A root canal, a compliment and a human moment with Sudanese immigrants

She asked my name. Hers is Anna, or some English equivalent that sounds like Anna. She wore mismatched socks–one, orange and black with candy corn, the other, pink and black with lips. I told her the word for pink and pointed at her sock.

She showed me how she could count to 10 by taking fingers away.

I never found out why Anna, her little brother, and her parents, who were with her, came to South Carolina from Sudan. But people rarely leave their homes because things are good there.

Approximately 1,300 Sudanese refugees arrived in the United States in fiscal year 2014, the last year that data was available through the Health and Human Services Department.

And it’s no surprise. Our government earlier this year began winding down 20-year-long trade sanctions against the war-ravaged country.

The primary arguments for and against resettling refugees within our borders are so often reduced to security versus humanity.

But there’s another facet to this debate that deserves our attention.

Few ask how refugees came to be in the first place. What role has our own government played in destabilizing nations? And how do we stop it–whether it means ending sanctions that tend to hurt the citizens they aim to help, or ending a decades-old pattern of arming rebels in the Middle East only to return and fight them years later?

It’s a fundamental question that’s largely missing from the debate over what to do about refugees.

Anna complimented my black flats and my hair. I told her I liked her braid. She didn’t know what “braid” meant. I blindly fumbled through braiding a chunk of my hair. She laughed and pointed at me.

Her dad awkwardly nodded and smiled while waiting to talk to the girl at the front desk. I showed him my earbuds and told him it would make the endodontist visit easier.

ESPN was playing overhead. Does he like football? Did he watch the Super Bowl? He does. And he did.

Where he’s from, they have…

He looked around the room and tried to think of how to explain.

Soccer, I asked. It was soccer.

That ten minutes with a Sudanese family passed the time and distracted me. It reminded me of the human element often left out of the conversation.

Yes, I was once a stranger in the land, I know, I know. But when strangers like Anna and her family show up on our doorstep, we need to ask what caused them to leave their homes in the first place.

 

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