a house is made of wood and beams; a home is made of hopes and dreams
refuge – Protection, as from danger or hardship; from Latin refugium “a place to flee to”
refugee – Person who flees for safety; from French refugié, evolved to “one fleeing home”
St. Louis, Missouri – January 2013:
I want to remember my students, so I recite their names to myself in the car as I drive home on Monday nights. Show me the flags of your country. Here, it’s 50 stars, 13 stripes. Tell me about yours. How many stars?
I come home. I have other things to do. Hunger creeps in. I make dinner. I believe in things.
My student seemed distracted at times. I’m thinking about it later and wonder how many times she’s been terrified. Why America? Why, America? I don’t teach lessons in punctuation. She’ll have to tell me why she wants to be a citizen. I tell her, Practice writing the word ‘stripes’ because she confuses it with ‘states.’ What color are these flags we fly? Red and white stripes. Red state. Blue state. White stars. State of mind. State of Missouri.
The streets are warm and rain-wet with a January thaw. Illusion of things. A thin stripe of spring down the center of being cold. That’s hope, isn’t it?
St. Louis, Missouri – May 2013:
There’s a shortage of tutors at the Institute tonight, so I’m paired with five students instead of the usual one to two. Somalia; Somalia; Liberia; Somalia; and one last woman who arrived late, an older woman with wisdom and smiles in her eyes: Somalia. *
We’re practicing their answers for the naturalization test. Nine in my family; seven; smiling eyes; seven — been here: many years, ten years, seven — 2003, 2005… four planes: Africa, layover, layover, New York. *
I feel most at home in this city when I’m with my students. Ironic. How long does it take to feel at home? After eight years, nine. How much to see your country again? Here is where I have liberty– to stay, to go, to have foods I like readily available, to assimilate. I assimilate in a city to which I don’t even always feel like I belong just because I look and speak like I do.
They’re answering my questions marvelously; a few months ago, these same students wrote sentences without spaces between their words. Mixed up stars. Now, the answers and English is ready, sometimes coming with a flash of the eye and attitude. There is an outrageous joy they have that keeps me coming back. Sparkle. They are stronger and know more about life than I may ever know. They teach me to appreciate what I have here, even to help me feel more like I belong. They show me how to fight courageously to feel as if this city is, well… home. We’ll help each other get there.
* details changed