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