My church is involved in a program called Six Star Refugee Partnership, which helps refugees from various countries settle and transition into life in America. For several years my friend Curt has been offering his expertise with computers to refurbish used computers, assemble them in refugee homes and teach some basic computer skills. This ministry he provides is essential to the transition of these families into our high-tech (and often overwhelming) culture.
Today I accompanied Curt to the homes of two Afghan families a family from Burundi. He thought my knowledge of computers might also be of help to these families. As it turned out I didn't do much, but I think it was more important that I just meet these families.
First we went to one of the Afghan homes and assembled a computer Curt had refurbished. I watched as Curt installed software and set up dial-up internet service. While we waited for some software to download I struck up a conversation with the patriarch. I've never really been good at starting conversations. I can only thank my time in Egypt for this new-found life skill.
I asked what he did for a living and what his life in Afghanistan was like. He worked as a journalist for a television station in Kabul, but fled when the Taliban came into power. He and his family lived in Moscow where he worked as a shoe salesman. It was a decade before they finally immigrated to America.
In keeping with the middle-eastern hospitality I experienced in Egypt, the father offered some coffee and tea. He sent one of his sons to fetch some drinks after I told him I would love some coffee. His son returned with the drinks and a large platter of almonds, pistachios and golden raisins.
His boys were obviously bright children. One is in the ninth grade; the younger in the third. They both hovered around the computer with wide eyes, eager to try out their new internet connection. The little one pulled up a Russian web site with games on it. In reference to the computer, the little guy asked me, "Is it fast or slow?" He clearly already has some experience with the machines.
Later we went to another Six Star home where a family from Burundi (Burundians?) lives. Curt needed to update some software on their computer, which was pretty much a one-person job, so I just watched some TV with the kids. They were home alone since their parents were out working. The teenage daughter gave me a running narrative of what was going on in the movie, trying to catch me up to speed. In her beautiful, thick African accent she told me that the coach of the high school was an alien that was turning the students and teachers into space-zombies. A real world-class American movie, let me tell you. I was so saddened that THIS was the American culture they were being exposed to.
But that was nothing compared to what was on the TV at the second Afghan home. Curt settled into updating the family's computer as I watched Scary Movie 4 (pretty much the ass-end of American film) with a teenage boy and his little siblings, which, at a guess, were between seven and ten years old. The movie is really good at spoofing recent scary films, but also had some very vulgar scenes. I hated to think that this was the impression these new residents were getting of Americans. What was worse, their father joined us for the last ten minutes of the movie and didn't flinch at even the most outrageous moments.
The only thing I was thankful for out of all of this was that these people live in America with Americans. Hopefully they get a better, positive sense of what it means to be American from the people they interact with on a daily basis. I remember watching similar American TV shows and movies in Egypt and kept thinking about how there was no context for Egyptians. At least the Afghanis have that advantage.