Monday, June 13, 2022

June - Already?


    No telling what the weather gods will send down in the 'shoulder month' (spring into summer) but omens so far are less than encouraging. Floods, record heat, etc. Coping is the cry.

Imagine you are one of some 76,000 Afghans released into the world (mainly into the US) after the fall of Kabul and having no real guidance on how to cope.  Never mind weather when so much else is the bedrock of your existence. (Don't dare imagine the fate of the thousands of US-affiliated Afghans left behind.)

One couple is not a  fair sample but perhaps their story shows how it is possible to survive - but not to thrive -  with the help of some Americans offering guidance. The couple in their twenties who settled into Virginia through family contacts now count on Medicaid and a few thousand government dollars to start a new life. There are what are euphemistically called cultural differences to contend with. 

For instance, the woman speaks very little English and will not venture out of the house without a relative.  She won't speak up in a social setting without the presence of her husband. She turns down jobs - money they very much need- since she is insecure in settings with strangers. Her better-educated husband, on the other hand, has better language and coping skills and has made a life for himself as a part-time  barista during the day. Then during early morning hours, the pair are contractors for various delivery services (Amazon, Door Dash, etc.) earning $125 between 4 and 8 a.m., after which he will take a break to sleep before reporting to his day job. They cannot earn enough to allow them to rent an apartment alone apart from their family hunkered down in a Virginia suburb of DC. The family, apart from the young husband ,are wary of taking jobs they feel will diminish their stature in the world. A man trained as a doctor will not let himself be hired as a nurse, for instance - even when the chance of promotion (not to mention a salary) could raise his status. Perhaps the notion of  self-sufficiency, or what Americans consider their birthright - self-promotion, is foreign to them. In the past they have had comfortable lives and reliable friends and family to count on. 

Of course, there is a story behind a story as always.  The words 'cultural differences' means different things to different people. To the Afghans, perhaps, their willingness to come to dinner conflated with their custom of bringing something to the table. Maybe food - maybe the main course. But, of course, it would have to be Halal and vegan to suit the tastes of one or both of the Afghan invitees. The problem is that nothing was made clear ahead of time. The couple would bring the food, they indicated. Then in a last minute call from the host, they said a medical emergency had  delayed them. The wife had  mysterious pains. Nothing was said about the promised meal. So the host went to work creating a menu she thought would suit the Muslim-vegan faith: pasta with a spinach pesto. A few phone calls later - delaying the dinner time for well over an hour or more - the couple arrived with a big pot of food: lamb and rice.   Halal or not, no explanation. It certainly wasn't a vegan meal all the way. Had the young husband meant he wasn't strictly Halal, only that he didn't like meat?

Host's dilemma: what food to put on the table? My friend the host decided to serve up the original menu she made, only the wife - stricken, it now turns out, with a migraine - never had seen pasta and had not idea how to eat it. So the couple ate very little or nothing and left early before any mention of dessert. Also, the suffering wife objected out loud when she was served a cold ginger drink: too strong, she said. 

Can there be a satisfactory ending to this story? 


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