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10 miles to the other side of the world

August 27, 2012

Yesterday, I went to my sister Joy’s new apartment to help her get settled. She and X are living in this particular complex as part of a TOAG internship. But, even if that wasn’t the case, I know this is the kind of place Joy would like to live anyway.

Their apartment is near the back of the complex, and as I drove toward it, I passed people walking everywhere. This is nothing special in and of itself, but as I looked at the people I could see that this wasn’t your usual Atlanta complex. I saw faces whose origin I couldn’t pinpoint. The residents are mostly (if not all) refugees.

Before we started unpacking, we saw a man standing outside the next apartment. Figuring there is no time like the present, we went out to meet the neighbor. He is from Bhutan. It took a little while for us to figure this out because he kept telling us the words for things in Nepali. He spent 26 years in Bhutan, 18 in Nepal, and has now been in the US for 3 years. (When I googled Bhutan, “Bhutan refugees” is the third option suggested.)

He asked if we were American, and when we said we were, he was confused that we lived in an apartment. Why not live in a separate house with grass and a place for growing vegetables? We tried to explain that many Americans live in apartments by choice, and also that houses are expensive for everyone. He and some of his male relatives work at a chicken factory (he brought out his ID to show us).

His adult nephew joined our conversation and helped with some translations. I always feel bad when non-English speakers apologize for their “bad English” – especially people like these. I would rather they be proud of what they have learned. A little while later, his wife arrived from shopping at the Dekalb Farmers Market, and we got to meet her. They invited us inside where she quickly cut up apples, and with a “namaste”, offered a plate with bananas and apples on it. I couldn’t help but think that maybe she would teach Joy to cook some foreign food. During the whole visit, Alida sat quietly on my lap and watched everything. The husband kept saying he loved us, and Joy was able to explain the difference between love and like – you love your wife, you like your neighbor.

They were surprised to find out that Joy and I come from such a large family. The neighbor is one of eight, but only has three children himself. His two older daughters were gone and live in Texas and Pennsylvania – something his wife mentioned with a hand gesture that could’ve either meant “they’re out of my hair” or “I can’t believe they’ve left me.” The nephew has two children, but doesn’t plan to have anymore. He talked about how much it costs for children to go to university. I thought it was great that that was part of his plan for his children.

 

 

I found out that several of their relatives work at the Dekalb Farmers Market – a place we have been going to as long as I can remember. One of my favorite things about the market is the variety of cultures and languages represented there. I love the flags hanging from the ceiling. I don’t recognize many of them, and it reminds me how big the world is. How much is out there besides the stars and stripes. Some of the jobs there seem really difficult and I wonder how they feel about working there. Are they happy ‘just having a job’, or do they go to work every day dreading it? When I think about it, though, I saw people every day in Vietnam who spent their lives elbow deep in fish guts. Of course, that doesn’t mean they like it.

I am so spoiled.

Talking to them took me away from Atlanta. I miss those conversations in Vietnam where half of the story is told with your hands and face because neither of you know the words. I hadn’t realized how deeply I’d slipped back into our culture of sameness, comfort, and ease.

I would say that I envy Joy and Xavierian’s opportunity, but instead I’m just going to have another reason (besides my soon-arriving new nephew) to visit them.

I’m curious – is the possibility of liking your job a Western luxury?

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 27, 2012 11:36

    This post is awesome, and makes me excited to visit Joy and Xavierian next time I get to Atlanta (and my weekend isn’t jam packed with wedding festivities…).

    What an amazing experience and reminder that you don’t have to fly halfway around the world to have your eyes opened by meeting people who have a unique story to tell. I’m envious as well… and curious about where that pocket of Raleigh is. Time to explore!

    Thanks for the fresh perspective. Love you!

  2. August 27, 2012 11:37

    This post is awesome, and makes me excited to visit Joy and Xavierian next time I get to Atlanta (and my weekend isn\’t jam packed with wedding festivities…).

    What an amazing experience and reminder that you don\’t have to fly halfway around the world to have your eyes opened by meeting people who have a unique story to tell. I\’m envious as well… and curious about where that pocket of Raleigh is. Time to explore!

    Thanks for the fresh perspective. Love you!

  3. Maggie permalink
    August 27, 2012 14:42

    Very interesting post! I love meeting people from other parts of the world, but I’m rarely as open and outgoing as you. As for liking our jobs being a luxury, I think we have gotten away from finding joy in hard work, and also, when our job is not glamorous, we think we shouldn’t be proud of it, or like it. We could all benefit from a little less luxury. It would make our jobs seem better, I bet.

    Great story!

    • August 29, 2012 12:01

      I agree with you about finding joy in hard work. Most people don’t like to get their hands dirty. One thing I also hate about my own attitude is when I feel like I deserve luxury or when I feel like I don’t have much. Again, so spoiled.

      You reminded me of a piece I wrote in Vietnam about a guy whose job it was to dig up graves. The theme of the magazine that month was dirty jobs. He was happy and proud of his job. I’ll try to find the piece and re-post it.

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