Working in pairs, the One Earth Ambassadors got to know a local refugee teen through Samaritas New American Services by asking questions and writing their answers. The goal of the program was to write their partner’s journey story descriptively and definitively,  so they have a record of how they came to America. Here is some of the work from our Ambassadors:

The Start of a New Adventure

She looked at me through eyes that were clearer than many at the age of 11 have. They were eyes that reflected newfound maturity and understanding. They were eyes of someone much older than Dana. She had moved to three different places, but she was too young to remember the first. She left Iraq at a young age and moved to Turkey, where she stayed for several years, and finally moved to the United States in 2015. Dana has lived a dynamic life which some might find unbearable, but she finds interesting

When they first came to America, Dana’s family was not alone. They received the help of Dana’s uncle, who had lived in the United States for some time. During the first couple of weeks they lived with him, but after that they were self sufficient enough to get a condo and live comfortably. That condo has three bedrooms and two bathrooms, not to mention the auxiliary areas of the house.

While the language barrier had brought immense struggles for her parents, Dana picked English up within a few months. As I talked to her, my first reaction was amazement and my second was respect. The interviewers and interviewees that sat around me consulted Dana on translation from Arabic to English. With patience beyond her years, Dana translated their words and helped them send their message. Dana is just like any other kid that one could meet, except for her experiences. Dana hates social studies and loves animated movies. She has a younger sister who watches TV on a daily basis, and Dana loves her iPad Air. If she had the choice between an action movie and an animated movie, then she would choose an animated movie. Dana is a kid that is no different than any other, and no one should think otherwise.

She told me about the tree that brushes her window at night because of the wind, causing a slow “shh shh shh” sound. A sound that scares her and makes her want to hide under her blankets. On the other hand, in Turkey it was different. “It was beautiful” Dana said. The streets were stoned and the land was open. They didn’t need cars, but only their legs. She lived in an apartment in Turkey instead of a condo or house. The apartment had two bedrooms and two bathrooms, which was less room than they have here in the United States. Dana remembered walking to school and coming back, but here she is driven everywhere. It’s one of the main reasons that she doesn’t like the United States more than Turkey.

The United Stated was a different world for Dana,  at least in her imagination. To her the United States was a land of sand and palm trees, not deplorable Michigan winters…or just deplorable Michigan weather.  Little did she know that this nation prides itself with grass and fertilizer! A sea of green had flooded her eyes as soon as she had landed and that didn’t change until white decided to invade the ground.

It was the start of a new adventure for Dana, and that meant new people. People that Dana had obviously never met before, and as any 11 year old would feel, scared to meet them. She didn’t expect the smiles and open hearts that he peers in her elementary school had. They were kind and welcoming to Dana, a newcomer who they met for the first time. However, as like goes with like, Dana met her best friend who could understand and help Dana. A friend that guided Dana through the confusions of being in America, and fitting in. She is with Dana today as 6th graders at Carlton Middle School.  Thanks to that friend Dana’s face lit up for the rest of out interview.

Dana’s path to fitting in and living life here in the United States was heavily aided by the strong and mighty iPad Air. A device that was Dana’s gateway into a world that could explain the one  Dana was in at the moment. Dana told me that, although she hasn’t watched many shows or movies from the United States she loves animated entertainment. Her favorite song is “See You Again” by Charlie Puth and Wiz Khalifa from Fast and Furious 7. Sadly, Dana did not get to watch the movie, but that’s where mighty technology came to save the day. I told Dana about the ‘under-the-table’ methods that kids these days use to satisfy their entertainment needs and gave her some recommendations on what to watch.

Dana broke all expectations I had of her. From the moment she opened her mouth to her bright smile before she said ‘bye,’ Dana talked to me like a friend and made me feel like one too. She helped those around her and showed me that coming from a different place doesn’t change that you are still a human being. Dana may have come from Iraq and moved throughout the world, but she still gets scared by the tree that brushes her window and wants desperately to do gymnastics. She is a kid whose smile, eyes, and voice belong to someone who mature with innocence. Her innocence and beauty was strong enough to strike a cord in anyone’s heart because that is who she is. Just like Dana, there are many kids come from the Middle East and fear the monster in their closet. They are people and so are we. That is a fact that we should never forget, like Dana has shown me.

By  Shikha Lakhani