Friday, October 7, 2016

Meet my Friend Solomon

You have to pick one person to write a biography about. Who will it be about and why?

I have a new friend. His name is Solomon. He comes to my building for English classes. As many of the students in that program do, he then comes down to my area to use the computers. I first met Solomon when he asked, in his heavily accented English, for some computing help. None of the students were out at the desk, so I went over to see what he needed.

After a series of gestures and stilted questions, I figured out that he wanted to change his Facebook profile picture. I then realized that he didn't have any pictures available to him, so I did the most natural thing I could think of and invited him up to the front desk so I could take his picture.

He smiled awkwardly while I clicked and then I helped him upload his picture. Then he showed me the pictures of his family and friends. He also wanted some help learning to video chat with his family, but he was running out of time because he had to get to work. He told me he would be back the next day.

Sure enough, Solomon has been back almost every day since then. Some days he just asks to borrow a pair of headphones. He likes to listen to Orthodox Christian videos on YouTube so that he can hear about God in his own language again; something I'm sure he doesn't get much of here. I've also helped him get set up to video chat with his family, showed him how to unfriend people on Facebook ("Just for practice!" he says), and apologized for my ignorance of the US Immigration website.

Solomon is from Eritrea. He's been here for four years. He has two of his kids here with him. His wife and other two children are in Ethiopia. He is trying to make arrangements for their Green Cards so that the family can be reunited.

He comes in every day with a black and white composition notebook. When he asks me a question, he takes diligent notes during the process. Then he closes out his web browsers and goes through the process again himself. Sometimes he picks it up after one or two tries. Sometimes he asks again a day or a week later. He says "thank you" repeatedly throughout this process.

Most days he's only here for about an hour in between his classes and walking to his job. He used to have a car, but he told me he had to "pick food or car. Car is expensive. Food is more important." He works in the poultry industry, which is a common position for many immigrants and refugees here.

Solomon and I have talked about how difficult English is. I can see him sounding out words to take his notes, and he has a hard time picking the correct vowel. I asked him the other day and he told me he speaks 4 languages. Two of them were Amharic and Arabic. The other two I don't remember. I smiled because he didn't include English in that count. I told him I only speak one language. He seemed surprised.

Each day that I interact with Solomon is a day to remind myself that even with all my housing issues, at least my whole family is together. I don't know all of the reasons that Solomon came to America and I don't know the circumstances for his family being split up. I'm not sure that it's really my business and I don't know that it's a story that could overcome our language barrier.

When I see Solomon I see a man who left his homeland to make a better life for himself and his family. I see his dedication to education and hard work. I see that it is difficult to not have regular contact with his family, his friends, or his culture. I can only imagine what life was like before to make this choice the better choice.

When I turn on the news and see a man threatening to deport foreigners, to build a wall, to unilaterally restrict immigration to our country, I think of Solomon. I think that if more people could have a Solomon in their lives they might have a better understanding of the humanity behind being a refugee. I think we all have many of the same goals: to see ourselves and our families safe, healthy, and prosperous.

Solomon does not make my goals less likely to be accomplished. He is no threat to me. Solomon is just a man, doing the best he can to make progress with the hand he's been dealt in life. He didn't ask to be born into a country of wars and limited freedoms, any more than I asked to be born into a country as well off as the United States. Aside from skin color, language, culture, age, and gender, Solomon isn't really all that different from me.

If I could write Solomon's biography I would hope that it would personalize the refugee crisis in our world. It's easy for lots of people to criminalize and dehumanize refugees when we talk about them as a large, anonymous group. It's much harder to think that way when a nice elderly gentleman asks you to take his picture for his Facebook profile. Solomon is one refugee among many. His story is his own, but also universal. I wish you could all have a Solomon to spend time with.

Welcome to a Secret Subject Swap. This week 12 brave bloggers picked a secret subject for someone else and were assigned a secret subject to interpret in their own style. Today we are all simultaneously divulging our topics and submitting our posts. My subject is “You have to pick one person to write a biography about. Who will it be about and why?”. It was submitted by The Diary of an Alzheimer's Caregiver.

Here are links to all the sites now featuring Secret Subject Swap posts. Sit back, grab a cup, and check them all out. See you there:

Baking In A Tornado 
Not That Sarah Michelle 
The Bergham Chronicles 
Spatulas on Parade
The Diary of an Alzheimer’s Caregiver 
Dinosaur Superhero Mommy 
Southern Belle Charm 
Confessions of a part time working mom 
Never Ever Give Up Hope
A Little Piece of Peace 

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