Today I was responsible for helping three of the approximate 260 people that will take refuge in Memphis apply for their social security cards. These refugees faced war and persecution in their native homelands. I worked with World Relief Memphis a faith based resource to aid these people in “replanting their lives.” With World Relief helps immigrants become self-sufficient within six to eight months.
I sat down with Kate Foster, Volunteer Coordinator and Church Mobilizer, to learn more about the people that I would be picking up today and taking to the social security administration office (SS). She first asked did I speak Spanish; I instantly wished that I had become more fluent in the language as I had planned to years ago. She assured me that what I did know could be helpful. I knew she was right as I recalled my days of working as an Opryland Hotel guest services clerk when a coworker drafted me to check-in Spanish speaking guests who knew no English. Today, I would be working with a Somali man who spoke a little English and a Cuban couple that spoke no English.
After I left the World Relief office to pick up everybody up at their homes, I played out the anticipated scenes in my mind of me knocking on doors and making efforts for them to understand what I was there today. Upon my first arrival I was flipping through my instructions and searching my Google Translate app for key words that I would need for the day when the person that I came to pick up noticed me and smiled. I got out and managed to say his name that I had been practicing along my drive. He smiled and said, “Yes!” I said the names of the forms that he needed to have for the SS office. He in turn, unfolded the paperwork that he had. I looked at it said yes and smiled.
Then we were off to pick up the couple. Getting into my truck, he and I struggled our way through communication. Once inside, I started up and my radio came on to University of Memphis’ WUMR – “The Jazz Lover.” He paused, looked at my speaker, then back at me and smiled. At that point, I knew that everything was fine.
When I got to the couple’s home, I got out and went to the door. After my knock, I heard someone say something. But both language and muffled sound barriers were both playing against me. However, I shouted back, “World Relief.” The wife opens the door. And motions for me to come in after I showed her paperwork that I could see looked familiar to her. She and I tried to communicate with each other, but we kept hitting walls. She reached to pick up what I could see was her notepad that she used for instances such as this. As he was doing this I paused and said, “Mi llamo Crista.” She bounced up quickly with a smile and said her name as well. Excitedly, she continued speaking as if knowing because of my introduction that I would be able to responded. I tried. But soon I resorted to calling the World Relief office for a translator.
Prior to us leaving the husband motioned as if he were drinking something and said, “Coca-Cola.” I smiled and said, “Yes!” I stopped drinking sodas years ago and don’t remember the last time that I had a Coke. However, I took that one and drank it with a smile because of the joy that I had in understanding him with no complications and the pride that I saw he had in relaying his message to me.
At the SS office I got everybody checked-in and ensured that everyone was comfortable. Experiencing a long wait just the same, I noticed a grandmother attempting to keep her granddaughter occupied as she answered question after question. In efforts to give the grandmother a rest for a moment or two, I asked the little girl if she could make a fan. She said no and I told her that I would teach her.
That was when someone else who had been waiting a while mentioned how she loved to make airplanes as a kid. After the little girl ran back to her grandmother with glee showing off her new fan, the grandmother looked at me with a smile that had thank you written all over it. I made an effort to keep the time moving for the people because me and my crew were about to leave. So I told the little girl to ask the other lady if she would show her how to make an airplane. Everyone smiled. As we left, I told them goodbye and to have a good day. The grandmother said, “You do the same and keep doing what you’re doing.”
I assume that she saw a little bit of what I had done when I helped the people that I brought to the office fill out their SS card applications. But having been exposed to and embraced the wisdom of mothers in my life, I could see that she read deeper into seeing me do the paperwork, get her granddaughter interested in something new and connecting more people to each other upon leaving the room.
It’s an energy that I carry with me, that I don’t necessarily realize is there because it’s something that has always been there. I don’t know life without it. However, when we left the office I realized and felt that energy as I smiled in what had previously been a somewhat cold room full of people that had probably been waiting for hours. I was more aware of what’s been called my infectious energy broke stoic faces that smiled back when I passed them with a smile.
Thank you for reading! Like what you read? With more than 10 years experience, Cristalynne Dupree is searching for a job where she will use her marketing, public relations and communications skill to coordinate strategies and tactics that will reach and engage the organization’s target audience. Contact her at 1225Cristalynne@gmail.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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