And that plus a dollar will buy you a bag of chips, but its exchange rate is even better than the pound.I teach ESL (English as a Second Language) to Southeast Asian refugees, most of whom are KaRen
. The KaRen are the largest ethnic minority in Burma (Myanmar) who have unsuccessfully tried to lead insurgencies against Burma’s junta. You may remember the junta as those charmers who wouldn’t let the U.N. in to provide aide after the cyclone in 2008? The junta have been engaged in systematic genocide for the last 25 years, forcing the KaRen to flea to Thai refugee camps along the border.
The refugee camps are no-man’s-land shantytowns, now in their second decade of existence despite being designed to last six months. The KaRen who inhabit them aren’t considered citizens of any country – neither Burma nor Thailand will claim them.
So my students were understandably happy to put this life behind them and start over in St. Paul, Minnesota – even if it meant navigating five connecting flights while 7 months pregnant, with a toddler in tow, as one of my students did. The non-profit I work for found her an apartment, a pre-school and placed her in my class where we immediately bonded over a shared love of Pictionary and Want Want rice crackers.
Sometime this summer, my student announced (with a laugh and a shout) that she was sad and that she wanted to die. Her husband, it seems, was stuck in Thailand. Because people that aren’t citizens of any country? Their marriage liscences aren’t recognized by the American government. So while my student lived the life of a single mother in America, her husband was living out his life in a thatched hut, wondering about the daughter he’d never met.
So we introduced my student to an immigration lawyer and set to work building a case that this very amaturish-looking marriage certificate (which appeared to be from a MicroSoft Word certificate template) was, in fact, legit. Photos and letters were scanned, awkward questions answered and a few tears were shed.
She sent it off with a whisper and a prayer (literally) and proceeded to hear nothing. Followed by some more nothing. And then a phone call from the lawyer saying that they hadn’t heard anything.
But today, at 8 a.m. she burst into my office to joyfully shove in my face one very official document. There were exactly three sentences typed on it, the last one stating that her marriage certificate had been deemed legal and binding, and that her husband could begin the process of applying for an American visa.
I had to busy myself with my desk drawer so she couldn’t see me stifling the weepiness when she crowed “Maybe Christmas next year, my whole family will be together!”
P.S. If you’re looking for a charity to donate to this holiday season, may I be so bold as to suggest the non-profit I work for? We do some pretty cool stuff.