December 26, 2003

A New Friend

As I've mentioned, we spent Christmas Day with all kinds of family. But there was one special person at the table - a new family member of sorts.

My mother is, by trade, a speech and language pathologist. She's worked with mentally handicapped and learning disabled kids all her life. She recently retired, however, but has refused to rest. She recently began working with an organization that deals with political refugees in the United States in order to get them on their feet and start making a living here. Typically, these are people from Third World countries who have been forced to flee and seek political asylum in the United States. Most suffer post-traumatic stress.

Alexis is a special person to my mom. She's a 34 year-old, mother of three from Cameroon. Despite being a senior member of the one political party in Cameroon, her father began to see problems with the way the country was run. When he abandoned the party in order to start another, he was arrested and killed. Alexis' mother and brother remain in prison. 10 months ago, she was forced to flee for fear of her life and was sadly unable to get her children out.

Alexis is a college-educated woman who's found herself alone in this very strange country. One of her most valued posessions is a phone card which allows her to talk to her children back home. She's in a training program to get a good job here but she'll most likely never be able to recapture the level of professional satisfaction she had in Cameroon. Should she return home, she'd be killed.

Alexis was afraid of offending me last night. She told me she calls my mom "mommy" because she's been so good to her. I told her that I was just happy to have found my long lost sister.

While sitting there, listening to her speak of home, hearing her talk about all the things she found strange in this country and the ways of life in hers, it dawned on me that we often think, because of technology and globalization, the world is getting smaller and people are becoming more and more similar. This isn't true. I was, perhaps, a little embarrassed yesterday evening - we'd given expensive gifts, we were drinking bottles of expensive wine, and we had more food in front of us than anyone, perhaps, should have the right to. Such stark contrast to how the majority of people in this world live.

Alexis told a story - she and my mom were driving and they got a flat tire. They called a garage and they sent someone out to fix it. When my mom tipped the guy, he took the money in his left hand and walked off. Alexis was horrified. When people from her country receive a gift, they offer both hands to receive it. To do otherwise would be rude. Last night I think I was given a gift, a different perspective with which to judge my own life and world. And I'd like to think I offered both hands to receive it.

Posted by Chris at December 26, 2003 8:12 AM

Goosebumps, Chris. What a great story. Thank you.

Posted by: Buzz at December 26, 2003 8:19 AM

Wow Chris. Thank you so much for writing this - it brought tears to my eyes.

Posted by: Annessa at December 26, 2003 8:29 AM

I, uh, wow.
Thank you, Chris.

Posted by: Olive at December 26, 2003 8:51 AM

That's a great story. It mirrors a similar one for my family - an orphaned Russian kid (who is now 24) was adopted by a family in the town where my grandmother lives - he was 10 or 11, had grown up in orphanages, was not schooled, was emotionally neglected. The family that adopted him wanted their own personal slave in the house, but the public appearance that they were doing a good thing - he got more neglect and abuse here in the US - this was supposed to be better?

When Vadim was 17 he moved into my grandmother's house - she being a former schoolteacher, taught him how to read, basic math, etc., and loved him. One year at Christmas she brought Vadim with her for our family gathering - he now spends Christmas with us every year and often Thanksgiving as well. We have sort of adopted him into our family - my mother dotes on him. And he's thrived. But we've been blessed by the addition of this pretty cool guy, who calls my grandmother "Grandma" just like we do.

Posted by: jen at December 26, 2003 8:57 AM

Your mother's generosity restores my faith in the human being spirit. Thanks for sharing it.

Posted by: pam at December 26, 2003 10:45 AM

Merry Christmas, indeed.

Posted by: Rob at December 26, 2003 11:58 AM

I think your 'long lost sister' has taught us much, as well. Thanks, Chris.

Posted by: :: jozjozjoz :: at December 26, 2003 12:40 PM

I think that story truly embodies the true spirit of Christmas. The gifts that we canít see or touch, but just feel in our hearts are the best ones. That story brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Posted by: Jaded Angel at December 26, 2003 1:03 PM

what a humbling experience. thanks for sharing!

Posted by: Annie at December 26, 2003 10:00 PM

What a beautiful story... (jen's too). Thank you for sharing.

Posted by: Rachel in Alaska at December 27, 2003 4:28 PM

What a wonderful story. And I agree with you....the world is not getting smaller. I think our culture is everywhere, while we don't know enough about other cultures. Strange, in a land full of immigrants, but any traveling will tell you that it's true.

American and European culture is known all over the world, but we have to seek out and learn about other cultures much more.

Posted by: Dawn at December 27, 2003 5:41 PM

I adored this story. you always tell these little gifts of words so well on your blog, I am always interested in reading them. not just because you're a cool guy and you have a great site, but because of the content of what you talk about.. it's always so enlightening and educating. it's amazing how different our "world" is from others in other countries. I remember when I was about 10-years old, my grandmother had an exchange student come from spain. her name was ana. and I remember sitting there, listening to her try and speak of her country and her home, and it was just so INTERESTING. thanks for sharing it with us, dear. :)

Posted by: Jessica at December 27, 2003 10:53 PM