After the election, I needed to take a break from social media so I deleted everything from my phone. It was too much, the news, the filter bubble, the crushing defeat.
About a week later, I stole a quick glance at Facebook on my computer and in my newsfeed I saw that a friend in San Francisco posted he was helping AirBnB put together a series called Supper with US where American families were matched with recently resettled refugee families to celebrate Thanksgiving together. He only had a few cities where he was looking for hosts — Pittsburgh was one of them. I looked at it and thought, I’m in Pittsburgh, I really believe in doing things locally to make a difference so I’ll sign up. I clicked through to a Google Doc, filled out some basic information and clicked done.
Nothing happened for 2 weeks. I figured maybe it was too short of a period of time but then the Tuesday before Thanksgiving at 4pm I got a phone call. I honestly thought at first it was a telemarketer, I didn’t know the number and the woman on the other end knew my name and I got ready to politely disconnect and I heard her say “refugee” and I said “I’m sorry, why are you calling again?” It turns out she was calling to tell me that I was matched with a family.
She said, “I’m sorry this has taken awhile we really are working hard at making good matches, I think you’ll really like this family. Are you still interested?” She told me very basic information — they were Syrian, they arrived in June after spending 2 years in Turkey after fleeing from Syria when the civil war broke out. There is a mom, dad and three kids (16, 15 and 10). Everyone is in ESL but their English is very basic. The mom is working and the kids are in school and the dad is looking for a job. As luck would have it they live in my neighborhood, only a 10-minute walk away. Most of all they are very sweet and excited to practice their English and spend time with Americans.
Of course I said yes! I worked with the case worker and the translator to schedule dinner for the Saturday night after Thanksgiving when the family was first available. Only thing is that Saturday night dinner was actually a second Thanksgiving at my stepdad’s house with his wife (my stepmom) and about 15 other family members. My family is one of those divorced and remarried families where just about everyone gets along and they are usually the more the merrier but was this too much to ask? I called my stepdad and said, “I have to talk to you about something…” and I told him the story and said, “so I can either come to dinner plus 5 people or I have to not come to your house and host them at my house. I will help pay for extra food, I will come over and help you cook and set up, I will do just about anything. I think this is what Thanksgiving is all about. What do you think?” He said he’d call me right back. He did and said, “Fishes and Loaves” which means we’ll make it work. We’ll stretch what we’ve got, let’s do it.
This is how I came to spend Thanksgiving with my husband, 10-month old baby, step-dad, step-mom, 2 half-sisters, 3 step-brothers, a few boyfriends and girlfriends and adopted family members mixed in and a family of 5 from Aleppo, Syria. The photo at the top of this story is a photo from the dinner. I’m next to the baby on the far left side of the table (ironic)!
Yes their English is very basic and I do not know Arabic. But we were able to communicate a little and I told them how happy we were to have them over for dinner. They loved my little baby and fussed over him (especially the Dad) and the daughters asked to take selfies with me. Everyone at dinner was welcoming to them.
I drove them to and from dinner last Saturday night. When I dropped them off, the oldest said, “I will miss you until I see you again.” I immediately knew this was not the last time I would see them.
Afterwards I shared the details of the dinner with the case worker and interpreter and told them what a great time we all had. In turn they shared that the family also had a wonderful time. Any doubts or fears or worries I had melted away the moment I met this family but I was worried that my family was too loud, that they wouldn’t understand what was said, they would be confused. It was really great to hear that they had the same reaction that all of us did. It couldn’t have been easy for them to get in the car of a stranger and go to a strange house. I give them so much credit for continuing to be so brave.
For anyone who knows me, they will know the story doesn’t end there. I started a winter clothing drive for other refugees here in Pittsburgh and am working with the resettlement agency on distribution. Also this Sunday I was hosting a birthday brunch for my husband and invited the Syrian family to come over. They did! They met even more of my family. With each person they met I felt like I was making a difference. None of my family has met refugees before and we continue to learn about them and their life in Aleppo, once one of the great cosmopolitan cities in the Middle East.
I knew the youngest’s 11th birthday was coming up so I bought her a present and wrote a card celebrating her first birthday in America and saying how happy I am that we are now friends. We are building a friendship with a family who lives so close to us, I had no idea there were refugees in my neighborhood.
The case worker and I were texting last night (I always want to follow up and tell them how things went) and she said many of her families are so scared right now because of the political climate and I said,
“When they go low, we go high. Just because the other side is louder doesn’t mean they are stronger.”
I was originally hesitant to share this story because I didn’t want to exploit the family and what they’ve been through (which is a lot). But since I saw them a second time I was able to ask if I could write and share the story of our dinner and they said yes. I think so many of us want to know what we can do and would be surprised to know how much is happening in our local communities that we don’t know about. Many of the people on Pantsuit Nation wanted to get involved locally, wanted to share my story, and so I’m reposting here so more people can see this and hopefully be inspired to find a way to give back in your own way in your own communities.
I first shared this story on the Facebook Group Pantsuit Nation and was so completely overwhelmed by the response (45,000 likes, 4,500 comments and counting 24 hours after posting). Many people asked to share my story and so I reposted here with slight edits.
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