Meeting Our Neighbors

Scars of Refugees

I found this article important and moving.

It is understandable that some … want to pretend that they are not refugees. It is more glamorous to be an exile, more comprehensible to be an immigrant, more desirable to be an expatriate. The need to belong can change refugees themselves both consciously and unconsciously, as has happened to me and others.

Please read on . . .

By |September 9th, 2016|Meeting Our Neighbors|Comments Off on Scars of Refugees

Important Words for This Season

B_FieldI am gazing on the “most perfect Christmas tree ever,” created with the help of two young friends whose family came to New Hampshire originally from Iraq. They share their Muslim faith traditions with me and visa versa, an exchange that has enriched us all!

There was an opinion article by Elizabeth Stevens of Walpole in the Concord Monitor on this Christmas Eve day. I have linked it below. These important words parallel my own feelings as we start 2016.

In this new year, it will be more important than ever to say an emphatic “no” to the hateful, violence-mongering and mis-informed words of those out there who want to close our borders and communities to families fleeing for their lives. Have we forgotten that Joseph and Mary were refugees also fleeing persecution? Would we have said “no” to them?

Refugee Rally 120515-3224-2

Wishing you and yours abundant peace and goodwill in the New Year.

My Turn: Needs of Syrian Refugees Mirror Our Own

 

By |December 24th, 2015|Immigration in NH, Meeting Our Neighbors|Comments Off on Important Words for This Season

Hard to Keep Up with This Immigrant!

Guor & Shaheen 083112-4294Remember the 2012 Olympics? It was big news in New Hampshire because former Concord High School student and distance runner, Guor Miading Miaker, was competing in the marathon. His story had an unusual twist back then, and continues today with more twists and turns.

Gour (who also uses the last name Marial) escaped to New Hampshire as a teenager in 2001 from war-torn Sudan. More than two dozen of his family members had died during the grueling Sudanese civil war; he himself was kidnapped, assaulted and forced into slavery. Finally he was able to get to the United States. In 2011 South Sudan declared independence from Sudan becoming the world’s newest country.

After resettling in New Hampshire, Guor excelled in distance running at Concord High, winning national championships and a college scholarship. In his first-ever marathon, he qualified for the 2012 Olympics in London – but there was a problem.

Guor & Shaheen 083112-4090
Gour had no country affiliation for the Olympics. South Sudan was too new a country with no Olympic team; he wouldn’t run for Sudan after such war atrocities; and he couldn’t run with the U.S. team because he was not yet a citizen. Nevertheless, with help from many, including Senator Jeanne Shaheen, the IOC gave Gour the rare status to compete as an Independent Olympic Athlete.

Guor's Race 081212-2487
On a predawn Sunday morning in August 2012, I joined Gour’s South Sudanese friends and relatives in a crowded Manchester apartment to watch the marathon live from London. They cheered and ululated exuberantly each time his neon-green running shoes appeared on the TV. That he finished 47th was irrelevant. What mattered was that he ran in honor of their new homeland. Read more.

Fast forward to this year – more obstacles appeared in the path of Guor competing for his country. South Sudan had to apply for Olympic recognition in the 2016 summer Olympics in Brazil. Then last January Guor received a scholarship from the IOC to train for the 2016 games, but the South Sudan Athletic Federation demanded that the money come to them, otherwise they would not let him be part of their team. Fortunately the IOC and others stepped in, persuading South Sudan to reverse their ultimatum. Read more.

And here’s the latest: just last week, South Sudan’s application was finally accepted by the IOC. It was an emotional acceptance ceremony. This new status bolsters a war-weary county, perhaps even bringing a sense of unity and peace. Read more.

South Sudan will send a small team, only distance runners, including Guor who now trains in Kenya. It will finally give him the chance to run for his homeland. “This is a dream come true,” he told The Guardian. “There will be nothing better than competing in Rio under the South Sudanese flag.”

So, be sure to watch the 2016 Olympics and cheer for this speedy, former New Hampshire immigrant.

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By |August 15th, 2015|Immigration in NH, Meeting Our Neighbors|Comments Off on Hard to Keep Up with This Immigrant!

Eid, A Time for Forgiveness

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan has just come to an end. In the last few years, I have been fortunate to learn a thing or two about this holy season through my photography within the Muslim community in New Hampshire.

The start of Ramadan varies every year, timed on the sighting of a new, crescent moon. This holy month is for introspection, increased devotion, and fasting from dawn to sunset. Eid marks the end of Ramadan. On the day of Eid, Muslims stop fasting and are encouraged to forgive others and let go of animosities. Families and friends get together for joyful celebrations with new clothes, gifts and food, especially sweets. The date of Eid is determined by the appearance of the next crescent moon.

Two years ago at the time of Eid, joy was dampened in Manchester’s Muslim community because their new, partially built mosque had been vandalized. The six-sided brick building, located on a wooded hillside, was designed with high arching windows. Because of their size and contours, the windows were fitted with special and expensive glass. The vandals had smashed the glass in every one of those windows. Despite this sad event, leaders of the Islamic community were eager to observe the rising of the crescent moon that year from their new mosque site. They invited me and my camera to join them.

The mosque seemed more a construction site than a holy building. We passed a locked chain-linked fence and climbed up a crude wooden plank into the vast sanctuary with angled brick walls. Tools, boards, buckets and other signs of the builders were all about. I carefully climbed a construction ladder to get onto the second level of the building. On the floor in the fading daylight I saw the glimmer of shattered glass all around. Pointed glass shards still stuck out of the rims of the arched windows.

Soon we saw it, rising over the treetops – the white sliver of a crescent moon. As I quickly clicked the shutter in the dimming light, I sensed the irony of photographing a moon that marked a time of forgiveness and peace through a window rimmed with glass shards from an act of malice.Eid Moon at Mosque 081113-0999-2

Because of the low light I used a shallow depth of field and focused my lens on the moon and distant treetops. As a result in the final photo, the edges of the shards in the
foreground are softened from being slightly out of focus.

Maybe that in fact is the message of Eid – focusing on forgiveness, symbolized in that rising crescent moon, can soften the sharp edges of hate and destruction.

By |July 17th, 2015|Meeting Our Neighbors, Uncategorized|Comments Off on Eid, A Time for Forgiveness

Srebrenica: “A time to bury our dearest”

New Hampshire is home to several hundred Bosnians who started resettling here as refugees in 1993. This year, on Saturday, July 11, The Bosnian community and their friends, with support from the Association of Bosniaks of New Hampshire, gathered to remember a 20-year anniversary of unspeakable horror.

From the air it looked like a large white flower, but on the grass in Derryfield Park in Manchester it was a pattern of small white flags in neat rows. There were 8,372 flags, one side with the symbol of the Bosnian flag and the other side with a person’s name. The flags honored 8,372 Muslim people massacred in the three-day genocide in and around the small mountain town of Srebrenica that began on July 11, 1995.Srebrenica Memorial 071115-9217

During the Bosnian war, the United Nations had designated Srebrenica as a “UN safe area.” The town’s population swelled as people desperately sought refuge from the war. On that July day 20 years ago, the Serbian military swept in, massacring Muslim men and boys as the outnumbered UN troops looked on helplessly. Many who escaped into the woods were hunted down and killed.

Two UN courts have ruled the Srebrenica massacre as genocide, the worst in Europe since the Holocaust. Although the Serbian governmental leaders and the military were directly blamed, the United Nations has also acknowledged its own negligence and the failure of the international community to protect the Bosnian people.

Twenty years later in Derryfield Park, children ran about on the grass in the warm afternoon sun as adults gathered near the rows of flags. In sharp contrast to the tranquil scene, voices rang out as young adults, one by one, read horrifying stories from NH survivors of that day.

Unspeakable accounts were spoken. The personal memories were hard to hear and even harder yet to imagine how anyone could endure from such cruelty. As one person recounted, “it was a time to bury our dearest.”

I noticed a young boy, about 12, sitting on the grass with his mother near one of the flags. He pulled the flag out of the ground and pressed the side with a name against his heart. He glanced up at his mother. She leaned over and gave him a kiss on his forehead.

I am grateful that New Hampshire provides a safe home for Muslim families from Bosnia.
Srebrenica Memorial 071115-9211

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By |July 14th, 2015|Immigration in NH, Meeting Our Neighbors|0 Comments

NH Senate Recognizes Bhutanese Community

Earlier this month (6/3/15) the NH Senate passed a resolution (NH SCR 1), requesting the U.S. Government to work to resolve the Bhutanese refugee crisis, repatriate their refugees, and promote human rights in that country.

Why, you ask, are NH senators concerned about refuges in this small South Asian country 7,500 miles away?

The Bhutanese community is the largest ethnic group of refugees currently in New Hampshire, 2,091 people resettled here between 2008-2014. The Senate resolution was the result efforts by the NH-based nonprofit, International Campaign for Human Rights in Bhutan, and Manchester resident, Suraj Budathoki, Executive Director. That Senate resolution recognizes the contributions of Bhutanese in New Hampshire.

You may have seen some of our Bhutanese neighbors around town – women in colorful saris, men wearing small patterned hats (topis), or their children in our schools. In the last two years, two Concord High School seniors from Bhutanese refugee families have won the highly competitive Bill and Melinda Gates Millennium Scholars Award with college scholarships.

Although having Bhutanese ethnicity, the families had lived some 25 years in refugee camps in Nepal. Starting in the 1980s, the royal government of Bhutan dictated that southern Bhutanese, whose ancestral roots were Nepali, should denounce their customs and strictly follow the traditions of the northern Bhutanese. Protests and violence erupted during the 1990s. The government militia closed the southern schools, burned down homes, attacked women, and killed protesters. The southern people fled to Nepal where their numbers in the squalid refugee camps swelled to more than 107.000 by 2008. Eventually the United Nations recognized their plight and started relocating the refugees to other countries. For more, I highly recommend the documentary movie, Refugees from Shangri-La, directed by Doria Bramante and Markus Weinfurter.

Through my photography project, I have been invited to many homes of NH’s Bhutanese families. I have photographed baby-naming ceremonies; hair-cutting traditions for young boys; religious ceremonies; high school, college and graduate school graduations; and several Hindu weddings.

These families continue to show me that while we may be different in many ways, we all have the same dreams to have safe homes, bright futures for our children, jobs that sustain our families, and freedom to practice our faith and cultural traditions.

Chida and Nara's House Blessing 052315-5086

A Hindu priest reads a holy text during a Bhutanese house-blessing.

 

By |June 23rd, 2015|Meeting Our Neighbors|0 Comments