The Happy Asylum-Seeker

“O” fled his home in the Arabian Peninsula eight months ago. His journey in search of safety took him from Africa to Eurasia then through much of South/Central America and Mexico.

Yesterday “O” was released from Stewart Detention Center, but guards dropped him off late at the Atlanta airport. He consequently missed his flight to the US West Coast and needed hospitality for the night. Thanks to the solidarity of the Atlanta Friends Meeting, we were able to welcome “O” just as we continue to welcome others released from detention during COVID-19.

After a harrowing journey alongside a sibling who sadly remains detained in another state, one could understand or even expect this final setback to at least be deflating. But not for “O”.

“O” turned to me with a “smize” (you know, that masked smile that is seen in the eyes…) and said, “Allah must have a reason why I get to spend time with you. And for that I am happy!”

Me and “O”.

I offered to take “O” out for his first meal in the US. “O” wanted to walk, so I described the breadth of cuisine that Decatur has to offer. After going through the extensive catalogue I added, “Oh, and of course there is American fast food,” and I listed the ones that came to mind. Guess what “O” selected…

“O” had never been to this particular restaurant. He ordered chicken medallions and fries. When asked what sauce he wanted, he had no clue. I informed the cashier it was “O’s” first time in this franchise restaurant and I requested a sampler of every sauce they have. I offered to pay for the extra sauces but the manager, overhearing our conversation interjected, “Let them have the sauce… on the house!”

“O” and I broke bread (or processed chicken nuggets) at an outdoor picnic table. As the night grew dark I sat in silence and listened to unimaginable stories. The last six years in his home country, “O” and his family lived without electricity. There were hints of the war and violence that caused him and his sibling to clandestinely leave in search of refuge. And there were many peaks-and-valleys stories about a journey into lands where “O” would meet other migrants from places like Haiti and Iran in god-forsaken places like the Darien Pass jungle of Colombia.

Early this morning, after “O’s” prayers, we traveled to the airport. He’s going to live with a relative he has never met. In the car, with masks on, windows down, and “O” sitting in the back passenger-side seat, I asked him what kind of music he enjoyed. I played some Arabic music but he informed me that American pop music has actually been an enjoyable way for him to learn his English. So I turned on some pop music and Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy” came on.”Oh, I love that song! I’ve heard it recorded in many different languages all over the world,” this young man said with his trademark blissful tone.

“O” leaves the Atlanta Friends Meeting bound for the airport.

Please hold “O” in the Light as he awaits reunification with his sibling who remains in detention. And may joy, hope, and resolve continue to guide “O” as he seeks asylum in the United States.

Please hold “O” in the Light as he awaits reunification with his sibling who remains in detention. May joy, hope, and resolve continue to guide “O” as he seeks asylum in the United States.

Because I’m happy;
Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof…
Because I’m happy;
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth…
Because I’m happy;
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you…
Because I’m happy;
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do…

Listen to this iconic tune in “O’s” first language, Arabic:

1 thought on “The Happy Asylum-Seeker”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s