21 October 2008

I am alive

No, I am not dead. I know many of you think so, and with good reason. But now you all know I can never be a professional writer. The fact is I don’t really enjoy writing; I know shocking to hear after the lengthy emails you’ve gotten in the past. However, I write not because I like writing, but because I have this primal need to get something out of me. That sounds a bit crazy, but I mean when I have seen something, experienced something, or learned something that I just can’t process without sharing it. My husband gets real sick of my talking (and to be honest for those of you who have met my husband, you probably wonder if he ever talks—but trust me when it’s just us, I BARELY get two words in a night!!). So, I write when I need to get things out. That said, the reason you haven’t heard from me is there has been NOTHING going on. I have one story—then there were months of nothing but boring life. I’ll tell the one story, that unfortunately is from back in March, then a few random tidbits that will bring you up to October.

Many of you will be surprised to learn Henok and I are now living in the USA. We made the “migration” at the end of March this year. Henok and I decided we wanted to move to the US, and we applied for his visa. We were told it takes an average of 1 year—we put in his application in December (07). We assumed, best possible scenario we would get his visa in September 2008 (9 mos later). However, much to our surprise—it came in January!!!!!!!!! That’s right, one month!! I was working for Micronutrient Initiative and World Bank, so we needed to stay a bit. I called my sisters in shock and while Henok and I tried to figure out when to come over. On the phone with my sisters, we quickly came to the conclusion it had been too long since we had attempted to give our mom a coronary, and the scheming began. My mother should be happy her children are so close we talk so much. Long story short, we decided to not tell my parents we got the visa and have Henok and I just show up to dinner!! 

March in my family is a big deal—there are 1001 birthdays. To simplify things we started having just one birthday party. This year, it was decided (with the influence of my sisters) to have the bday dinner on the last Sunday of the month. Then, unbeknownst to my mother we arrived in Utah and stayed with my sister Kristi in Logan for a few days then rode down to Orem. We spent Saturday night at Lisa’s house, and then came over with them to my mom’s house for the ‘birthday dinner.’ Henok and I waited in the car, while we waited for dinner to get on the table and everyone to be sitting. This is VERY hard as my mother never really sits during dinner, but we really wanted her to be sitting down. My brother-in-law called me and left his phone on speaker so Henok and I could listen in and try and time it right. We snuck around the back of the house and up the back steps, to the patio doors. We opened the doors and yelled “Surprise!!” Unfortunately, my mom was of course not in her seat, but she quickly appeared and we got a photo of her face!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Ha Ha Ha. She hates us girls—but surprising her is what keeps us going!!

Well—I can sum up April to October in just a few sentences. We hung out in Utah while processing Henok’s paperwork. Getting him his first American Driver’s License, Social Security Card, and introducing him to places other then McDonalds!! We decided to come to the DC area, as it would be easier for me to find a job, there are schools for Henok, and we have a support system around as I have family in Maryland as does Henok. We found an apartment in Alexandria, and to be honest absolutely love it. We came here at the beginning of June. Things haven’t been all smooth –I haven’t’ been able to find a ‘real’ job (translation something with benefits) and we picked the worst time in history to move to the US as unemployment is at an all time high!!!!!! I have continued consulting for the World Bank and random other things. Henok has a job, not in his field of IT, but something to keep him busy while we look for work in IT for him.

Life in the US has been crazy. Henok is fascinated by the elections. He has watched all the debates, something I refuse to do. They just annoy me. I’d rather read them later. Two blowhards blowing hot steam at each other; like two bullies in the school yard seconds from a fist fight but dressed in suits. Annoying. The only positive in all of it is SNL. This is the season SNL shines (Saturday Night live for you early to bed folks). It has been quality.

Most moments, to be honest, I want to bolt from the US and never look back (sorry mom). You’ll be surprised to know I find America to be a very very depressing place. Sometimes it’s overwhelming the amount of sadness here. Truly, some days I will see such sadness in the streets I have to hibernate in my home to get away from it. I know I have a different perspective, but things here are hard. I, along with my husband (after a few months of life in the US) agree that life in Ethiopia is much happier. Not just Ethiopia, many countries around the world have far easier and happier lifestyles then the US. Most Americans, especially those who have not been able to travel abroad, probably can’t imagine it. But, life in Cuba, Brazil, Ethiopia, Kenya, Romania etc can be better, easier, and less stressful. You can very joyful wonderful lives. Don’t be confused, I am not delusional, and would never claim the US is the saddest place—if you recall I worked in South Sudan a bit, you don’t know loss until you’ve worked there. But, that said, America is a hard and sad place to try and survive. I don’t mean because of the current economic woes, that is just worsening an already depressing situation for so many.

I will try and explain why I see this, but probably won’t do too good a job. There are many any reasons for this, but I’ll point out a few today. I am in a rush to get this email out—so I’ll do my best. America is the golden ticket. Getting a visa to move to the US is like winning the golden ticket, someone gets that once in a lifetime opportunity to save their entire family. When someone gets that golden visa, this means the lives of their brothers and sisters, mom and dad, nieces and nephews, aunt and uncles, grandma and grandpa, and cousins far and wide will change forever (not to mention friends). It is assumed that this person will arrive in the US, get a great job, start making money, and send it back home. Now—everyone will get better roofs, indoor plumbing, new clothes/shoes, school fees and supplies, medical care and medicine, television, etc etc. However, reality is, this person no matter how educated or qualified they were in their home country, arrives to the US and must take a minimum wage paying crap job and have to pay for living in the US, which we all know is not cheap, and STILL manage to send money home. Regardless, he/she will be making more money here then they could back home. This is how you find teachers, doctors, even nurses in our incredible nursing shortage working at Taco Bell or Target. Now the issue of professionals having to work WAY beneath their potential is one thing, and a topic for another day; I want to focus the money and their homes. So, they send money home. I can not express to you the overwhelming pressure to send money home. It is your duty, if you don’t you are abandoning your family. Your family is shamed in their community, because one of their own has abandoned them. IF the family of a “golden ticket” holder doesn’t start having a higher standard of living, it is assumed the ticket holder has 1-been a failure, 2-become selfish and forgotten about their ‘home,’ or 3-Become American: meaning getting into drugs, alcohol, etc and wasting their money on these things. There are other assumptions of course, I don’t pretend to know all the cultures and beliefs—but these are reasons I have experienced or heard from others. So, with all this pressure, the person must work at least 2 crappy jobs or even three. Sleeping just a few hours a day—trying to send as much money home as possible. For some countries, the entire economy is highly dependent on this money coming from the US (and other ‘developed’ nations) called remittances.

The down part, what I see—are exhausted disappointed “children.” It’s like waiting your whole life to go to Disneyland, FINALLY getting there and finding out it’s a work camp. These people come here with such high expectations—they grow up ‘learning’ that Americans are always happy; we have few problems, no stress and money to burn. They get here and discover a cruel reality. Where, like my husband, they are treated like second or third class citizens. People assume they are uneducated and illegal and say outrageously prejudice, racists and down right malicious things. Their families assume they are happy as they are in the land of Gold and Honey, but they suffer away here with only each other to confide in. They cling to each other for support and to figure out our crazy system. They need to learn how to use the buses and subways, how to use a debit card, and, as my husband is learning, for many it’s their first time dealing with winter. If you suddenly had to move to a foreign country, by your self, would you seek out the locals whose language you haven’t totally learned or others like you? Then, people blame you for not ‘integrating’ into your new country—I dare any of you to move to a new land with a new language and to ‘integrate.’ I LOVE challenges, new languages and cultures, I love getting to know only the locals and not the other ‘foreigners,’ and even I have to hang with Americans once in a while. It’s just natural, birds of a feather.

I could say so much more on this topic. Way too much, and possibly I will in the future—but for now you get the idea. Life is hard here, harder then you can imagine. But, you need to realize that even despite all the hardships these people face, it’s better for many then going home, especially the illegal immigrants. Think how bad your life must be to force you to cross a desert and swim a river, with a huge chance of dying—just to come and work for like 3 dollars an hour. I know the drain illegal immigrants have on our system, especially in certain areas. But, I am just asking you to 1—Please do not assume b/c someone has an accent they are illegal, 2—Do not assume all immigrants are uneducated. ON top of all that—those who got the golden tickets, can’t return home if they want. To turn down the opportunity for advancement of their families, the happiness of everyone back home—they must stay here and trudge on.

It’s a crazy world—and getting crazier. Treating people poorly does not help anyone.

I need to close, b/c I have a ton to do---believe it or not, but tomorrow morning I will be flying to Nepal!!! YEA!! Nepal is on my top 10 places I want to visit, and tomorrow I get to go. I am doing a consulting job with Micronutrient Initiative and World Food Program. I’ll actually be there for an entire month!! It’s a bit long, but I am very excited. I am sad to leave Henok. This is his first fall, and I will miss it. His first Halloween, and I will miss it. However, Nepal will be great and I will have much to say when I get back.

Okay—glad to be in contact with you all. Hope you are all well---



MeysawKassa said...

OMG! I can't believe this? Are you finally back after 7 months? I have been missing your sweet stories. Please keep posting.

Well come back!
Wish you all the best!

Amber said...

Just a thought Jess. If the country the immigrant came from wouldn't put so much pressure and expectations on the immigrant, then perhaps America wouldn't be viewed as the golden ticket. Thus making America a happier place to live for them. I have never traveled like you buy I believe you can find happiness wherever you are if you look for it. I see happiness all around me while living in America. I enjoyed your post and hope you're doing well! I haven't seen you in years and miss you!