Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Suburbanites play refugees and indians.

I'm sorry. I'm feeling silly. (And, no, I am not drunk.) This just showed up in my e-mail box and it brought back memories. Way back in the day, when I was in college, I hung out with an odd bunch of people. (How odd? Well let's just say a couple of these folks went on to become campus cops, and as for me, well, I've since gone on to spend way too much time riding around inside ambulances letting people puke and bleed on me. Just came from hanging out in a low rent neighborhood with a refugee who was hassling me about the ambulance background too. "Why? Why? Isn't that a terrible job?" No, ambulance work is often a surprising amount of fun, I assured them. Where else do they pay you to actually drive around and get in trouble?)

Anyway, so I had these odd friends, this was about twenty years ago and I've since moved on, and we used to hang out and drink a lot and talk about guns and history and whatever strange things popped into our often demented minds. And one theme we occasionally stumbled upon was "re-enactment groups." You know, when you go to the historical sites and national parks and such and there's some guy standing there in a three cornered hat pretending to be a revolutionary war soldier, although unlike the actual sickly 16 year old dressed in rags soldiers who peopled the actual eighteenth century battlefields, this is one who's 45 years old with a clean freshly laundered uniform, modern dental work, no intestinal parasites and, unlike most soldiers of the American colonial era, a good lunch in a nearby refrigerator. Yeah, the re-enactors. Well, we used to play a game occasionally of "see who can imagine the strangest, most tasteless re-enactment group." And since we all had an odd sense of humor and vast knowledge of history and current events, we came up with some pretty interesting ones, too. (I could share some candidates but someone would quote me on them and then my already shaky reputation would be completely ruined. I mean, ruined all at once, quite honestly I'd rather ruin my reputation in dribs and drabs, a little bit at a time.)

Still I think this is pretty good candidate that equals pretty much anything we came up with.

BEGIN QUOTE

Subject: The UMCOR Hotline for July 14, 2009
From: "UMCOR" <umcor@gbgm-umc.org>
Date: Tue, 14 Jul 2009 15:17:20 -0400
X-Message-Number: 1

In Today's Hotline for July 14, 2009

US: EXPERIENCING THE LIFE OF A REFUGEE

On World Refugee Day, June 20, a group of youth and adults in the Western
New York Annual Conference gathered to learn about what it means to be
uprooted and displaced. Groups from seven churches assembled at Grand
Island, NY to experience a simulated refugee journey.

Individuals were assembled into "families" and traveled more than a mile
from Sudan (St. Martin's Episcopal Church) to Kenya (Trinity UMC) and were
confronted by "bandits," who robbed and kidnapped some of the sojourners.
When they arrived at the refugee camp, modeled after Camp Kakuma in Kenya,
some were harassed by the guards while others quickly learned to avoid
harassment by paying-off the guards.

"Getting a glimpse of what it might be like to be forced to leave your home,
and live in a refugee camp was a humbling experience, and one that I will
never forget, said Joya Colon, an intern for UMCOR.

Support refugee ministry by giving to Hope for Newcomers, UMCOR Advance
#901779.

END QUOTE

Which reminds me of many things. (My brain is noted for making odd connections between things. It's an asset as a writer, but a detriment pretty much everywhere else. ) You will note that the participants in this program traveled a mile to experience what dislocation was like. It did not say how. And that makes me dying to find out.

Which brings me to this odd incident.

I am from, as much as anywhere, Schenectady, New York. Schenectady New York is an odd place noted for many things including an absolutely corrupt police department. (Don't take my word for it. See: Google )

The other day I was sitting in some Burmese refugees' living room drinking tea and the TV news was on. People were sitting on the couch and cute little kids were roaming around in the center of the room.

And on came the Schenectady police having a swearing in ceremony. The report noted that the Schenectady police had just sworn in nine new officers which was just one short of the number who were now under indictement for various crimes. Although this was in the Capital District, the refugees were only barely aware of Schenectady, being as it is down the Mohawk River from Albany and no refugee has any reason to go there.

I began explaining the news and the Schenectady police to them. In particular I noted that the police had been investigated by the FBI on multiple occasions and come under fire for many things one of which was their practice of "transporting" suspected drug dealers instead of arresting them. Which meant that on multiple occasions, the Schenectady police have picked up young men suspected of drug dealing, put them in the car, driven them about twenty miles outside of town and then taken all their money and their shoes, forcing them to walk home barefoot for twenty miles.

"That's it?" cried the Burmese refugees giggling. "They don't lock them up? They just make them walk twenty miles barefoot?"

They seemed to think this was a remarkably light punishment and a rather easy to do compared to being locked up. They then began joking if it might be a good idea to go to Schenectady and make a lot of money as drug dealers if all the local police were going to do was merely to make people walk twenty miles barefoot when caught. (I am not making this up, I promise. However, I do not think they were the least bit serious about becoming drug dealers, but I do indeed think they considered being forced to walk twenty miles barefoot to be a rather light punishment for a potentially serious offense. And, yes, refugees do joke a lot. It's one of the reasons I like spending time around them.)

I soon tried to clarify the actual facts by talking about an actual case involving a Kosovo refugee who is now in prison after selling a small amount of drugs in Schenectady and will most likely be deported back to eastern Europe upon his release. The topic soon shifted and those present abandoned their discussion of the pros and cons of becoming drug dealers in Schenectady.

So moral of the story, yes, it is great that these folks in Western New York are trying to understand what it's like to be a refugee, even if I do joke. On the other hand, being dislocated a mere mile is not going to provide them with the full experience. To properly understand that, and I cannot claim to except second hand, you need to remember that there are people out there who consider being kidnapped, robbed, humiliated and forced to walk twenty miles barefoot by corrupt authority figures to be "no big deal."

I also find myself wondering if those "bandits" they met had the good sense to combine two activities by stealing any of the participants furniture or kitchen goods. Now if they did, they could then redistribute it to people who need it and take care of two things at the same time.

Meanwhile apologies to UMCOR and despite my (probably tasteless) joking, if the exercise worked then it was a valid exercise. People need to start understanding somewhere. If you wish to learn more about this valid organization see:
http://new.gbgm-umc.org/umcor/

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