From Political Refugee to Essential Worker

As we announced in December, we have partnered with Refugee Stories, Inc. to collect stories via face-to-face interviews with refugees who want to tell their stories. From there, we plan to transcribe, edit, and compile these stories to give readers a first-hand look at the refugee experience. Obviously, face-to-face interviews are not a possibility for the moment, and may not be possible for some time to come. Refugee Stories, Inc. has been proceeding cautiously with plans to continue using electronic media, although this comes with challenges, not the least of which is asking people to share personal stories without direct contact with a human listener. This may yet prove to be a viable alternative but will require sensitivity and patience.

For now, we are transcribing, editing and compiling ten stories that were collected before social distancing became a necessary part of our lives. It is a good start. Below, you will find an excerpt of a story that struck me as particularly relevant, given the times we are living through. We have heard much well-deserved praise – along with a great deal of well-founded concern – for the men and women who have continued to staff hospitals, nursing homes, and other care facilities. It has been well documented that many of these workers came here as immigrants and refugees, and are now working to care for some of our most vulnerable citizens. The mother of Gambian refugee Jainaba Saara is one of those workers.

Excerpts from Jainaba’s story – in her own words.

My father was into politics, he was big into politics. What happened was, they had a new president and [my father] was working with a different person, and so when they had a new president, Yahya Jammeh, there was a group of them they wanted to assassinate because of the new change in the government and they believed [my father] was strong in the Government. So one day, I was about seven, it was raining real hard, and they came and took my father and kept him in the jailhouse for about two to three days, and I was just a small child then.

Once they released him they came back about two weeks later and told my mother ‘we came to take your husband back to his village because his brother died’. My mother knew that wasn’t the case. We lived in the compound, so my dad realized there were people at the door and who it was, and he was able to get to the neighbor’s house through the back door, by the porch. And he hid in their porch until the government left our home. They raked our home that day, they looked everywhere, and they threatened my mom that next time they come back they will kill all of us. After that, the next day we had to go to the village. We went to my father’s brother and he said he couldn’t help us because there was too many of us. So we ended up going to the village where my mother lived, to my mother’s sister, who we lived with until about two and a half years went by and we didn’t hear anything from my father so to us, we thought he was already dead.

But my mother still didn’t move on. She still had the hope that her husband was still alive. So about two and a half years later, that’s when my father finally wrote us a letter saying that he was alive, and that he was in America. And come to figure out, all this time, he had flown to Senegal, where he had sought protection from their government. So their government protected him and gave him a new identity, where he was able to wait until he got his papers and after that reached out to the American government and that way he came to America. And once he was here, he reached out so many times to the American Government and nobody was able to help him. And so finally he went to World Relief where he was partnered with Michelle Hill and she was one of the volunteers that helped with World Relief. Through their church they were able to help him to reach out to his family back home.

We received a notice saying that we should go to Senegal, hoping that our visas would be ready. So my mother and my siblings, there were five use, we all Left Gambia that day with no time to say goodbye to anyone. We got to Senegal, hoping our visas were ready, but they were not ready. Every few months we would go to the Senegal embassy, and every time there would be one visa but there wouldn’t be visas for everybody. So my father we kept trying and trying until we finally my father got visas for all of us after a year and a half of living in Senegal. They made travel arrangements with my father, the program through World Relief. World Relief helps immigrants from all over. They helped my father get a ticket for all of us, but in return my father had to pay that money back. That way we could all come together. So when we did come to America he was able to make small payments until it was all paid off, so that we could all come to America.

For my mother it was so different because she was never working, she was more like the stay at home mom. She had to look for a job to help my father provide for us. She started working at a hotel as a housekeeper. Then our sponsor took her to a nursing home where they were hiring for a patient care tech. She took that job … She’s been working there for seventeen years now, at the nursing home.

Over the next several weeks, we will be posting excerpts from several refugee stories. And hopefully soon you’ll be able to hear the voices of these courageous new neighbors of ours through a podcast series. Stay tuned.

NOTE: We have made contact with the interviewers and asked them to try to determine if Jainaba’s mother is safe. When we have word regarding her current status, we will post an update.

Twisted Road Publications is partnering with a new non-profit organization, Refugee Stories, Inc. to collect, transcribe and publish some of their stories. Since Twisted Road is a small press with limited resources, we are asking for help.

If you can help, please click here: Contribute

For more information about the situation in Gambia at the time Jainaba’s family was forced to flee, you can start here:  More Info

The Designated Other

Twisted Road Publications came into existence with a singular goal: tell stories that illuminate our shared humanity, regardless of the labels that designate us as “other”, and attempt to debunk the myths that surround those labels: Poor people are lazy; disabled people have no value to society; LGBTQ individuals are a threat to families; people of color are drug dealers and gangsters; Latinos are all here illegally; Muslims are terrorists, etc., etc., etc.

More often than not, the labels that designate some of us as “Other” are bestowed upon us by politicians and political parties seeking power. There is an interesting story titled When America Despised the Irish on the History Channel website (, detailing the country’s response to the influx of refugees from the potato famine in Ireland. According to the article “The refugees seeking haven in America were poor and disease-ridden. They threatened to take jobs away from Americans and strain welfare budgets. They practiced an alien religion and pledged allegiance to a foreign leader. They were bringing with them crime. They were accused of being rapists. And, worst of all, these undesirables were Irish.”

The Irish had become the designated “other”.

Opposition to the Irish refugees coalesced around the anti-Catholic, anti-immigration American Party, also known as the Know-Nothing party, because they claimed to “know nothing” when questioned about their politics. I suppose at the time it didn’t go over well for people to publicly declare their xenophobia. Nevertheless, they ran candidates who shouted “Americans must rule America!”, and it worked. Know-Nothings elected eight governors, more than 100 congressmen and mayors of cities including Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago in the mid-1850s. Nothing like good old-fashioned fear-mongering to get people to the polls.

Now, migrants from all over the world – Latinos and Muslims, people fleeing famine and war – are being placed by those who wish to consolidate their power into the category of “others”, all of whom we are supposed to fear.

The most ridiculous application of this label (okay, they’re all ridiculous) is for refugees who are resettled here though UNHCR. Refugees are vetted more intensively than any other group seeking to enter the U.S. In fact, the hardest way to come to the country is as a refugee. Once those refugees most in need are registered by the U.N. refugee agency, the U.S. then hand-selects every person who is admitted. The U.S. resettlement program gives priority to refugees, usually vulnerable families, who have been targeted by violence. The U.S. does not recognize as refugees people who have committed violations of humanitarian and human rights law, including the crime of terrorism, as refugees. They are specifically excluded from the protection accorded to refugees.

The question is: how do stop the fear and increase understanding. For me, the answer is the same as it’s always been – through story. Stories of struggles and overcoming obstacles. Stories of hope. Stories of family. Watch this space.

Twisted Road Publications is partnering with a new non-profit organization, Refugee Stories, Inc. to collect, transcribe and publish some of their stories. Since Twisted Road is a small press with limited resources, we are asking for help.

If you can help, please click here:

TALES FROM MY INBOX: Part I – Writing Your Passion

“Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style. I am not urging you to write a novel, by the way — although I would not be sorry if you wrote one, provided you genuinely cared about something. A petition to the mayor about a pothole in front of your house or a love letter to the girl next door will do.” Kurt Vonnegut

What are you writing now? A novel? A short story? A memoir? A journal? A letter to your best friend from college? Whatever it is, my question to you is: why are you writing it? To be a little clearer, why are you writing THIS story, journal, letter, etc.? What is it about this story that is compelling you to write it?

Memoirs and fiction based on writers’ lives are regular visitors to my submission inbox. It’s no mystery why we write them. We all have our own stories and we need to tell them. In truth, we all have many stories to tell, so when I read these submissions I often wonder, why THIS story?

Sometimes, the why is very clear: the writer has developed a passion for promoting something, or for changing something, that has altered or defined his or her life. A passion for gun control develops in the life of someone who has suffered gun violence; a passion for motherhood develops in someone who struggled to become a mother; a passion marine life develops in someone who grows up swimming in the gulf. When this passion is present, it almost always produces a good story.

If there is nothing to reveal the writer’s passion, and the story ambles from anecdote to anecdote to anecdote, there is generally very little that keeps a reader turning the pages.

The same is true for fiction of every genre: mystery, romance, family saga – you name it.

I had an interesting conversation a few weeks ago with a talented young writer who talked about the evolution of his writing focus. He said he once imagined himself writing conventional stories about corporate greed and governmental malfeasance, but was now thinking more along the lines of writing science fiction. I remarked that some of the best stories I’ve ever read used those conventional themes in very unconventional ways – science fiction, for example. His eyes lit with something I can only guess, but I imagined he had already begun creating a story in his mind – maybe a corrupt emperor on the planet Caligula who has learned to control the weather so that he can flood cities and enslave their inhabitants. What’s important is that if examining greed and corruption is what he cares about, he can tell it any way he chooses and still make it compelling. What matters is the passion.

Are you writing your passion? Feel free to share.