It is the beginning of class. We are reviewing some “introduction”-type questions that students may be asked at the beginning of their Naturalization interview. These are questions “just to check their English.” Students work in pairs and I move towards the back of the room to work with two women.
“Elizabeth, what do you miss about your old country?”
The confused look on her face prompts me to rephrase or “grade” the question.
“Elizabeth, when you think [pointing to my head] of Sudan what do you think about…what do you see? Do you ‘miss’ …[hand on my heart]…your family, your friends…do you miss your town…do you miss the weather?”
Her whole body suddenly becomes alert and out comes a stream of English so fast I can’t catch it.
“What do you miss, Elizabeth?”
The second outpouring is just as fast, but this time, it hits me straight on. I’m not ready for it. I am so naive.
“I miss my children…my two children. I don’t know where they are. The fighting…I don’t know if they are in a camp. I don’t know if they are alive. I don’t know if they are dead.”
I’m shocked and I reach for her hand as both our eyes fill with tears. For a few seconds all I can do is squeeze her hand.
“I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.” I finally manage to say. The student next to Elizabeth is also from Sudan, and she’s looking—not at Elizabeth—but off in the corner. She has her own demons.
It’s only the beginning of class.
I quietly ask my volunteer to go next door and grab a box of tissues, while Elizabeth dabs at her eyes with her scarf and pairs continue to ask each other “How did you get here today? Why do you want to be an American citizen?” I’m trying to find my breath…I have to keep it together for the next two hours.
And I do.
But now I’m home…and the tears blur my computer screen.
I am so sad…so heartbroken for Elizabeth…for some many with stories like hers. Everyday…that unknowing, that fear, that sorrow...is right under the surface. If I start to imagine…the sound of bullets and trucks…the mass of people yelling, screaming…running, tripping…fleeing for their lives…
I CAN’T. I can’t go there in my mind and keep functioning. There are people…so many people tonight…who are living and breathing…FEAR.
But I’m not one of them. I don’t know what to do. I’m so angry. But more than angry, I’m…so…sad. No one should live in fear.