Five years ago, a man named Refat came to my house every Saturday morning.
My husband loves languages and he had wanted to learn Arabic for some time. So when he met Refat—a refugee from Iraq—he hired the man to come over each week so they could help the other learn to speak each other’s foreign language.
In the weeks that Refat visited, we heard his story: about his wife and two children, about his visa applications to the U.S., about him moving his family to Jordan to wait out the application process, which took years (years!)–a wait long enough for his grade-school daughter to nearly reach her teenage years. And now, finally, he had settled in the mountains of the American west, soaking in English and working hard to pay for the small apartment where his family had landed.
He invited us over for a birthday party and my memory of our arrival is an image of open arms. I had rarely been welcomed anywhere in my hometown with this much enthusiasm and warmth, and the welcomers were from half a world away.
My family moved out of state, lost touch. But when I think of Refat, I can only picture him with a smile on his face—and I’ve thought of him often these past few days.