“Where will these photos appear?” asked the Syrian mother we met Wednesday, six days into their new life in Indiana. “I hope my son will see them and decide to join us in America.”
This mother is starting a new life with her children in Indiana, but part of her remains in Turkey where her 18-year-old son decided to stay, to care for relatives. Because of his decision to stay behind, their cases were reviewed separately and met with added delays. This was before the new administration, she tells her case worker, Sara; they almost didn’t make it to Indiana.
I’m reminded of an initial session we led with Exodus leaders to kickoff Factory Week. They spoke of the clients they welcome to Indiana and the hope they keep that all are able to one day shed the title of refugee. Their role is a difficult balance - to recognize their journey, but also encourage self-reliance; to offer compassion, but not pity. Like any person living away from their home, the journey of a refugee is one of resilience.
I joined Andy Young from Granola Video and Kelley Jordan Schuyler of Skyler Creative to meet with three families welcomed by Exodus. Our goal was to hear their stories in their own environments - in their homes.
A couple from Burma welcomed us into their living room of their southside home, but their son was less interested in our company. Andy ran outside to find toy cars left in the back seat by his own son to occupy the boy while we spoke to his parents. The husband arrived three years ago; his wife and son recently followed. Here is a young boy, draped in a super hero cape, zooming cars around the living room floor. If they had a daughter, I imagine she would be dressed in an Elsa costume. We could very well be in any home on that street.
“She recognizes the school bus and talks about wanting to ride the big yellow bus to school one day,” says the father of Jana, now almost three. When Jana and her parents arrived seven months ago, they did their best to occupy her attention. They all missed the family they left behind in Jordan, but Jana only knew a life surrounded by extended family.
They are settling into their southside apartment while their relatives are scattered around the world - some remain in Jordan, others in Turkey, Australia, and Belgium. Since the father hasn’t seen his family in five years, they’ve never met Jana.
And yet, they reiterate, they have no doubt the move to Indiana was best for their family. The mother shares stories of how she feels welcome in Indiana, appreciates the patience people extend to her, and the help that is offered while she shops. She’s in a wheelchair and unable to reach certain items, though she points out that getting around in America is much easier than in Jordan. She tells Sara, our translator, that her family is advancing every day.
“Life here is for everyone - no matter what disability, race, or religion.”
We met two brothers, originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who worked on math homework after their day at North Central High School. One is a senior looking for a part-time job after school and dreams of being a businessman. His brother is a freshman on the soccer team and seems to be the instigator between the two, teasing the other about being too old and slow when they play together.
These are the moments that lead me back to that initial meeting with Exodus. I realize that, once here, not much divides us as individuals.
Back in that northside living room, the brothers give short answers to our questions and often glance down at their phones like any other teenager. When they receive a call from friends wanting to play soccer, they ask if they can leave early to join them.
All images courtesy Kelley Jordan Schuyler, Skyler Creative.