Hunting the Hummingbird - by David C Hoffman

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Saturday, February 4, 2017

See Their Faces

I feel like I've been a woman on fire since I woke up Saturday morning and read the headlines.

Even typing this my hands are shaking.

I've tried to run my fury out on the treadmill. 

I've tried to cry my sadness out in buckets of tears.

I can think of little else.

I came here today to post cute pictures of our kids playing in Kuwait, but I can't.

I just can't post about our everyday life, when my everyday life right now includes so much heartache.

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I had a polite, civil conversation turned disagreement with a friend of a friend on Facebook last week. He said, from what I truly believe to be coming from a sincere place; "I understand your concern...' 

And to that I replied (a little less Jesus-y than I meant to)  "you can't possibly understand my concern!"

I live in the Middle East. 
Right now.
Right this very day, and for the last 18 months.
These are my people. 

While Kuwait itself is not on the "banned countries" list, yet, as White House officials have said "The executive order also makes clear those seven countries are just a starting point for a likely broader ban" the talk of religious testing prior to obtaining a visa is terrifying, not to mention ridiculous. In all seriousness, who really believes a jihadist is going to check "Jihadist" on an entry form?? Truly, who? 
So one can assume what they are looking to turn away is Muslims.
And as I've told you before, these people are my friends.

I also have several friends here in Kuwait who are from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Sudan.

They are now indefinitely banned from entering the United States of America.
And this is not just people looking to relocate to the U.S.A., this includes people just wanting to visit on a tourist visa. 
That means my superior at work, the woman who teaches the preschool class I assist in, who happens to be Iranian, will no longer be able to go visit her daughter at Penn State this spring as planned.
Why? WHY? 
Because she has ties to radical Islam?
Hell no. She is terrified of what ISIS has done in the name of her religion.
Because she has an Iranian passport. Because she happened to be born in Iran.

We'll get back to those people - the ones who were not looking to relocate to the States, but merely visit - in a moment.

Right now let's talk about the refugees. 
This ban completely ignores an incredibly thorough process that is already in place.
Here are some facts regarding the vetting process ALREADY in place:

In total, the screening process takes an average of 18 months to two years and involves multiple federal intelligence and security agencies who carry out a series of security screenings and checks.
The process begins with an initial vetting by the United Nations’ refugee agency. Prospective candidates are then referred to the US, where officials from the state department, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the defense department conduct further vetting.

If you have further questions about the vetting process that is (was!) already in place before this blanket, black-and-white ban, please message me. I have a family member whose career is this very thing, and I can get you any answers you need. I promise only the truth.

And now back to those who no longer can even set their foot on American soil. The people, the faces, the families.

Meet N. She is the beauty standing to the left of me, arms around each other. 
She is from Syria. She is a single mother of two living children (she has lost three children to "tragedy", I did not ask follow up questions). She works full time, and just finished putting herself through University. She graduated this very month. She still has family stuck in Syria, and her eyes fill with tears when I ask her about them, and she is only able to reply "keep praying for them..."

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Saturday evening, N had my little family, some of her family, and a few friends over for dinner.
She insisted she provide EVERYTHING, and no matter how many attempts I made offering to bring something, she declined. "It's my pleasure to host you", she'd respond. 

And host us, she did...

She hosted the four of us, some of her extended family members (also from Syria), a friend from Ireland, a friend from Sudan, and a an Irish/Sudanese friend.

We were a melting pot of expats in Kuwait =)

...and we had so much fun together.

We talked about a wide spectrum of things. English was the common language, although several of N's extended family members spoke very little English, so someone was always translating to Arabic for them...and when the conversation would switch over to Arabic, someone would always translate over to English for the few of us that couldn't hang ;)

N was the most gracious host. She refused to sit and eat until everyone had been served, and so wanted us to feel comfortable in her home. 
She has the biggest heart.

She is the teaching assistant in my kids' classroom, and at the beginning of the school year when my son was having a really hard time at drop off, N would come be ready to receive him each morning at the classroom door. She would lower her posture, leaning into him, right at his level. She would speak calmly and lovingly, and offer to sit with him in the reading corner and look at books -just the two of them- until he was ready to join the rest of the class. She tried something new each morning, until he was finally adjusted and walking into the classroom without tears on his own. One morning she took my phone number into her phone, and showed it to my trembling son. She explained to him that she would help him call me if he missed me too much. 
He loved that idea.
She did call me one day, hours after I'd left the school, just to tell me that he'd wanted her to call me and tell me that he was doing okay and he'd see me at pick-up in one hour.
She said "I promised him I'd call you, so I wanted to follow through on that promise."
She made my days and my son's days much easier by her selfless compassion.

I'm so thankful for her.

Ironically, a few days before this ban came to be, I had been talking to her about our plans to return home this summer, and how I very much want to keep in touch with her after we leave.
I said "if you EVER come to the States, promise me you'll come visit. We'll totally and completely host you! You just need to get to Oregon, and we'll take care of the rest!"
She kind of chuckled. 
"It's very difficult for visa..." she explained.
Oh. That's right.
For a moment I'd forgotten with whom I was speaking. 
A woman born in Syria, living in Kuwait.
It was highly unlikely she would EVER be granted a visa to America.

Let me tell you something I'm not proud of; before we moved to Kuwait and began to travel internationally, I really didn't grasp how easy things are for Americans.
Did you know we can just book tickets to pretty much anywhere in the world, show up there, and obtain a travel visa upon arrival?
Did you know that the entire process takes about 20 minutes for a family of four?
I guess I kind of did know that...what I did not really acknowledge or fully appreciate that it is so not that way for the majority of people born elsewhere.

I have a friend living here in Kuwait who is from South Africa. She and her children were trying to travel to Doha, Qatar to visit her brother and his family.
They - of course - had to obtain travel visa approval prior to even booking tickets.
Their visa requests were denied.
"Why???" I inquired, unable to understand this.
"Who knows..." she shrugged her shoulders in submission, already accustomed to accepting this reality. 
Was it because their family is Muslim?
Was it because they are traveling from one Middle Eastern country to another, while being South African?
Who knows.
No reason given, just denied.
And that is that.

It's a reality for the majority.

I didn't get that before.

Listen, I understand why there is a visa process. 
I understand why we have a vetting process before granting refugees open arms into America.
I understand, and I'm so grateful for the protections put in place. 
It would be ignorant to not preform due diligence before allowing anyone to travel anywhere.
I get that.
My point here is there are processes in place already, and there are hard stops in those processes.
If we need to make changes to our policies, then let's look at them. 
But let's look at them, not just ban good people from our safe space. 
These are people impacted by this ban.

An argument made to me in favor of the ban was this: "The ideology of "Jihad" is unique to Islam and is being taught by many radical clerics in the Middle East. The US constitution allows our country to protect itself from dangerous ideologies even those that are cloaked under religion. I absolutely agree with you that the vast majority of Muslims in this world have absolutely no inclination to "kill infidels" in the name of their god. But due to the fact that there are 1.8 BILLION Muslims, and the small percentage of the 1.8 BILLION (a lot of jihadists) are scheming ways to enter the US in order to kill themselves in order to kill the maximum number of "infidels" to ensure their place in heaven is a very dangerous situation!"

I will not stand silently by and let this mentality continue to exist without at least trying to speak to it from what I know to be true from my last year and a half as a white Christian living in a country of Islam.
Do jihadists wish to do harm to others, particularly those outside what they perceive to be their religion?
Is that a scary reality?
But, is the fact that jihadists who wish to do Americans (and others, by the way) harm a good enough reason to completely ban anyone believed to be from the same area, including those who have already passed through vigorous testing and been granted visas or green cards, from entering (or re-entering) the United States?
To draw a straight line between the fact that there are some radical clerics in the Middle East teaching about Jihad and the danger that produces in the Muslim people as a whole is asinine.
That's fear mongering at it's most basic of forms, and I believe America is better than that. 
We have to be better than that.

Look again at those pictures above.
Only three out of the eight people there are permitted entrance into the US currently, based solely upon where they happened to have been born.

I am incredibly grateful to be an American. 
But I also recognize I did nothing to earn the rights that accompany that citizenship, save for being pushed out of my mother on American soil. 
Why that fact alone grants me this elite status is something I'm still trying to wrap my head around.
It's a lottery, and just because we happen to hit the jackpot, does not grant us the right to ignore the plight of others.

Some day, I'll tell you about some others. I'll show you the pictures of the adorable dimpled Syrian girl in my preschool class here. I'll tell you about the precious Iranian boy in our class who only started talking to me in January, finally, after months of me trying to break into his world, and about  how his eyes light up when he speaks. I'll tell you about one of my favorite physicians I ever worked for, who happened to be from Iran, and about how he found me an exam room at the hospital and took care of me while I was in the middle of miscarrying my first pregnancy, even though it was a Saturday and he was a cardiologist. 

These are people impacted by how the U.S. is behaving currently, and I want to show you their faces.

But for now, I'll leave with what I believe to be a poignant article (written a few weeks prior to the ban, ironically) addressed to Christians that really spoke to my soul this week. The part that pierced my heart the most was this line: 
In Matthew 25, Jesus says, “… I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ … Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me."
In this text, Jesus is literally saying to us: How you treat the most vulnerable is how you treat me. He is saying I will know how much you love me by how you respond — or don’t respond to them. 

And I'll show you this last picture from our gathering last Saturday. It's our daughter, having the time of her life getting her nails painted by three new friends...
...friends who happen to be Syrian.

These girls took our American, white, Christian daughter and swooped her up into the bedroom and immediately asked her if she wanted to join them in the nail painting party.
Sister was delighted. 
And my heart was both overjoyed with gratitude for them and their acceptance and kindness, and broken for how our country had just said to them, "we don't want you here."


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  2. Yes to all of this! Thank you for taking the time to write it.

  3. Yes, yes, yes. Thank you.
    Three of my nieces are 1/4 middle eastern, and their first language is a forerunner to Arabic (fortunately they also speak English because I am terrible at learning languages!). They are eligible for Iranian citizenship.
    Their great-grandmother, who came here from the middle east in her 40s, is broken hearted about the violence of the last decade. She grew up shortly after the Armenian Genocide and - although they are not Armenian - her family had lost many members to it. She asked me why, how is this happening again? How could we, as humans, keep killing each other? Didn't we learn? And I don't know what to tell her. I just hold her hand and promise to do whatever I can, even though I don't know what that is yet.
    But I do know that she is not a threat to our country - she is an asset. She is part of the answer.

  4. This brought me to tears. I love you. Keep fighting the good fight.