A Refugee’s Story: On the Bus

on the bus

“On the bus” are the three words on my mind this morning. 

At ESL class, the topic is emotions.
The exercise is this:
I feel ________ when ______.

I feel happy when ______.
I feel sad when ______.
I feel proud when ______.

When I ask a refugee, “When do you feel angry?”
and she starts to respond, “On the bus…,”
I interrupt,
reminding her of the sentence we are practicing.
“I feel angry when….”

She nods, starts over,
but goes a different way.
“I feel angry when…(pause)…my brother poke me.”

Her new response surprises me, but I go with it.

“Oh?” I say,
“Your brother is here in the United States, too?”

“No, no, teacher. I make example.
From when I am girl,
in Congo, and my brother
all the time, poke my arm.
I say ‘don’t do that’
but he doesn’t listen.”

Ah, yes. I had two brothers myself. And sisters.

We are about to move on,
but it comes back to me,
what she started to say.

“What about on the bus?” I ask.


“Yes. You started to say ‘On the bus. . .’
Did something happen
on the bus
that made you angry?”

“Ah, okay,” she says,
and stops to gather her words.
“Man…white skin…touch me.”
She rubs the top of her knee.
“Like this.
I tell him ‘don’t touch me,’
but what can I do?
My English not good.”

But I think “Don’t touch me” is plenty good English, don’t you?

She is 23, traveling
to and from class
with her little girl, who,
the white-skinned man says,
is “beautiful like her mother.”

And now we are having a different conversation.

How often I leave the house in the morning, thinking I know what my day will be about, only to discover I’m wrong.

Postscript: I reported this exchange in the proper place. “They are so vulnerable,” the head teacher says. Yes, that is the word alright.



Waking to the News of David Gilkey’s Death

journalists memorial Newseum

Upon waking to news of NPR Photojournalist David Gilkey’s death in Afghanistan.

AT THE NEWSEUM, when I come to the wall of faces,
journalists who lost their lives while doing their jobs
so many and it’s for a single calendar year,
I face the same question I faced
in the exhibit of those embedded,
far from home,
lugging equipment,
surrounded by dust and gunfire,
not knowing what will happen next:
What makes these people tick?
And I am embarrassed at the small things that silence me.

See some of David Gilkey’s work.


When Things are Broken and it’s Mother’s Day

I really don’t know what to do when things are broken and Mother’s Day creeps up and everywhere are photos and flowers and gatherings and sunshine. I don’t know what to do, except wait for Monday. Books have been arriving here lately at an alarming rate, a rate much faster than reading speed. Maybe this is a weekend to get lost in one and stay off social media. A weekend to paint, to play music. Church, which I love, is a huge gamble. Game-time decision there.

There are times when muddling through is the best you can do. Muddling through is an underrated skill. I used to be blind to those who muddled through. I once was blind, but now I see. And maybe this sight will be useful to me in some way. I’m sure it will. I’m just not sure how. But I have faith.