To read part one of Miriam’s story, go HERE.
* * * * *
What kind of a mother leaves her children?
We sat there in the silence of that question, Maile, Miriam and I. It is such a heavy question, layer upon layer. Sadness over doubt over regret over guilt.
Tears formed in Maile’s eyes, and still no one said anything. It was warm for November, and the air moved gently around us. Miriam’s stories collided so strangely with that otherwise normal day. I could tell Maile wanted to reach over and hold Miriam’s hand, but she didn’t know what was proper, what was okay.
“You didn’t have a choice,” Maile whispered. “You had to leave.”
Miriam nodded in the way you nod when you don’t necessarily believe what the other person is saying.
“What happened next, Miriam?” I asked her.
* * * * *
I was very depressed. Very sad. Many of our friends and relatives had just been killed in the bombings. From my husband’s family, 22 people had died. From my parents’ family, five had been killed. Plus I had two or three friends who were killed.
Again my husband tells me to go to America. I finally gave in. I went to the US embassy in a neighboring country. Many people were trying to go there because it was so dangerous in our country. Many people want to leave.
The US gave me a visa. I don’t know why or how. It seemed like a miracle. After I got back from applying at the embassy and successfully getting a visa, my husband brought the children to the crossing point to pick me up. I would go home for a short time until we arranged for my travel to the United States.
I saw my family right there at the border crossing. My husband and my children. They were right there, and I just wanted to go to them, but four or five people with guns came to me.
“You have to come with us.”
They wouldn’t let me go to my family.
They took me to an office at the crossing point. My husband asked many questions but they wouldn’t tell him anything. They held me for five hours and took my bag and the officer asked me many more questions.
“Why were you at the US embassy?” he asked.
“I want to go see my family in America.”
“No, you are a spy with them,” he insisted.
“But I have permission to travel!”
“Why would they give you permission? No one else is getting permission! You are not allowed to go to America. You are a spy. Don’t leave the country, and if you write anything about this, we will kill you.”
Then he leaned in close and whispered into my ear.
“You have to say goodbye to your kids.”
I was very sure then that he would kill me that day. I thought that was it, that my life was over. But for some reason they did not kill me.
After that they let me go home. I don’t know why. I couldn’t sleep.
My husband said, “Miriam, you have to leave. Not just for a while. You can’t come back here. They will kill you soon.”
“I can’t,” I said, weeping. “I can’t leave. I can’t live that far away without my children!”
“You can go,” he said. “You have to go. You will be alive there. You will be safe. You can speak with your kids. To be far away from your kids is better than to be a dead woman for them. You have to leave.”
So I made the decision. I left, but I think it was very bad for me. I regret it. I miss my children. I often think I made the wrong decision. But I can’t go back now. They keep asking my husband where I am. He says I am not there. They say he has to bring me back or they will arrest him instead of me. Then what will happen to my children?
My sister told me I could apply for asylum here in the United States. I finally have asylum, and now I can bring my husband and my children. But at first he didn’t want to leave our country.
“This is our country,” he said. “This is our life. Our home. Everyone we know is here. All of our family is here.”
I think he still hoped that things would change.
But he can’t live without me, and the kids need me, and nothing is changing there. It is only getting worse. So he came around to the idea of living here.
“Okay,” he said. “I will come to live with you in any country.”
* * * * *
Miriam paused. I looked at my phone. We had been there for an hour and a half.
“We should probably get you home,” I said, and Miriam smiled, nodded. I stood up and went to get our kids. When I came back, Maile and Miriam were talking. We all got into the truck. The radio came on and it felt strange, again, to think that there we were, driving down the road on a beautiful day while all around the world people like Miriam lived a nightmare.
During the ride home we talked about what she liked in America, what kind of food she missed, what she was hoping for. We asked if she would come to our house for dinner sometime, and she smiled, as if the thought made her happy.
“Yes,” she said. “I would like that.”
When we dropped her off, I got out of our vehicle and walked over to the sidewalk. Maile got out, too.
“Thank you so much,” I said. “Thank you for sharing your story with us.”
She smiled. I got back into the truck, and I watched through the window.
“Can I give you a hug?” Maile asked. Miriam nodded, smiling wide. I said it in the post about us meeting, but I’ll say it again here: seeing a white, blond, American woman in American clothing hugging a Middle Eastern Muslim woman wearing her headscarf and robe is an image I won’t forget for a long time. It is something we don’t see enough.
We are, all of us, more alike than we can even imagine.
* * * * *
Church World Service helps refugees like Miriam with many things. Relocation, integration into society, finding employment and housing, and covering the legal fees to apply for asylum, immigration, and green cards.
In fact, CWS legally represented Miriam pro bono because she had no money to pay an attorney. Asylum applicants who have a lawyer representing them have a 70% success rate; those who do not have representation experience only a 17% success rate. Without CWS, it’s likely Miriam would have had to return.
Here’s how you can help:
- Will you give $10, $20, $50, $100 or more to help cover the legal costs for asylum-seekers like Miriam? If you can do that, please go HERE to make a donation towards CWS’ legal services.
- Local refugee families are currently in need of dressers to store their clothing in their new-to-them accommodations. Please let me know if you have extra dressers or bedroom furniture, and I will coordinate delivery.
- CWS is in need of local family law attorneys willing to take on cases like Miriam’s pro bono. If you are willing to do this, please email me.
- Would you be willing to get to know the refugees who live close to you and be part of a team who supports them as they try to start over in a new place? If so, please email me!
- Like the Church World Service Facebook page.
*I am not an employee of CWS and any political or religious views expressed by me or the refugees I speak with do not necessarily reflect the views of CWS or its employees.