The Language of Laughter is a documentary film that tells the story of an unlikely friendship between two women: Hanadi, a Syrian refugee living in the Zaatari camp in Jordan, and Timea, a European volunteer who dresses up as a clown named Fulla to bring laughter to the children of Zaatari. Read more about the film and support its fundraising campaign here (they have two days left to raise $6,660!)
Bishnu was a victim of ethnic violence in Bhutan when unrest escalated against the country's Nepalese population in 1990. In 1992, she fled with her parents and five brothers and sisters to Nepal where they lived as refugees for seventeen years. Under a resettlement program by the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration, Bishnu was resettled in the United States with her family seven years ago.
Samira spent her last five years in Ethiopia as a single mom and chef. Her daughter and son, both teenagers, attended a private Catholic school, while Samira spent her days cooking for restaurants, weddings, birthdays, and graduations. But beneath this facade of stability, Samira lived in fear.
Born in the Republic of Congo in 1995, Daphne lived through four years of conflict before her family became refugees in Cote d'Ivoire. Though often overshadowed by neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo has suffered from on-and-off violence and political unrest since its first civil war in 1993. With its presidential election coming up next month, the country's violence continues. Today, however, Daphne is happily resettled in Texas, where she studies agriculture and agronomy as a sophomore in college.
Kindly reprinted with the permission of Dimah, Orange Blossom Water
Maryam lived comfortably with her husband in Homs before the war in Syria erupted. But within a year of the war's outbreak, her home was searched and destroyed. She had a one month old baby boy, and feared they would all die from the seemingly constant stream of gun fire.
Trying something new this week, with a news roundup of refugee stories from around the web - the majority of which focus on women, of course! This week's roundup features stories on the Latin American refugee crisis, U.S. resettlement policy, and startups for and by refugees.
CC BY 3.0, Irada
Liyah Babayan was an Armenian Christian growing up in Soviet Azerbaijan. As a young child, she remembers having friends from all backgrounds - Muslim, Jewish, Russian, German, Ukrainian. Her family lived in an international city where people from around the world came to work and study. Liyah was raised to not see the differences between people. But, "Overnight, it seemed like we became 'them.' Friends started to treat us differently. We couldn't play outside or speak our native tongue. I couldn't even tell people my real Armenian name," said Liyah.
Amira and her family left Talbiseh on February 27, 2012 to seek safety at her sister's house in a nearby Syrian town. A stronghold of the Syrian opposition, Talbiseh has been a constant target of the regime's shelling and barrel bombs. Amira's home was destroyed, along with nearly all her possessions. Although they didn't live extravagantly, the family had been well off compared to many other Syrians. Now, Amira had only the clothes on her back and her family.
CC BY-SA 3.0, Yossi Hareishone
Sarah and her family left Damascus, Syria on July 10, 2013. At each checkpoint they carefully repeated their story: they were headed to Lebanon for vacation - a white lie under the circumstances. Already, it was impossible to leave Syria by plane - airports had closed due to intensified fighting. Syria's civil war was well under way.
The bus ride from downtown Aleppo to Beirut took seventeen hours, but Mariela barely slept as they drove through her embattled homeland to neighboring Lebanon. The talented violinist was traveling alone, lucky to have secured a visa and full scholarship to study in America. It was her passport out of war-torn Syria - the ticket that brought her to America on July 15, 2013. Just two years later, Mariela has performed across the U.S. and was even honored at the White House.
You may have noticed it's been a bit of a slow summer - everyone seems to be traveling or in transition. So I'm even more excited than usual to bring you my latest post. Here's Thi Thi's story about fleeing Vietnam after the Fall of Saigon. She shares her love of teaching, her sense of humor, and her grandmother's scrambled egg rice.
You might remember my very first [food-related] post from January 2015. I wrote about my Nana and Jewish cooking, sharing her noodle kugel recipe - which, by the way, I'm still convinced is the best kugel recipe out there. That was my grandmother on my mom's side. Today, I'd like to share my other Nana's story. A Jewish refugee from Europe, she crossed the Atlantic by boat when she was about twelve years old, arriving in New York City in the 1930s.
Riziki was twenty-three years old, married, and pregnant when she made the decision to leave the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1996. She fled war and her abusive relatives, taking her husband, toddler, and unborn child with her. Life was tough, but manageable in the Tanzanian refugee camp where they lived -- that is, until her in-laws showed up there too.
"Boom...boom, boom, boom." She heard gunshots and her body froze, stopping her climb up the short cliff just over the Thai border. Then, "Ok, you're safe." When Seng was twelve years old, her mother took her and her brothers across the Laotian/Thai border. Seng had heard stories of people who died on this trip, but they had no choice. It was 1975 and her family was wanted by the new communist regime of Laos.
CC 2.0, Hungry Dudes
Born and raised in a prominent Russian family, Natasha Pogrebinsky was exposed to sophisticated culture and cuisine from a young age. Though her life was uprooted in the bitter winter of 1991 when her family was forced to flee the Soviet regime, it is no surprise that her love for fine food stayed with her. From working in the New York food industry to owning her own restaurant, Natasha exemplifies strength, determination, and entrepreneurship.
Manikala Basnet tells her story of coming to America from Bhutan via Nepal to escape ethnic cleansing. All throughout her journey, she has helped serve her community - whether it was raising money for other refugees, while trying to reach America herself, or arranging health camps and Hindu festivals from her new home in Atlanta, Georgia.
Borned and raised in Iraq, Rana faced three wars, the death of her mother, kidnapping, and domestic violence. She witnessed bombs, state-sponsored terrorism, and human rights violations. But, out of the turmoil, Rana found creativity and spirituality. She became an award-winning poet, artist, and jewelry designer. Rana's story is one of powerful transformation and artistic healing.
Maryam was seventeen years old when she lost her father to al-Qaeda terrorists in Iraq. Captured, tortured, and murdered in cold blood on the street where she was raised, the event plunged Maryam into a deep depression. She lived each day in fear, as she and her mother floated vigilantly from town to town, scared that they would be next.
From Burma, to a refugee camp in Thailand, to Oakland, California, Naw Htoo has always been a talented chef. Though she doesn't cook professionally anymore, she still prepares traditional Burmese dishes for her family and special events. Since arriving in the United States in 2008, Naw Htoo has been adjusting with the help of Refugee Transitions. This story - along with the recipe and photos - was reprinted with the organization's permission.
CC SA 4.0, Coco Lago
At the age of twenty-eight, Paulette Mpouma faced one of the most difficult decisions a person ever has to make: Join her husband in America, securing a better future for herself and the children she hoped to have; or, remain with her family in Cameroon, risking a life of poverty, unemployment, and a hostile political climate.
Following repeated interrogations and death threats by the Assad regime, Oula Abdulhamid Alrifai and her family fled Syria in 2005. Six years later, in February 2011, they mobilized their network of activists on the ground in Syria and helped organize the first protest in Damascus. Syria's Arab Spring had arrived...or so Oula thought at the time.
From Iraq to Syria to America. Read Leila's story as she shares what it feels like to flee one's country in the face of violence, spend five years struggling to achieve refugee status in the United States, and finally catch the last flight from Damascus en route to America.
CC-A, Gagandeep Sapra
"I was about four years old when we left Iraq [again]. Our life was spent going back and forth between Syria and Iraq."
Read Gulie's story, as she takes us from life in refugee camps to becoming a Yezidi activist in the United States. Then check out this website she helped create to raise awareness about the Yezidis, and don't forget to make her favorite biryani dish!
69,926 refugees arrived in the United States in the 2013 fiscal year. While nearly half came from the Near East/South Asia region, refugees originated from almost every region of the world, including one from Canada. Overall, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates 263,662 refugees to be living in the United States today. This figure does not include immigrants or asylum seekers, making the total number of foreigners seeking refuge in the United States significantly higher.
While generous in many respects, the United States refugee program has struggled to secure refugees' economic mobility and empowerment. Current policy aims to provide refugees with employment as quickly as possible, often resulting in jobs that neither fit their skillsets nor provide them long-term supportive services. They are often placed in low paying, hard-to-fill jobs, inhibiting their economic mobility. Moreover, refugee employment rates are decreasing, having dropped from 54% (2006) to 40% (2009).
The unemployment of refugee women is of particular concern due to high rates of gender-based violence (GBV) among refugee women, many of whom came to America to flee conflict. Refugee women are often unable to escape GBV because of economic insecurity. Their limited education, job training and knowledge of English secures their dependence on their husbands or male family members.
This blog will serve as a platform to provide a voice for female refugees. I have chosen to pair stories with recipes as I believe that:
I will interview female refugees regarding the bridge between their experiences in their respective countries of origin and their transition to life in the United States. Each blog will feature a woman's story along with her favorite recipe from her home country nd new favorite recipe or food that she has discovered since coming to America.
Stay tuned for my first post. In the meantime, try out this recipe from my own family's tradition: