Welcoming a Stranger in a Strange Land

Fulfilling the Jewish obligation to “welcome a stranger in a strange land,” I recently had the privilege and honor of leading a volunteer group that welcomed a refugee family of 8 from Afghanistan. With 6 children under age 13 in tow, the family traveled for 2 days to get to the US: Kabul-Dubai-Frankfurt-Houston-Dallas. One of just several suitcases with all of their belongings got lost in Frankfurt. In Houston the airline discovered one of their tickets had a name misspelled by one letter and they missed their flight to Dallas. Just one member speaks limited English, which I am sure contributed to feelings of inefficacy and fear: Before the ticketing issue was resolved, they panicked that they might be sent back to war-ravaged Kabul, where it would not be safe for their return. They eventually made it on the next flight and arrived later that evening to DFW, safe, exhausted, grateful, and smiling despite their ordeal getting there. They were welcomed by friends, old and new, and brought to their waiting apartment. 

Physical map of Afghanistan, by Sommerkom, http://www2.jpl.nasa.gov/srtm/index.html

This experience has given my family many opportunities to talk about how fortunate we are. That we are not in a situation where we need to fear for our safety, where we have resources and access to what we need, where we speak the language, and where we have not had to give up our old life for the unknown. And that we can offer support to others that are experiencing a rough road. Indeed, it is our obligation as fellow humans.

As part of our Welcome Team volunteer agreement through the resettlement agency, we were to provide a culturally appropriate meal upon the family’s arrival. This was a wonderful opportunity to explore the tastes and flavors of Afghanistan.

Located next to Pakistan, much of the culinary tradition shares flavors of Pakistan and India. Rice, wheat, barely, chickpeas, dates, mangoes, and onions are among the main crops. Tomatoes, yogurt, coriander, mint, dried fruits and nuts, lentils, chilis, turmeric, paprika, cinnamon, cumin, and cardamom are just some of the ingredients common to a variety of dishes.

When we chose a menu for this family’s arrival dinner, we tried to give them a taste of home. Feel free to peruse the menu and explore the recipes that we made. 

Afghan Salad
Cauliflower Curry
Borani Banjan (eggplant with yogurt sauce)
Kabuli Palaw, Afghanistan’s national dish, basmati rice topped with fried raisins, carrots, and pistachio nuts
Pita Bread
Rice Pudding topped with pistachios and shredded coconut

One of the old Kabuli friends that met up with the family said, “Hey, you cook food like us!” I hope this means the food brought the family some comfort after an extremely long voyage and gave them hope that they can still maintain their culture and traditions while living in a new land. 

I imagine the upcoming days and weeks will be a whirlwind for this family as they learn their neighborhood, reconnect with old friends from Kabul, find all of the surprises left for them throughout the apartment, and get connected with social services and supports and schools. 

Welcome to America, family. May you now have the opportunities available to grow and prosper and feel safe. It will be a hard road, especially at first, but hopefully easier than if you had remained in Kabul. And thank you for putting into perspective just how fortunate my family truly is. I am different on the other side of your journey, and will never forget this experience.

For more information about how your Dallas-based group can support refugees, contact Refugee Services of Texas

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