Within the year of 2016, the city of Portland, Oregon will be opening it's arms to 1,300 refugees from around the world. Local leadership and community members have stepped up to form groups offering these families friendship and guidance through the maze of American ways.
Many of us reading this may have a hard time wrapping our heads around the complexity of the American system because we were raised in it. But try to imagine for a moment, fleeing out of a country in turmoil and being accepted into a new country touted for its freedom and affluence. You'd think you would finally be able to breath easily and let relief fill you to the brim...but the reality of all the things to learn in order to operate hits you hard. You don't know the language, the transportation, the strange food, the rules, the system, the resources, what mail is junk / what mail is important, how to pay bills, how to work a computer, a phone...not to mention, pushing aside memories of all the horror you experienced not so long ago so that you can focus on adjusting to your new life...it takes a village of help, and some time!
We wanted to step up as part of that village, so our Portland team members decided to walk along side a family from the Congo — to help them navigate their now home, to be a source of comfort and familiarity. As we waited for our new friends to walk out the airport arrivals gate, a translator who accompanied us recounted the first time he got on a plane as a kid from Tanzania to the US; "I thought America existed in the sky", he laughed. "I had never been on a plane before, and I heard America was like Heaven, so I thought America was in the sky!" We hoped America came close to living up to his childhood expectations.
Helping our family adjust to their lives in Portland started out with toiletries and other mundane activities. But a few months later we got the exciting opportunity to break them free of their apartment to share one of our favorite fall events — a picnic under the Vaux Swifts' evening murmuration migration into the Chapman Elementary School chimney.
While we will continue to help our family sort their mail and learn English, replace lightbulbs and take them to doctors appointments, we aim to get them out and looking UP more. This type of time together are what friendships are built upon. The magic of flight in any form also seems to bond people in ways we can't quite explain, and after that night we knew a deeper level of friendship had been formed.
One day soon, we hope to bring them all on a tandem flight, bringing us all to a whole new level of friendship and trust!