Christmas came early in Ypsilanti
We started celebrating Christmas on November 29, when we acted like Santa & Mrs. Claus, delivering a much-needed present to a newly arrived family.
But, like so many other parts of our lives, this was a fun, dramatic story!
David’s family decided to pool their sibling Christmas gift exchange money this year and donate it to a refugee family. We had some leftover IKEA gift cards, and IKEA was running a huge sofa sale. Sofa – great idea! Step 1: identify need and find resources.
But then, the practicalities. We live in Ann Arbor, the sofa is in Canton, and the family who needs it is in Ypsilanti. We have a super tiny car.
I’m imagining something like this… in the snow…
A flurry of emails and texts later, and we can borrow an SUV with a trailer… in Saline. (in other words, the sofa is 20 miles east of our house, and the trailer is 10 miles west.) We arrange a time when the family loaning the vehicle is home and david is available to drive it. Step 2: coordinate pick up.
We were so excited that the funding, the transportation, and the timing all lined up that we completely overlooked step 3: translation.
We knock on the door, excitedly. Pretty quickly, we realize this family speaks absolutely no English. David manages to pull up a picture of a sofa on his phone, and I keep saying the name of the agency and the caseworker over and over. The family excitedly invites us in for tea, which we assume means they know we were coming. (we found out later, they just invite everyone over for tea!)
The mom tries to serve us tea, the dad tries to carry in a sofa by himself, a nine year old daughter keeps repeating the 9 English words she knows (“excuse me”, “hello”, “tea”, “my name is”), and the 6 year old boy grabs anything that looks like a tool. He is going to build this sofa all by himself.
Thanks to phone videos, David manages to explain to Mohammed (the dad) basically what’s going on, and 6-year-old Achmed is determined to build the entire sofa himself. We were so afraid when we showed up with a box that they’d be frustrated, but they seemed to adapt pretty quickly to what was happening.
Mom & grandma help me put slipcovers onto the sofa cushions. The youngest jumps on each cushion to test it. The oldest daughter is trying to interpret the IKEA directions and translate for the men (which, honestly, isn’t really helping). Grandma is asking me, with hand motions, where my own children are located. 🙂 Mom keeps serving tea.
Pretty quickly, actually, we manage to set up a brand new, clean, sofa, with enough space for either 2 adults or 3 kids to watch TV.
Then, over tea, I ask – what’s up with the other two sofas in the room? (basically, why were we sent with a sofa to a house that already has sofas?) Through google translate, a few words, and hand motions, we figure out that they found those two sofas on the side of the road (or maybe through craigslist) and managed to bring them into the house. And then, a rat jumped out of it.
So, the agency didn’t know they already had a sofa, because they had managed to find one. But, despite 2 sofas in the room, all 6 family members are choosing to sit on the floor. Turns out, bringing a brand new sofa in a box was a huge blessing.
They invited us back, and we hope to go this week – with a friend to translate! They had only been here 3 weeks when we met them (arrived early November). The kids are in school, the adults are in English class, and they live in a safe neighborhood on a bus line. So, we’re hoping to be friends, and see if there’s anything else we can help them with, beyond welcoming them to our town.
More stories to come soon!