give him a message to come as soon as he could. If Bhai Lal was there he’d shout right back up at us that he was coming. He’d come and chatter away as he twisted and tweaked wires, fiddled with fuses, taping and splicing light back into our rooms, current back into our outlets.

Bhai Lal believed in a good sense of humour, he believed in working hard, he believed in the Hindu pantheon and he believed that as long as he stood on a piece of cloth he would not be electrocuted—in fact he’d take off his rubber flip-flops and stand on a measly rag and claim he was now safe!

Christmas in 2005 was a particularly intense holiday. Together with friends we had written a Christmas pageant and I was the director. The play would be performed on our property adjacent to our home. Lowell, the prophet Simeon in our production, had to have an emergency appendectomy on the 22nd of December. He was released from the hospital on the 23rd. We had our last dress rehearsal on the morning of the 24th. I then commissioned the cast to go home and celebrate Christmas. We would meet again on Christmas Day for the performance. The still weakened Simeon-Lowell and I walked back across the yard to our home determined to rest and celebrate the Advent of Hope. Lowell suggested we throw an impromptu party. Let’s invite all those of our friends who didn’t have any other place to be. Let’s celebrate Christmas. That was the plan.

Lowell received a very strange visitor shortly thereafter, just before lunch. Rajesh was a man we had known for years. He had dabbled in the demonic, he battled bipolar, he was a displaced soul with a need to incite and provoke. In the guise of visiting Lowell who was still recovering from surgery, Rajesh showed up. He went straight to the roof, where we often entertained guests in the winter–the river expansively displayed, the sunlight bathing the day in a comforting glow, and he settled in. From there Rajesh proceeded to shout horrendous insults. He blasphemed. He cussed. He set up several Hindu idols and proclaimed their deity over our house and over the city. He threatened our children. He promised to return on Christmas Day to destroy the pageant. He jumped over the wall and stood precariously close to the edge of our roof and the 30 foot drop to the river. Lowell didn’t know if he’d jump or not. And Rajesh wouldn’t leave. We called his wife. We called friends for advice. We called a friend with connections at the psychiatric hospital. Rajesh got louder and louder, his insults more horrifying, his threats more unnerving as the day went on. Lunch time and supper time came and went– still he stayed.

Our friends began to trickle in for the party. We no longer really wanted a party but we wanted desperately to reclaim Christmas and we needed the comfort of friends. I made hot cocoa. We pulled out snacks and tasty treats. We added space in our party for Rajesh’s wife and his two bewildered, pained children.

Suddenly, and without cause, our electricity surged. We were supposed to have 220 volts but it rarely came in any higher than 170. In the middle of that moment the current surged well over 300 volts. Everything in the house not connected to a voltage stabilizer blew! We were submerged in complete darkness. It was the sympathetic element reinforcing the state of our spirits. I felt so trapped. We lit the candles and because our invertor still was working Lowell was able to push play on our Christmas movie. None of us wanted to venture to the roof to summon Bhai Lal. That could wait. For now the party would continue. Lowell pushed play and we all tried to push mute on the sounds still coming off the roof. Alas, it wasn’t the sounds of “eight tiny raindeer”…

Eventually, about three-fourths of the way through our movie, nine and a half hours after he arrived on our roof, Rajesh came down. Lowell and I and Rajesh’s family all accompanied him to the gate. We wished them a Merry Christmas and it was over.

And then we called for Bhai Lal. He wasn’t home. We went to bed despondent in the dark.

Christmas day, after a special family morning of gifts and brunch and remembering the birth of Christ, we began in earnest to prepare for the evening pageant. Lowell rested and reviewed his lines. I supervised the tents going up, the generators set up, the lights being strung, the strings of flowers being hung. The caterers organized the food: the samosas were fried, the tomatoes and onions cut up for the chutney, the tamarind and the yogurt sauces ready for the pani puri. The sound people came in. Speakers were hung precariously from poles. Systems were tested with countless, “hello…. Hello…. Hello”s.

And after Mary had given birth to a doll-Jesus and the shepherds had rushed to see, and knocked over the lantern in the stable. After the wisemen traipsed through the crowd of nearly three hundred guests, one of them tripping over and stumbling after the star, and they discovered the Christ child. And after Simeon, the prophet who was missing his appendix, proclaimed loudly, boldly who the Christ was and why he was born… after all that— Bhai Lal showed up!

The play was over and it had been a huge success! While the music played on and the food was served I went back to change out of my costume and into my Christmas sari. I was so relieved that Rajesh hadn’t shown up! I was thrilled at how many people had come and how well the play had gone off! I was just putting on my bangles when Bhai Lal banged on the door. He shouted through the screen door that he was there! The timing wasn’t great but I was ready for the electrical problems of the previous night to be fixed. But Bhai Lal hadn’t come to fix our lights. He was full of joy and good news.

“Didi!! You won’t believe what I just heard on the radio! Did you know that God sent his son, the only one he had, at Christmas, as a baby? Did you know didi? Did you know that son was Jesus and he was born so that he could grow up and then he would die on the cross? Did you know this didi? I came to tell you! I came as soon as I heard! Jesus would die to save us from our sin? That’s how much God loves us! Did you know this didi?”

I stood staring at him through the screen door, the sounds of the music across the yard dimly playing in the background, a flashlight in my bangle bedecked hand, tears in my eyes. Yes, I nodded, I had heard that. Bhai Lal was radiant. His joy was enormous. Bhai Lal, the electrician was full of light. He had come as soon as he heard. He kicked off his shoes, and stood there, holiness all around him. We both stood, barefooted and aware of the sacred place. The dismal darkness, the spiritual claustrophobia, the entrapped spirit of Christmas eve replaced with Light and Space and Grace. I set down my flashlight. Christ was born!

Shout that from the roof tops!

Thank you Robynn Bliss for this Christmas Eve Read!

Beyond the Pyramids – Glimpses of Cairo

Jet lagged bodies and eyes are suddenly awakened through the comfort of familiarity. Traffic that would send many in the west into fits of frustration over “inefficiency”, crowds of people, and the sun and pollution hanging heavy over the city of Cairo have instead sent us into a state of contentment in that which is familiar. “Ah – this city, we love this city” If we don’t say it audibly, we think it so loudly that others can hear.

Arriving in early afternoon is the perfect time to arrive. We settled into the Diocesan guest house and were ready for the rest of the day. Initial glimpses of the city show old and beautiful American University of Cairo buildings with windows smashed in, other buildings and restaurants burnt during the revolution, and a car a few feet away from our daughter’s building crisply torched, an empty shell remaining.  All is evidence of a city and country that are resilient and continue to hope and long for a better future, despite the obvious obstacles. I will never be a political commentator; but when a “trusted commentator” of the New York Times talks about Egypt and wonders if they are ready for democracy, I want to throw up from the imperialism that flavors their words. Already we have heard from Egyptians two things – that no one wishes Mubarak back and that there is still legitimate concern and awareness that the future is uncertain. But for all of us, the future is a hope, never a certainty.

In the midst of the drugged mind of jet lag, we looked over Annie’s rooftop at glimpses of the city to the sounds of the Call to Prayer, echoing from mosques throughout the area. These glimpses are best captured through the camera lens so here is Cairo – a city that is so much more than the pyramids and King Tut.

View of the City
Cairo Rooftop
Another view - captures the Coptic church toward the right
Building across the way
Coptic church - Evidence of Egypt's large Coptic Christian population
Ancient window on the rooftop - I wish roof tops could talk
Steaming chai at a coffee shop. A perfect way to end our first day!

Once You Drink From the Nile, You are Destined to Return

 

At our goodbye party in Egypt, fifteen years ago, we gave out tiny bottles filled with water from the Nile River. Written on the front of the bottle were the words of an Egyptian proverb:

Once you drink from the Nile, you are destined to return

Cairo is a city that gets into your blood, under your skin, becomes a part of your DNA and every other phrase you can imagine to describe the connection that is Cairo. For all it’s dirt and chaos, our family loves this city. I think it’s because we are like the city. We’re loud, we’re chaotic, and we’re complicated; we can’t be put in a box.

We arrived in Cairo in 1989, just a few months shy of my thirtieth birthday.We were fledglings, learning to walk, talk and live as a family. We were described as “that cute young couple with all those kids!” After seven years we were leaving to move to the United States. Amidst the chaos of five kids aged one to eleven we packed up a life in Cairo. We put seven years of memories, friendships, household goods, and stories (oh the stories!) into twenty-six suitcases. The chapter in the narrative of our life called “Cairo” had closed; there would only be epilogues but the chapter itself was edited and complete.

We had gone through our last everything. Our last felucca ride*, our last trip to Felfela restaurant, our last ride in taxis, and our last view of the city that had taken us in as that fledgling family and dealt with us kindly. It was a traumatic and necessary move, orchestrated by God and grudgingly accepted by the family.

The proverb has proved true for all of us at different points and times and today it proves itself once again. Five of us board a plane at New York’s JFK airport and fly non stop from New York to Cairo, joining our oldest for a Christmas celebration. The trip is a gift of grace. A lot of life has been lived since we left as a family. We are all older and our interactions more complex. Wrinkles light up our smiles and grey frosts the hair of me and my husband (well, not me-I take advantage of all the amazing products that guarantee my hair will look younger than my body!)

But despite being older and more complicated, minarets of mosques are awaiting our footsteps; fuul beans, hot from street restaurants are ready to be eaten; and favorite haunts are shouting at us to come relive our memories. We have drunk from the Nile and we are returning.

*A felucca is a large wooden sailboat. Felucca rides on the Nile are indescribably fun and relaxing – memorable experiences.

The Power of the Narrative

It is the function of Art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it.~ Anais Nin

While living internationally, we rarely went a day without having a story to tell that demonstrated our clumsy negotiations in a country where we were guests. Whether it was wrong translations on birth certificates, getting completely lost in a city of millions, or using the wrong word when communicating, there was always a story. At parties a game favorite was Two Truths and a Lie. While many in the United States may have played this, the responses are totally different when you live overseas. Responses such as “My maid of honor was a Nigerian gentleman”I had dinner with Yasser Arafat’s brother” “My appendix were taken out by a CIA operative” “I grew up with the Ambassador to Mongolia” and more are just a few of the interesting responses that are given. Contrast that to the first time I played this game in Massachusetts where the most exciting response was “I’ve been to Connecticut” (that was the lie…)

A few years ago my husband was talking to a friend from college years. This friend had come to the US from Iran for university and has since made his home here. He was relaying a story of his cousin coming to the US from Iran. She arrived in Michigan for a brief visit before moving on to Toronto. For three days, he said, they listened to her stories and laughed. At the end of three days, she turned to them and said “What are your stories? Tell me your stories?” My husband’s friend and his wife looked at her blankly. “We don’t have stories.” “How can you not have stories? Of course you have stories!” They explained to her that they really didn’t. Life was efficient and rarely brought surprises. They had no stories to tell. She was aghast.

How can you not have stories?

She left soon after and settled with her family in Toronto. A couple of years later another relative from Iran visited her in Toronto. For three days they listened to her stories. And then she turned to them, in the same way that they had turned to our friend and the same question was asked “Now tell me your stories!”. They were blank. They had no stories.

While I know that there are stories in this part of the world, I completely get the response of having no stories in comparison to our lives overseas. The best stories are ones that involve people. People are what make life infinitely interesting. In cultures that are more relationship oriented, there are more opportunities for interaction, whether positive or negative. When human interaction is limited by our high value of individualism and efficiency we can lose some of what makes a good story.

But I think it’s more than that. I think that the power of the narrative, the story, needs to be revived in our country. We hang ourselves on sound bites and 140 characters and we have lost the ability to concentrate on stories that are longer than a blog post. How often can the tweet of 140 characters make you feel and cry, rejoice and laugh, rage and empathize. Stories do. Narratives of life lived and our response to how it was lived. There is a power in stories – a power in the telling, and a power through the listening.

So bring on the stories – tell your story! Think about the life you’ve lived and what your story offers others.  I guarantee it will be worth the telling.

Advent Reflection – Raining Tears

As often happens in life, one day there’s a party and the next there is grief. The other day there was a party and all felt sunny. One day later, the sky was the grey of winter and rain fell steadily. As I was walking to my local drug store I walked over cigarette butts, paper leaflets trapped in puddles, and wet leaves mixed together on the sidewalk, all evidence of life in a city. I was glad for the rain falling on my cheeks; it gave me grace to weep tears that I didn’t want seen in public but came on like a sudden summer storm. I felt like I was raining tears.

All around me I saw evidence of a world broken. It was in the glum, moodiness of passers-by. It was in the grocery cart pushed by the homeless woman, piled high with bottles and filthy blankets. It was in the impatient honking of a car, angry at the vehicle in front of him. Had the vehicle kept on moving, it would have hit two people in the cross walk – and then there would have been more brokenness.

The tears had come from looking at a set of 45 images that represented this past year. Almost every picture was evidence of sadness, loss of life, and a shattered world. As the tears flowed I asked the age-old question: Are you good, God? In the midst of all of this, are you good? It was raining tears as I asked the question.

And so I went back through the images. Could I find even a glimpse of redemption in any of these pictures? Could I see something that sparked hope? I resolved that when I got home I would look through the pictures again with the a different lens, a redemptive lens.

Instead of just seeing coffins, destruction, and crisis I saw beyond the images, to the sidelines or back stage. In the midst of death, was mourning – redemptive evidence of someone who loved. In the midst of buildings ripped from the ground from a tornado was a person – redemptive evidence of a life spared. In the middle of sadness was the redemptive and inexplicable joy that comes from human connection. One image showed Christians guarding Muslims as they prayed in Tahrir Square, ensuring no one was disrupted –  a redemptive image of compassion and care that could transcend different belief systems.

The tears continued to fall but they became redemptive tears renewing my vision and enabling me to see the marks and manifestation of God=breathed redemption.  

The Book Giveaway!

If you’re just tuning in this week then you aren’t yet aware of the book giveaway in celebration of a year of blogging!

Here are the rules:

  1. Comment on this post giving the title of your favorite post, perhaps a reason why it’s a favorite and suggestions for future posts…..or
  2. Invite someone to read Communicating Across Boundaries who you think would enjoy the blog.  Make sure they comment and let me know that you recommended the blog. If you choose this way to participate,here are some of the choices that readers have picked as their favorite posts:

A New Kind of Mommy Blog  – picked by Christi-Lynn Martin

Hookah Hypocrisy – picked by Cary Schulte

The Benediction – Picked by Wilma Brown

Chocolate Jesus – picked by Petra Riggins

Angels from the Rooftop – picked by Tiffany Kim

I will put the names of those who take part into a hat and randomly select three. Those three people will have their choice of one of the books I love and have talked about on this blog.

Here are the books you can choose from:

You have until Tuesday, December 20th to participate. I’ll send out a couple of reminders as a way to tell you how much I want you to take part!

Hope in a City – Shikarpur, Sindh

an old building architecture of Shikarpur.
Image via Wikipedia

Shikarpur is a city in the Sindh area of Pakistan that I have mentioned in earlier posts. It has figured prominently into my past; a place where best friends and favorite families lived and a place that was home for me during my high school years. It is also the place where I was based for flood relief in October a year ago.

While growing up, periodically someone would talk about the days when Shikarpur was a beautiful city with gardens, roses, and large homes gracing the streets. It was a banking city, a financial capital strategically located because of its accessibility from Central Asia and West Asia. History points to this being a city with culture, trade, architecture, and green space. Shikarpur was described as the capital of “merchants, money changers, and bankers”

When Pakistan gained independence from India and established itself as a separate Muslim nation, hundreds of thousands of Hindus were displaced and journeyed to India to begin a new life. Just as Hindus left, Muslims entered and Shikarpur continued to grow. I don’t know when Shikarpur began to lose its beauty and former glory. Part of the change came with partition and strained relations with India, but well before that time of transition and war, the city was not what it had been in the 1800’s. A time where horse-drawn Victorian carriages carried the wealthy to the Shahi Bagh gardens complete with a zoo that had cheetahs, lions and wild boar.

This was a Shikarpur I never knew. While walking through the bazaar, if you look up, you can see faint glimpses of the former glory in old, beautifully crafted windows. Then as your eyes shift and take in the surroundings at eye level, they will see tremendous poverty, crumbling buildings, trash and general disarray. When I reflect on Shikarpur I am saddened for what used to be a place of beauty – a place where gardens and lawns were valued and developed for people to enjoy.

What goes into the demise of a city? How does a place once known as a banking capital with lush gardens become a place that is valued by only those who live there? History is full of descriptions of cities that once were places where life was happening at economic and social levels, cities known for their beauty and culture. Now they are crumbled ruins, their value in what was, not what now is.

Even as the former glory has faded, there is hope and beauty in Shikarpur. One place where this hope is personified is in a small group of people who work in the Shikarpur Christian Hospital. Pakistanis from various ethnic groups, Americans, Canadians and at any given time various other nationalities, work side by side to provide care to women and children in the region. Though worthy, this hospital will never be highlighted in a news story but day after day the doors open to people who would otherwise have no care. Perhaps it seems but a small glimmer of hope compared to the renowned city that once was, but walk through the bazaar in Pakistan and women, anonymous in their burqas, will walk up to any one who looks foreign and say “Are you from the Christian hospital? That hospital saved my life!” or “When will the hospital be opening to deliver babies again? You have to open! You are the only place that cares”. 

While the glory days of Shikarpur would have been a delight to experience, this hospital and the work that is accomplished through the hospital are far greater in the economy of eternity. So despite dusty roads and an infrastructure that belongs more in the early 19th century than the 21st, there is hope. It is a hope often operated by a generator because of frequent power outages, but it shines brightly nonetheless, between a mosque and a Hindu temple off a dusty street full of ox carts, rickshaws and motor vehicles, in Shikarpur.

Blogger’s Note: This post does not do justice to the history and God-breathed work of Shikarpur Christian Hospital so stay tuned for another post that gives more information about this place of hope. For some real-life/in person stories – take a look at The Day the Chicken Cackled: Reflections of a Life in Pakistan by Bettie Rose Addleton. You will travel inside her homes and friendships in Shikarpur and other parts of Pakistan.

“Yes Dr. Walker…Of Course I Floss!”

If you polled a group of people and asked them if they lie to their dentist I think you would get a 100% response rate of “Yes!” The minute I walk into the dentist’s office my moral compass changes and anything is allowed.

When was the last time you had a check up?

Oh, I think it was last year some time

Oh, really? We don’t have it on record

Pause.

OH…that’s funny! I could have sworn it was last year….maybe I went to that other dentist”  ….And then the dreaded question that you know will come:

Now” pause “Do you floss regularly?

Yes Dr. Walker….Of course I floss” And then the dentist looks and knows I’m lying.

Silence. The silence holds all the condemnation that can possibly fit in a single room. As my brother once said “If dentists were priests or pastors, churches would be empty” Imagine the first thing a pastor or priest says to you every week “Did you sin?” And the minute you open your mouth, he/she knows you’re lying.

There is a fear and dread about going to the dentist held by women, men, and children world-wide. No matter how much you’ve brushed and flossed, it’s never going to be good enough! Plus there’s always something we are worried about. The dull ache coming from the wisdom tooth; the spot that bleeds every time we brush; the dread that we have to finally get that crown completed – the temporary one having lasted five years longer than was planned.

And then I think about my brothers’ statement and I wonder about the church “Is that how the church is perceived? As a place where nothing you do is good enough? Where there is a dread and fear? Where condemnation hangs heavy like the silence in a dentist’s office?” And I know that the Church, made of imperfect people, sometimes fails miserably.

I had a visit to my dentist last week. I have grudgingly begun to trust (dare I say even like?) this man. He is practical, clear. and laid back. He accepts me where I’m at and takes it from there, with the gentle challenge “Perhaps you could try this. When you’re ready we could talk about that…”  And I realize that had I stopped going my teeth would be hurting and I would not be healthy.  So can churches be given another chance as well?  To get it right, develop a relationship and gently challenge?

Many people feel like they’ve given the Church that chance, and the Church has failed them repeatedly. I know becaus I used to be one.

Like the dentist, I continued going back. I’m gradually learning and growing; slowly trusting this entity that Christ loves so deeply.

It’s not easy, but neither is going to the dentist and the outcome is ultimately more serious. My journey with the Church has not been easy, but I have learned to honor the struggle and trust the author of the journey.

Dr. Walker was good preparation for a much more important journey. 

You can read more on my journey with the church here.

Blogger’s Note: Remember the Book Giveaway! Invite your friends and family to read and comment or leave a comment yourself! All will be entered into a random drawing for the give away of three of my favorite books! 

It’s a Blog Party!

It’s a blog party and you’re invited!  I’m celebrating the birth of this blog and over 50,000 views in less than a year. I’m celebrating 312 posts, 2,289 comments, 65 categories, 674 tags, and 533 followers! Most of all I’m celebrating writing and communicating with people through the medium of a blog, and I’m celebrating you, the reader, for being willing to read, give feedback, email encouragement and be a part of this process.

In honor of the celebration (besides the mandatory Proseco that I am committed to) I am giving away three books. But to get these books I ask for something in return….

I am inviting you to do one of two things:

  1. Comment on this post giving the title of your favorite post, perhaps a reason why it’s a favorite and suggestions for future posts…..or
  2. Invite someone to read Communicating Across Boundaries who you think would enjoy the blog.  Make sure they comment and let me know that you recommended the blog. If you choose this way to participate, here are some of my favorite posts that you may want to recommend – A Sun Dial and a Swiss Watch – The Story of a Relationship; Learning to Speak Coffee; Meet me at Terminal E and Hookah Hypocrisy.

I will put the names of those who take part into a hat and randomly select three. Those three people will have their choice of one of the books I love and have talked about on this blog.

Here are the books you can choose from:

You have until Tuesday, December 20th to participate. I’ll send out a couple reminders as a way to tell you how much I want you to participate!

Please join in the fun. No one wants to party alone so if no one participates I will cry myself to sleep on my wee pillow!

(Notice that Digging to America and The Day the Chicken Cackled are missing from the photograph. They are on loan to friends!)

Above the Noise – Urban Beauty and the High Line

At any time of year New York City is an experience that inspires the imagination, but during Christmas season it’s hard to deny the magic that is present. Magic that includes the giant tree at Rockefeller Center, crowds of people, Christmas lights, and Macy’s “Believe” campaign dressed up in sparkling red. If you read my blog post yesterday you will note that I am using the word ‘magic’, a more appropriate word for this blog post than wonder!

This weekend we celebrated an early Christmas with my son and his wife, knowing we would not be together during the actual day. We met in New York City, dressed in our prerequisite New York uniforms of black coats, leather boots, and chic scarves that spoke of a sophistication none of us claim on a daily basis.

Besides the highlights of a Christmas celebration around a large, gorgeous tree in a hotel lobby with oversize glittery ornaments, we walked for hours above the noise and chaos of the city in the High Line Park.

The High Line Park in Manhattan’s west side is a tribute to good urban planning with a heavy dose of passion. It was created out of an old freight rail line raised above the city that has long been out of use. The freight line was a historic structure and was going to be torn down. In 1999 some community members fought for this to be preserved and the idea of creating a city park that stretched along the line across Manhattan was born. Above the crowds, above the noise, above the yellow cabs characteristic of New York City, above the chaos and above the pushing and honking, is concrete green space – a tribute to urban beauty and planning.

It is free for all to enjoy. In a walk along this park you can go from midtown to the west village and find a lovely café to drink coffee or read a paper, or, in our case, eat at The Spotted Pig, a famed restaurant where the likes of Lou Reed eat and congregate. Public art is on display and captures the imagination with it’s lines and symmetry.

Benches line wider areas of the park and a unique sculpture is artistically set against a backdrop of the Empire State Building and other high rises, doubling as a bird feeder and perch for wildlife. You feel like you’re in your own world of talking, walking and viewing as you take in the urban beauty.

Walking above the noise gives a perspective that I am unable to get on the ground. It’s a perspective that includes space and perception. I can see more than a few feet in front of me, unhampered by the myriad of little things that can cloud perspective and attitude. Above the noise there is a beauty that, although still present below, is unseen.

The High Line in all its urban beauty made me pause and think about living above the noise. Fully a part of life, but not caught in the chaos. Can I live above the noise, experiencing the beauty without focusing on the bedlam and disorder that can mar beauty and peace?

For me urban beauty is so much more profound than the natural beauty you find in the country or at the ocean. Perhaps it’s that there is a sense of redemption in urban beauty that doesn’t seem as important in a rural setting, where garbage is not spilling out of bins onto street corners. In the city the smell is not of honey suckle and newly mown grass, demonstrating the character of a creator God. Instead my sensitive nose takes in a mixture of fried foods, exhaust smoke and urine. Because of those things that display a broken world it’s in the urban setting that my heart leaps as I realize that the door I just passed is a glorious contrast against the worn, red brick of the building. That above the noise is a peaceful place – that’s what High Line park is. Glorious redemption and peace in the midst of an urban machine.

Beauty is all that is glory and God is beauty embodied, glory manifested. This is what I crave: I hunger for Beauty. …Like an addiction, a compulsion that can’t stop its seeking, do I always want to see more beauty — more of the Glory of God? Because that is what I’m made for –to give Him more glory – Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts

Magic inside macy's

Rockefeller Center and beautiful tree - a proposal took place right before our eyes on the skating rink below

High Line Park - Above the Noise!

Sarah Sze - Still Life With Landscape with city back drop. Serves as a perch for birds along with feeding areas and bird baths.

Close up shot of the sculpture by Sarah Sze

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - Stef's favorite book

The gang minus the photographer

View from the High Line - Statue of Liberty in the distance

The Spotted Pig at the end of our city journey

Beautiful door against red brick - Urban beauty

Blogger’s note: All photographs are courtesy of Cliff Gardner – photographer and tour guide par excellence!

Angels From the Rooftop – A Christmas Story from Pakistan

Bethlehem Gate

My mom grew up in a small town in Massachusetts called Winchendon known at the time for its toy factory. The toy factory made a variety of wooden toys and the town earned the well-deserved nickname of Toy Town. A large wooden rocking horse, created in 1912 and recreated in the 1980’s, stood under a pavilion in the center of town, symbolic of the town’s history

My mom was named Pauline and she was the first-born, the oldest of four children born to my maternal grandparents, Ruth and Stanley Kolodinski. Her’s was a world of seasons; hot, humid summers, fall with red and golden foliage, white Christmases, and rainy April’s that brought out the glorious mountain laurel in late June. She knew baked beans, brown bread and New England boiled dinners.

The long sea journey that took her, my father and my oldest brother to Pakistan in 1954 took her from a town of sidewalks and bay windows to a desert with dusty palm trees and Bougainvillea. The contrast between her life in New England and that in Pakistan could not have been more pronounced. Her story was one of a commitment and calling rooted deeply in her soul; a story with many chapters that began with a move across the world to create a home and life in Pakistan.

Christmases in Pakistan differ dramatically from those in the west. As an Islamic Republic, the majority of the population is Muslim and green, red, and golden twinkling fairylands and holiday music don’t exist. Christmas traditions among the minority Christian population include long drama presentations depicting the Christmas story, all night Christmas caroling parties and new clothes for everyone in the family. Christmas was a time where my parents opened up our home to people coming from near and far, serving hundreds of cups of sweet Pakistani chai throughout the day along with special sweets and savory snacks.

When my mom and dad first arrived, adjusting to Christmases in Pakistan was a challenge. Loneliness and homesickness tended to come on like thick clouds, made more difficult by their desire to create magic for their children along with an acute awareness of the absence of grandparents and other extended family members back in the U.S. I don’t remember this happening, but I’ve no doubt that sometimes the effort to make things special for us kids overwhelmed and tears crept in, throats catching on Christmas carols as they celebrated Christmas far away from where they had been raised.

The town they lived in at the time of this story possibly resembled ancient Bethlehem more than any place on earth. Dusty streets, flat-roofed houses with courtyards, and donkeys and ox carts that brayed and roamed outside were all a part of the landscape of Ratodero. Our house was located right in the middle of a neighborhood and we were the only foreigners in the entire town.

I was almost 3 years old in the Christmas of 1962. It was a Christmas where my mom experienced deep sadness and, despite the excitement of me and my brothers, felt more than ever like we were “deprived” of a “real” Christmas. It was a few days before Christmas that the feelings became more than she could bear and after we were put to bed, she went up on the roof top and looked out over the city of Ratodero. She gives words to her feelings in this narrative:

“Leaning against the wall, I pulled my sweater closer against the evening chill of December. The tears I had been holding back spilled over as I looked up at the stars, then out over the flat roofed houses where our neighbors were cooking their dinner. The smoke from wood and charcoal fires rose in wisps, and with it the now familiar odors of garlic, onions and spices. Familiar, yes, but at that moment the smells only reinforced the strangeness of this place. Then I wondered ‘Did Bethlehem look and smell something like this?’ – Bethlehem where God came down to become a human being, a little baby in a manger, in a setting not so different from some of our neighbor’s homes”.(Jars of Clay, page 128)

It was at this point, tears falling, experiencing the loneliness and sadness of a world apart, that she looked up at the dark, clear sky and as she watched the bright stars, millions of light years away, she heard singing, just as on that night so long ago, the shepherds heard singing. Could it be angels? It was a moment of wonder and awe that the God who she loved so deeply, who knew her frame, knew her sadness, would provide angels to bring comfort and a reminder that she was not alone.

There were no heavenly angels, but “earth angels” had arrived in the form of our dear friends, the Addletons and the Johnsons – two missionary families with 7 kids between them – who out of love for our family had traveled along a bumpy dusty road, remembering that we were alone in this city. There they stood in the street, outside our front door singing “Joy to the World, the Lord is Come. Let Earth receive Her King!” I am too young to remember the celebration that followed, but my mom writes this:

“We woke our children, and together we sang Christmas Carols, ate Christmas cookies and drank cups of steaming tea. And I knew God had sent them to us on that very night to show me once again that no place where he sent us could ever be “God-forsaken” Jars of Clay, page 128

My mom, far removed from the snowy childhood Christmases of her past, where eggnog and Grandma K’s raisin-filled cookies were plentiful, taught us that Christmas is not magic that can quickly disappear, it’s wonder. It’s the wonder of the incarnation; it’s the wonder of God’s love; it’s the wonder of angels heard from rooftops.

Bloggers Note: If you like this post, check out some of these:

Immigrant Communities – What Works?

I had a fascinating conversation a few weeks ago with a woman whose parents are Sikhs from the Punjab region of India. As a young couple they immigrated to Canada and raised their family in a suburb of Toronto. She grew up in a multicultural neighborhood with native-born Canadians, Koreans, Chinese, Indians, Pakistanis, Somalis, Bangladeshis, and more. No one talked about diversity, they lived it.

What made this community work? What is the make-up necessary for an immigrant community to work? What are the policies that support this – or are there any? What is the attitude of those who are native to the community? How does that affect the experience of the immigrant? I’ve asked a lot of questions because there is a complexity to the issue that makes it difficult to dissect.

In September of this year a report came out called “All Immigration is Local: Receiving Communities and Their Role in Successful Immigrant Integration,”. The report challenges the traditional approach that focuses on “immigrant behavior” and the focus on immigrants to assimilate and take on a new role as “Americans” by learning the language and diving into life in America.  How can immigrants take on this role if they are unaccepted by the “receiving” community? And how can the community receiving them welcome immigrants if there is confusion and fear about a neighborhood changing and no dialogue to reassure?

A while ago while working as a visiting nurse in Lynn, Massachusetts I had an experience that illustrated this issue. Lynn is an industrial city located about 20 minutes from Boston to the north along the Atlantic ocean. Lynn has been a depressed community for some time. It’s population and industry peaked in the early 1900’s and has since lost steam. It is known to have a high crime rate and a little rhyme characterizes the city: “Lynn, Lynn, the city of sin, you’ll never go out the way you came in.” I saw patients during the week in Lynn and on Saturdays worked in an office in another city triaging calls from patients.

One Saturday I received a call from a patient. The patient was from Lynn “I’m calling to complain about my nurse” she said. “Oh, I’m so sorry, can you tell me a bit about what’s going on?” “Well, I don’t think she knows what she’s doing. You see, she was raised in Pakistan…..” Great! The patient was calling to complain about me. The humor of the situation struck me and I had to muffle my giggling. I also knew that I had an ethical dilemma: I knew I was me, but she didn’t. I could just take her call and soothe her, or switch the call over to  my supervisor (the right thing to do). I put her on hold and in a stealthy whisper shouted over to my supervisor “Jill! I’ve transferred this patient to you because she’s calling to complain….about me!

But I knew instinctively what the problem was. This elderly white woman, who had never lived elsewhere, was watching a neighborhood change before her eyes. Immigrants from Cambodia, Vietnam and the Dominican Republic were becoming an integral part of the city and her neighborhood. Lynn was rapidly becoming what is termed a “majority, minority” city. This woman was terrified. She had no tools to feel secure in the changes and then along comes a white nurse who proudly lets her know “I’m not from here! I was raised in Pakistan“. It was one more symbol to her that the home and community she had known her entire life was changing and she didn’t feel a part of that change.

I tell the story because I think it illustrates well the fear and confusion that can be present in the “receiving” community. I don’t think this woman was inherently prejudiced or mean-spirited, I think she was grieving the loss of a community she had been a part of and had no tools to welcome and engage newcomers.

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I am a big fan of immigrant communities. I live in a largely immigrant community, I interact with newcomers to the United States regularly. But I am also a big fan of wanting to bring others on board in the process and I’ve found that it’s not always easy. This report was written to help communities come on board and face the challenges that come as immigrants arrive and struggle to create a new home and a new life.

So what are some of the solutions to what works? Relationships, addressing misconceptions, and personalizing both parties is key to building  successful communities. In the words of the report:

“A major step in reinforcing a sense of commonality and community between foreign-born and native-born residents is to create opportunities for contact and communication. Evidence shows that having direct contact with immigrants changes people’s perceptions of immigrants and immigration. Immigrants themselves also look to their native-born neighbors for cues on how to fit in and how to behave in American society. Creating spaces for immigrants and native-born to interact, and to recognize their common goals for the community and future, is critical to the success of receiving communities.” from  All Immigration is Local: Receiving Communities and Their Role in Successful Immigrant Integration.

Immigrant communities in the United States are as old as the country itself and no group has been immune from prejudice. Unfortunately that history is not always passed down through the generations as a way to teach others that the hurt of prejudice should not be passed on to others. Someone has to stop the vicious cycle.  I am convinced that a part of breaking this cycle is hearing real people and real stories. It’s hard to hate someone who is sitting right in front of you, telling their story.

So back to the original question: What do you think makes an immigrant community work? Would love to hear your thoughts and stories in the comment section!