The long-awaited day was here for the Eritrean family. Our CWS team gathered at the curb of a small airport in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. We scanned the horizon for a van that would be bringing our newly arrived clients, who had landed in Washington D.C. just a few hours earlier. I have not had the opportunity to welcome newly arrived refugees ever since I moved to the United States, but the flashbacks of my first day of arrival to the U.S. became immediate and fresh. The day that became a major date in my calendar. I remember being exhausted but alert. I still have the suitcases I brought from Kenya, even if I may not have all the contents in those suitcases. The newly arrived Eritrean family will be marking this day, breathing the air of a new world surrounded by a loving and supportive team from Church World Service.
The family of six came out of the van and were greeted by all CWS team members and volunteers, along with an interpreter. The first thing anybody could notice was the exhaustion. The family was traveling for several hours by air and by land to finally get here in Lancaster. The fresh haircuts of the kids reminded me of my last haircut before I moved to the U.S. eight years ago. I remember the rollercoaster of emotions and endless questions: Where will I get my haircut again? What will day-to-day life be like? I could see those questions in the eyes of the newly arrived family. Unlike their first arrival at the refugee camp, now the newly arrived family has the support of Church World Service and communities that we work with to volunteer their time and resources to these newly arrived. One volunteer pulled out bottles of cold water from his car and shared it with the family. “Welcome to your new home!”
With the help of an interpreter, we did our introductions, and we helped unload suitcases from the van. It looked like the family brought a lot of memories with them. These suitcases were packed, some were too heavy for one person to carry them into our vehicles. I may not know what they have with them, but I am guessing things that will remain a memory and souvenir from their past lives. When I moved to the United States, I brought an old cellphone, a couple of books and the clothes that I wore. These are now in my room as souvenirs. Every time I look, it takes me back to the days of struggle with refugee status.
Off we went to the temporary house of the family. We drove through farmlands, livestock grazing freely on the sides of the roads, corn growing almost everywhere. What an amazing view, I told myself. I have lived in the United States for eight years, and I still can’t stop thinking how lucky I am to be here. I watched as the newly arrived family walked into their new apartment: an old farmhouse with a garage, surrounded everywhere by farms. The kids who seemed exhausted from the long trip, all of a sudden had some energy to play with the pool table at home while the parents listened carefully to the interpreter as he explained the kitchen and food. As I left them that afternoon, I told myself I witnessed a history written for one more future American family.
Abdi Iftin is the Communications Specialist and Welcoming Communities at CWS