Our Refugee Friends

I was waiting with Mattie in the doctor’s surgery the other day. We were the only ones there except for a couple in their early thirties, or so they looked, who had a baby carrier by their side. I strained to get a look at the baby, a cute little girl with a pink dress and patterned socks that looked like she was wearing little shoes, and Mattie laughed, saying, ‘You love looking at babies!’ ‘She’s cute,’ I said to the mother, who nodded and then brought the baby carrier closer to us so that we could see the baby clearly. ‘She’s got beautiful eyes,’ said Mattie. They were almost black and sparkling. I asked how old the baby was and the husband replied, ‘4 months.’ We began to chat and I asked him where they were from but he appeared to flinch and then he quietly responded, ‘Africa’. ‘Where in Africa,’ I asked, curiously, and he replied ‘Eritrea’ and thus began a conversation as to how they migrated to America (7 years ago) as refugees and about Eritrea and its problems. Mattie and I filled them in on our own immigration background. ‘You’ve been here longer than us,’ I smiled at the couple. The husband then proudly showed us photos of their country. They hadn’t been back since emigrating, he said, due to the political situation there. He later added that many Eritreans, himself included, still speak some Italian. Mattie asked him what religion the country was and he told us it was Christian.

(Later I looked up Eritrea on the internet and discovered that it has one of the worst human rights record in the world and the least press freedom. It had once been ruled by the Italians and was called Italian Eritrea but following their ousting, Ethiopia annexed the country, leading to a long drawn out armed struggle until Eritreans finally regained their independence.)

I later reminded Mattie of a similar encounter we’d had with an Afghani couple in the same doctor’s surgery a year earlier. I recalled the Afghani mother’s black, flowing costume sparkling with silver sequins and Mattie reminded me that her baby had green eyes. As I had with the Afghani couple, I felt the same level of discomfort now during our conversation with the Eritreans, given Trump and his allies’ opposition to legal as well as illegal immigration and his disparaging comments about the countries from whence came non-white refugees. When it was our turn to see the doctor, I wished the Eritrean couple good luck and said I was glad they had been able to come here as refugees and they both beamed at me. Their story gave me a warm feeling and Mattie said it did her, too. ‘They were able to come here and have their first baby,’ she said, and I thought of all the refugees in countries like Syria who will not have the same luck.

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