Local View: Getting it Right for Refugees | Chroniclers






Stephanie Riak Akuei


STEPHANIE RIAK AKUEI

I recently traveled from central Nebraska to Lincoln to take some time to shop. My plans included visiting one of the many Middle Eastern markets on North 27th Street, which has a range of international foods and spices. My husband is from North East Africa and to cook our traditional dishes we source ingredients from these specialty stores.

With a deeper cold front looming, I quickly made my way to one of the markets. While shopping, I met four Afghan men. It was obvious that they hadn’t been in the United States or Nebraska for a long time. Only one of the men spoke only a few words of English – very little. No one had accompanied them.

They had difficulty shopping and paying for their food. The owner of the Iraqi store was trying to help. I speak a Sudanese language and some Arabic, but not Pashto or Dari, and Arabic was just as foreign to them.

With experience researching and working with refugees in the United States and abroad, I was understandably curious about them. I had also watched reports on their possible relocation to the United States. I grabbed packets of cookies and told the Iraqi store owner to add them to my bill for them. Tea is a daily Afghan staple, and they probably weren’t spending any money on these treats.

Due to the language barrier, it was difficult to find out more about them. Through hand signals and the vendor, I learned that they had walked and taken the bus from their accommodation. They did not have adequate protection, and they would walk and catch a bus in the freezing temperatures. I offered to bring them back. As cold as it was, I couldn’t accept their hike. In the end, the store clerk took them.

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