So this is home, this week, for a teenage boy who is staying with us.

A while ago I was talking to my French teacher, who also taught English to refugees. She had a lot to say about it, but her principal piece of advice was to always go through an organization.

Well. Some organizations are right out there in public. Others are more careful about their public presence. Eventually I found my way to one that finds homes, however temporary, for unaccompanied minor refugees. They also organize educational and legal services.

Our house guest is 16. He is polite and serious. He loves basketball so much that I have become a bit of a sports widow; he and the SO are binge watching everything the sports channels have to offer, with Jacques right at their sides. He draws extremely well and gets himself to his classes. He eats very little and asks for nothing.

So, maybe they gave us the poster child.

He has been waiting six months to be given asylum. Rejections are made for many flimsy excuses. Meantime, the French government expects him to live in the roadside camps that they keep raiding and destroying. If, at a hearing, he says he stayed in someone’s home, it creates problems with regard to his legal process. Thus the slightly underground nature of this whole thing.

We are going out of town next week, so he’ll move on. When we come back, we’ll host someone, no idea who. But to me, we have a moral imperative to take care of the children in our communities, even and maybe especially the refugee children. So I imagine we will do this for the foreseeable future. Sadly, refugees and the conditions that create them will not go away any time soon.

11 Replies to “Guest from Afar”

  1. Bravo to you! It looks like a very comforting place for this boy, who must have endured horrors on his journey.
    My kid does a photography course over the summer and every year there are refugee kids. One year they were from Chechnya, another year from Mali and Guinea. One of the boys, from Africa, curled up in a fetal position and sobbed every day during lunch, my kid reported. The Chechens came in family units; the African boys were on their own. An organization looked after them; I don’t recall the name. They seemed well-cared for, but obviously there is no substitute for family. Both Mali and Guinea are wracked by violence. It’s sad; I have been to Mali and loved it. But that was 20 years ago.
    Thank heavens for people like you who open your home and your heart to these poor kids. They just want to survive. And the West makes it hard, on so many levels, starting with supporting dictators and making lop-sided trade deals since time immemorial.

    1. Yeah, I don’t know how a teenager managed that journey. Thanks to WhatsApp, which seems to be preferred to Skype and all, now that he is here he can talk to his family, at least. It’s a weird life, though. He has basically been couch-surfing for six months now, with no end in sight. He’ll only be with us until the end of the week. We caught the last day of the Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition. This kid loves to draw, but no one has ever taken him to a museum. He had not even heard of the Grand Palais,had not before seen the Champs-Élysées. So tomorrow, at his request, we’ll go to the Louvre. He had kind of distantly heard of it. Even now, his life is so limited. He catches on fast, though. In the end, I think he’ll be fine.

  2. I thought you’d have him working in the garden. Nah, just joking. What you are doing is important stuff and I’m a believer that if there is any real chance for humanity as a whole (not a sure thing) it will be because of one to one interactions that are humane. Fortunately, here in SoCal, immigration is not a problem. :runs and hides:

    1. Thanks, but I’m at the fringes of all this. The amazing people are the ones who keep it going.

      I grew up in a barrio. These days my classmates would be called DACA kids. Back then they just had names and crazy family stories. So now here I am on a different continent, dealing with kids who have names and crazy stories. Maybe we need to rethink this whole notion of people living their whole lives in one place. For an awful lot of people, it’s simply not the reality.

      Enough. Valentine’s Day is coming. How will I dress up Jacques’ stunt double?

  3. I have been teaching italian (live in italy) for many years to refugees and heard many stories…it’s so bad that many people do not realize rrefugees are not coming here for tourism…but because of the terriffic situation where the come from.
    You make a great thing.

    1. Thanks. Yes, I agree that the stories are often terrible. If people would rather risk enslavement in Libya or drowning in the Mediterranean to staying where they are, that should be a hint that things are bad. Actually, what we are doing feels like a small thing. They are children who need a place to stay for a while. Other people take care of the legal and bureaucratic aspects of their lives. For us, it’s just a place to sleep and a few meals.

  4. So glad that you found the way to help that you had been seeking…and how dreadful is it that staying in someone’s home, instead of the hellish camp environment, could be an obstacle to a secure future.

    1. You’re right about that. The whole hearing process is nuts. The guy will walk into his next hearing clean, healthy, polite, and doing well in a trade school. Could it all count against him? Was he supposed to have spent the time he has been in France in suspended animation? More likely he would, as you say, have been scuffling in the camps, dealing drugs, maybe, or doing one of those crazy delivery jobs. Maybe you have read about this. One guy with papers gets the job. Then he subs it out to guys without papers. They split the money. Mr. With Papers gets a third of the take, while doing nothing, from several guys who work their butts off for barely enough to eat. This kind of thing makes people angry, which in turn can lead to radicalization. Hey presto, another terrorist is formed. The disconnect between bureaucratic fictions and the realities of life can be quite astounding.

        1. Well, with any luck they have the kind of underground assistance there that they have here. My sister has started calling me Harriet Tubman. Tubman would have loved to have the kind of network that has been developed for these kids. It’s patchy and well short of what they need, but for a totally ad hoc thing, it’s not bad.

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