A Memorable Encounter

Posted by Irving Jones
June 19, 2010
Child Stands Near Water and Looks at Ducks

About the Author: Irving Jones is a Program Officer with the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. Formerly Mr. Jones worked as a member of the Refugee Corps for DHS/USCIS, adjudicating refugee claims in the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.

My three young children always seem to attract attention. Living in Washington, DC and as a frequent visitor to the National Mall and the Smithsonian, I have grown accustomed to and amused by foreign tourists, pointing at my children, talking to them and sometimes taking pictures of them, usually without asking. "They look like angels," one elderly woman told me. "If she only knew," I thought.

A few weeks ago I took my two sons and daughter to a park just across the river in Virginia. We kicked a few goals on the empty soccer field nearby and had begun to play on the playground equipment when I noticed that a middle aged couple and another slightly older man had walked up and were watching them play. The woman stepped over to me holding a camera and politely asked if she could take their picture. I smiled and told her that she could. From that exchange, her accent, clothes and mannerisms I suspected that they were Iraqis. When she had snapped a few photos I asked them where they were from. The middle-aged man said that they were from Iraq. "Did you come as refugees?" I asked. "Yes, we have been here three weeks," he said with a broad smile. "Welcome to the United States!" I said and shook their hands. The mood seemed jolly and relaxed and I asked, "Where are you from in Iraq?" There was a momentary pause, and the woman said, "Baghdad."

I considered a follow-up question when at that moment a helicopter thumped low over our heads on its way to National Airport. The sound and the Iraqis brought me back to the summer of 2008 when I spent a month in the Green Zone interviewing Iraqis to determine their eligibility for the U.S. Refugee Admissions program. In my heavily air conditioned cubicle with helicopters clattering overhead, I interviewed dozens of Iraqi families, nearly all with tales of great personal tragedy. Six days a week I asked them question after question. Stories of persecution, fear, threats, bombings, kidnappings, rapes, torture, and escape poured out into my tiny, sterile office. Each morning I prepared myself to listen to unspeakable devastation and heartbreak as families recounted the horror of home invasions, separation, and murder of family members. I explored their claims and wrote my notes. I was in the presence of survivors, many of them remarkably brave and far stronger than I feel I would be if placed under similar circumstances.

It takes remarkable courage to tell a stranger the story of the death of someone close. Their interview with me was arguably the most important and final in a series of interviews about their experiences. Many rushed to talk, blurting out the intimate details. It was as if they were releasing their histories one final time, so they could focus on the future and on the possibility of creating a new life. I often wondered if I would be the last person to so presumptuous to ask questions about the most intimate details of their lives, the details too tragic to repeat ever again.

My question was lost as we became distracted by my two year old daughter who tottered after a small group of pigeons. She followed along behind them and just as she got near, the birds fluttered their wings and landed a few feet away. She approached them again, and again the birds scuttled off. This repeated itself a few times until her older brother raced in behind her and lunged after the pigeons. The birds flew up and away in a noisy burst of flapping and the three Iraqis all laughed loudly. "I'm so happy to have met you. I wish you good luck," I said as I shook their hands again and I herded my three children into the direction of our car, buckled them in their car seats and drove them back across the bridge toward home.



Donald M.
Virginia, USA
June 19, 2010

Donald in Virginia writes:

6 19 10


When your standing in your ivory tower of power, remember that God is testing us all. Ask God to forgive our United States Senators for spending money in Congress, they did not have to spend. You should feel guilty of being apart of spending money the tax payers cannot even afford. Allowing for programs and creating more debt for your kids, your grand kids and not batting an eye for it. Blaming game. Its about time people who are elected into office now accept everything they do, the decisons they make, will reflect them not the previous administration. When the going is good, you praise, when the times get tough you blame others. Take responsibility for what happens and stop suing each other. Our country does NOT need lawyers and politicans sueing each other because they disagree with a policy. It's about time everyone comes together in our hour of need, the 11th hour. How in God's name are we going to handle the crisis of the world if were too busy fighting each other? Put your politics aside, and understand we all have to ask God for forgiveness. How will we ever heal in the United States if we continue to battle each other?

The wounds and pain of our Nation are known. We can all feel good when the going is great, and we all can feel when things are not going so good. When I look at our US Flag, I can see the fallen soldiers, the heros of our time.

In the end ask God with a humbled voice, for Forgiveness and the healing power will happen. Put aside your politics, put aside your pride, put aside your hate, or your guilt, and start working together, show leadership, show courage under fire, show the world the United States has the ability to overcome even when things are not going your way.

In darkness God creating light. This message is to bring the lighthouse to the white house. Understand we should all be together, one team that works hard, that shares common ground, that expresses our good nature, and above all has the courage to be humbled and let the pride fall.

Ask God to forgive the oil spills, the disasters, the bad decions, the poor judgements, the lack of training or lack of oversight, because we all feel the pain of the disasters, we all feel the tradegies, and we can overcome if we can work together NOT against each other.

Godbless and may the Lighthouse guide your decisions, be the light of our future.

Michael J.
Virginia, USA
June 21, 2010

Michael J. in Virginia writes:

Very sad, hopeful for this Iraqi family but a difficult transition awaits them


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