Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Spaghetti in the dryer!

"This no good!" my Somali friend told me. "No working!"She had just taken a box of spaghetti noodles out of the clothes dryer in her kitchen. When I exclaimed about her unusual -- but clever -- storage solution, she explained that the dryer had quit working long ago. As a mom with seven children, she's in a panic about the approach of winter. She won't be able to hang wet clothes outside when its cold. (photo removed by request)

But her good cheer returned as she dumped the noodles in hot water and began cooking what she called "Somali pasta." During her childhood in Mogadishu, she had been able to buy ready-made pasta. But in the refugee camp where she fled, she had to grind flour and make noodles herself.

Pasta in Somalia? It took me a few minutes to figure out why pasta would be a favorite Somali dish. Then I remembered that Somalia had once been an Italian colony. Makes sense now!She proudly displayed the traditional Somali bread -- injera -- she had made. Her husband would soon wake up and eat lunch in preparation to leave for his night shift at the chicken factory. She planned to feed the whole family a hearty meal. With four preschoolers at home (including a baby), she has her hands full.

Outside, our son Geoffrey was playing soccer with my friend's children. I noted some mutual curiosity between a white man with a faux-hawk and his new Somali refugee friend. Geoffrey got a kick out of holding the baby. That was mutual, too!
This Somali mom is proud of her family, eager to practice her English skills, and always welcoming. Whenever I get ready to leave, she says, "Goodbye, sister! Thank you, sister!"

(photo removed by request)

Goodbyes are never easy for me. Sending Geoffrey back to Missouri to finish his senior year of college was especially hard.

Moms love their children. I see the love in the eyes of my Somali friend when she looks at her little ones. And I know how deeply I love my big tall boy. Come back soon, Geoffrey!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Andrei's new life!

Andrei has moved into his "supported independent living" apartment. This lovely complex is in Decatur, a town that was surrounded long ago by the Atlanta megalopolis.
These brick apartments are an 80/20 community. This means that the owners decided they wanted 80% of their residents to be senior citizens. So it's very quiet and serene there. Just what Andrei needs after 3 months of SWAT teams, gunfire, and break-ins where we have been living.
Andrei shares the apartment with another client of Georgia Community Supports and Solutions. Each man has his own bedroom and bath. They share the livingroom, dining room, and kitchen.
It's a very nice place, and we are thanking God for this great blessing for Andrei.
Today, Andrei reported that he and his apartment-mate worked out how to manage the kitchen -- storage, utensils, cooking duties, and food purchases. We're proud of them for taking care of this on their own.
Please keep Andrei in your prayers. Soon he'll be starting a job search, and learning how to ride on the MARTA transit system. We sure love that young man!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Geoffrey, Coke, and Fire of Brazil

We played tourists today! We celebrated Geoffrey's 23rd birthday, Andrei's new independent life, and our 31st anniversary. We began the day by riding the MARTA to downtown Atlanta. Have you ever seen an escalator this long? Of course we got lost immediately. It's a Palmer family tradition. Thank goodness for Atlanta's downtown guides. This friendly man helped us find our way.We arrived at World of Coca-Cola and had a great tour of the bottling factory and the museum. These big Coke bottles were decorated by people from countries all over the world.Andrei really liked this old car.Lots of memories and loads of fun!
We headed back to the MARTA and rode up north to an amazing restaurant called Fire of Brazil. Countless spits loaded with varieties of beef, lamb, pork, and poultry come right to your table. And the salad bar is wonderful, too!
The restaurant treated Geoffrey to a peach coconut extravaganza.
I'd say the Palmer family did this day up right. We loved spending time together and creating many wonderful memories.

A Big day for everyone!

We've been celebrating!

Andrei is finally in his own apartment in the "supported independent living" program at Georgia Community Supports and Solutions. Without the waiver, we're having to pay his expenses ourselves, so we'd appreciate your continued prayer about this situation.

He was very proud of his latest car creation, a Delorean.Take a look at those doors! Geoffrey came for a week-long visit, and we're reveling in having him around. We hadn't seen him since May -- a very long time to be apart. Tessie, our border collie, was sure happy to see him again. Next week, Geoffrey will be starting his senior year at Missouri State University. He really misses his girlfriend, Kristy. We miss her, too! Maybe next time she can come with him for a visit.

The after-school tutoring program got underway, too. Tim welcomed lots of children who were eager to get some homework help. We were so grateful for all the volunteers from Perimeter Church. What a blessing! It was fun to see familiar faces in the tutoring room again.
Geoffrey got to hold Wesley, our favorite visitor to the after-school program.
We'll have photos of Andrei's new digs soon. Again, thank you for your prayers for our family. We see God's hand on our lives every day.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Cornflakes, cheese and other weird stuff...

Today I had the fun of introducing one of my students to the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program -- and her first taste of cornflakes and cheese. In the midst of learning about colors, shapes, and family members, this pretty young lady from Burundi brought out her purse and showed me the WIC coupons she'd been given. Just in from a refugee camp in Tanzania, she didn't know how to use the coupons. As a matter of fact, neither did I!With the baby on her back, we went to a wonderful neighborhood grocery store. The staff there led us around and helped us choose the correct products. My student did not want the cereal or cheese on her coupons, but I put them in the cart anyway. When we got back to her apartment, we unloaded the groceries. We talked about the refrigerator, cockroaches, and other essential information. Then it was time to give cornflakes a try. She ate a cupful with condensed milk. I'd call that a resounding success.

Then we opened the cheese. Baby and mom had the same reaction. Yuck!!!Mom stuck with her opinion about cheese. But it wasn't long before baby had changed her mind.At my next student's house, the family was under some stress. That morning, they had gone to school to register two of the older children. The 19 year old announced that she did not want to go to 9th grade. She is tired of school and wants to get a job. Her big sister agreed that making a 19 year old go to 9th grade was terrible. "Georgia!" she scoffed. "It's very bad!"

Dad's opinion was clear. "It's not my problem," he said.

After a few tears, some stubborn silence, and much discussion in Swahili, Kirundi, English, and maybe a little French, the family came to a truce. I'm going to help look into GED programs and other options. I'll also call in the large support system that is available to this family. By the end of the conversation, both beautiful girls were chatting amiably, and I even got a smile out of them.Mom wanted a ride to the "Somali store." She wore her prettiest outfit, a skirt and blouse she had brought from Africa. While I drove her to the store, she proudly began to talk to me about the English class she's taking at a nearby church She told me the names of body parts -- even pointing out such obscure things as calf, chest, neck, and elbow. We went on to discuss colors, all of which she knew. I was so happy to see this woman smiling, holding her head up, and feeling good about herself.
This woman and I have known each other for quite a while, and I have prayed for her a long time. Today after stepping out of my car, she leaned back in. With a huge smile on her face, she said a phrase she had learned in class, "Nice to meet you!"

"Nice to meet you, too," I called back.

To our blog readers, I want to say a big thank you for your prayer support. Every day, I see God's hand at work in the lives of these families -- and in my own. For a full report on Andrei's big news, you'll have to wait for the next blog. Meanwhile, please keep remembering the refugees of Atlanta in your prayers.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

School daze!

My brain is reeling after my first official day teaching English, literacy, and life skills to refugees. At the first home I visited, both of my students were sound asleep when I arrived at 11:00 a.m. These single moms work at a chicken factory -- all night long. They arrive home at 4 a.m. and have to get their children ready for the school bus at 8 a.m.

I was walking back to my car when they called out to me. They wanted their English class even though they were both exhausted. And one of them is pregnant, too!

When I stepped into the home, the odor was overpowering. Cockroaches streamed up and down the walls, the trash cans had diapers in them, the refrigerator, stove, and sink were filthy and covered with unwashed dishes.Notice the sharp knife under the child's chair? I'm not sure why, but leaving knives lying around for your children to play with is all too common here.
My initial dismay and revulsion were quickly tempered with sympathy. How dare I criticize when I have no idea what these women have endured in their difficult lives? I made a mental note to focus heavily on the "keeping a clean, safe home" lessons in our curriculum.

Toward the end of our lesson about shapes, colors, letter sounds, family members and introductions, a young man knocked on the door. He needed help with his laundry. One of my students and I traipsed over to the laundry room with him. Yes, he had a problem -- scalding water was pouring into the machine. We discussed the different knobs on the machines and how they affect clothes.How do you explain "delicate cycle" to a young man who doesn't know much English? We had some laughs as we worked our way through that lesson. My next visit was in the home of a Somali woman with 7 children. She struggled to work on the lesson while her three preschoolers and baby were all demanding attention. (photo removed by request)

(photo removed by request)

She had prepared lunch for her family and insisted that I try some. This is what you call "Somali Pasta." My friend demonstrated the eating technique by dipping her fingers into my plate of noodles, pulling up a few strings, wadding them together and putting them in her mouth. The bowl of water was for me to rinse off my fingers. I dug in, and it was yummy.My favorite part of the day was holding the baby while my student and I had a long conversation in English. She told me that she was living in Mogadishu, Somalia, when genocidal war broke out. Her father was shot and killed. Her mother and siblings fled -- running. Separated from her family, she ended up on a boat to the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa. She does not know what became of the family she left behind.

At age 15, this young girl married and began having babies. She explained that she had to get married, because she had no family and no one to help her. Later, she was sent to a barren refugee camp on Kenya's northern border. She hated this place, but had no other options. Finally she, her husband, and their six children were put on a plane and found themselves in Atlanta, Georgia.

Her husband told me that in Somalia, he and the other boys used to sneak out at night and go to a secret school to learn a forbidden language -- English. His wife did not have even that option. She learned how to read a little Arabic. But she does not know how to read or write in any other language. Eager to learn, she is very bright and has picked up enough English here and there to converse with some confidence.
After hugs and kisses from his big brother, the baby fell asleep in my arms. I didn't want to leave.

And I can't wait to go back.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Back to school fun!

The after-school tutoring program has been a cornerstone of ministry at Huntington Ridge apartments for years. To let students and parents know that it will start again on August 19, we had a kickoff event Tuesday, August 12. Each youngster received a pencil case holding two pencils, a plastic cross on a string and an information sheet on the tutoring program.We originally had purchased the crosses for Vacation Bible School (half-price sale at Hobby Lobby), and we had enough for nearly all of the 70-plus pencil cases we distributed.
Our neighbor, Gael, entertained young Wesley Edwards, the son of former Huntington Ridge missionary Sherry Edwards. Sherry continues to volunteer in the after-school program.
Students getting off the school bus Tuesday afternoon were directed to the parking lot of the office, where we had set up tables. Children helped themselves to a cool Capri Sun as an after-school snack. Of course we had cookies, too.
Sherry and Wesley greeted a swarm of youngsters Tuesday afternoon in the parking lot of the Huntington Ridge apartments office. The complex has many stay-at-home mothers who see their children off on the bus in the morning and greet them when they return.
Two young tutoring volunteers from Perimeter Church, Marina and Alec, dropped by Tuesday. The church is a key partner in Whirlwind Missions’ ongoing ministry at Huntington Ridge.

What fun to see the expressions on the children's faces. Looks like this year is going to be great.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

She's a lefty . . . or maybe not!

I visited the "Mommy and Me" program today at Clarkston International Bible Church. One of my favorite women, a beautiful mother from Burundi, brings her four children (all under the age of 4) to class. She is eager to learn and works very hard at her lessons.I enjoyed watching her draw a picture of the house she lived in as a refugee in Tanzania. As a lefty myself, I noticed she was drawing with her left hand.And then I noticed something else . . .If you haven't had formal school in your life and aren't even sure how to spell your name, I suppose it doesn't matter much to you which hand you use to draw with.

Her ESL teacher explained that the mothers in the class were using whichever hand was available while the other was busy holding a nursing baby. Now that makes sense! Other moms in the room were doing the same thing. The "Mommy and Me" program is a blessing for the mothers of preschoolers who wouldn't otherwise be able to study English. Their children are also learning -- in the capable hands of my friend Terry.It's a whirling and dancing and singing good time for everyone!

Even the shyest boy gets in on the action.
I dropped by several homes to leave a calendar for the ESL and life skills classes I'll be starting next week. I guess caring for your six little brothers and sisters while mom and dad are asleep makes for a real hair-raising experience! (photo removed by request)

Little sister's hair was nearly as exciting. (photo removed by request)

In another house, I'll be working with this family who has just arrived from Tanzania. She is the mother of three. Baby was sleeping when I stopped in. Her cousin came to America and will join my class, too.I had fun greeting everyone and getting set for next week. Please pray for me and also for the families whose homes I will visit. Many do not know Christ as savior. Jesus said, "I was a stranger and you welcomed me." I am happy to welcome these families in His name.