a collection from the people of portland and those supporting from afar.

 

" every single easter was spent at myستو (grammie's) house. we would arrive on good friday and walk in the door, and immediately the smell of mujadara (lebanese lentil dish) would hit our nostrils. when she heard the door she always paused her ujja (egg)-making and come over to kiss our cheeks as hard as she could. as the night progressed, lebanese cousins would come in-and-out for visits, and dinner would last so long us kids got tired and played cards at the table. grammie was such an incredible matriarch of our family and taught all of us how to cook lebanese food the right way (using your palm as a measuring spoon and whatnot). when easter sunday arrived, we would search for colored eggs around her house, and i remember the treasures from around the world that she had collected over the years from travelling with my جدو (grandpa). of course no eggs were ever hidden in his liquor cabinet, but at weddings today we still drink lots of عرق‎‎ (lebanese hard liquor) to toast the happy couple. "

 

"my in-laws came to the united states from poland over fifty years ago. they did not speak any english, and started from scratch in their new country. although their life looks quite different today than it was in the 1960s, they still hold onto many traditions from their home country. for example,  on Christmas eve, they welcome newcomers with a piece of salty śledzie marynowanezie (pickled herring) before dinner, as a rite of passage of sorts to the Christmas eve dinner table." 

"israel has the best gelato. every time we went to our favorite gelato spot, the owners would recognize us and immediately turn-on celine dion, and all of us would have a singalong!"

 

"my daughter wants me to buy her a barbie. she says i buy things for myself all the time. i asked her, 'what do i buy for myself?' she answered, 'fish, rice, vegetables..' i laughed and shook my head. life in the united states is different for us than it was in rwanda. of course we have barbies in rwanda, too, but groceries come before barbies. i think i'll have to look for a ken doll, too." 

"we met at a friend's wedding in jordan. he first spotted me and was totally in love. eventually, we got married and the love we had for one another never went away, but he came from a strict muslim background which made our marriage difficult at times. his father-in-law found my actions to be حرام because of my free spirit, and did not like that i never wore a حجاب (hijab/head scarf). when we first were married, i went shopping for clothes for my husband. i came home with a pair of jeans because i thought they would look nice, but when his father-in-law saw him wearing them he began to hit him because he said they were also حرام (haram/forbidden by muslim law). although relations with my father-in-law were very difficult, my husband was such a kind-hearted man, and very smart. on his way to work one day (he was an engineer), he had a sudden heart attack and died. that very same day i found-out i was pregnant with our third son." 

 

"my grandfather came over from ireland to the united states because he was in love with an american girl, whom he eventually married (my grandmother). when he arrived, he had only a few dollars in his pocket. he started-off doing small odd jobs in new york city, but continued to work his way up with his strong work ethic and determination. eventually, he ended-up running a few buildings in new york city and was well-admired. i remember in particular nyc firemen would tell him he had the best-run buildings in the city. he made a great life here in the united states and started-out with nothing. he was always the person in my life i most admired."

 

"our procession halted in front of a crooked hovel of boards and tin distinguished only by the presence of a door; an amenity lacking in the surrounding heap of windowless and sometimes roofless boxes.  an ageless woman took my hand in greeting as if i were a lost child.  her warmth seeped from the pools that formed her soft brown eyes.  we descended steps into a bunker, dimly lit with two bare light bulbs.  seated before us, some thirty families gathered to receive ambassadors from a world that had rejected and discarded them.  we faced the congregation from seats reserved for honored guests.  i looked upon stone faces etched with deep lines of despair that denied any chance of hopefulness.  then, one by one, men and women stood and welcomed us and so began their story of los bordos, honduras.  as they spoke, the shrouds of poverty fell away and revealed pride and dignity that had been locked away for an eternity.  their bodies, bent by the crushing weight of an unyielding world straightened, buoyed by this moment of recognition.  they shared their dreams of a future in which their children would not be hungry or sick; a future that included the simple pleasures of home, a bed, laughter and the possibility of a tomorrow that did not begin and end in the pit of hopelessness.  my disbelief was numbing; how could anyone survive this onslaught of cruelty?"

"i remember once after a poetry reading a lady came-up to me and asked what life was like growing-up in iraq, and if i had lived in the desert in a tent and rode camels. she was completely serious, and i think my answer surprised her. i explained before the (iran-iraq) war, i had lived in baghdad as a hippie in the 70s. i wore bell-bottoms and had hair down to my shoulders, and my girlfriend at the time was a hippie, too. we loved rock music and alfred hitchcock movies. life changed, of course, and during the war life was incredibly harrowing, as i was held prisoner. eventually, i came to the united states to paint and write poetry and share about my experiences in iraq. to this day, i still listen to aerosmith and remember the hippie days in baghdad."

 

"people talk about the american dream, if you work hard in this country you can have your dream. i do not know what my dream is yet. i am working one full-time and one part-time job as a dishwasher. my one daughter, still in angola, is set to come to the united states in six months. i would like to save some money so that we can have a good life. she has lighter-colored skin than me, like her mother, who died about seven years ago."

 

"my wife and i bought our teenage daughter an iphone for Christmas this year. it's a surprise. she is such a vibrant and vocal girl, a minister, like her mother. my wife was very sick when we lived in the côte d'ivoire, but was healed and it forever changed her life. now she travels all over africa with the ministry she started, giving people the medical attention they need and showing them the love of God. she's not here to play church. she's not here to play religion. she's here because she hears God's voice and He tells her what to do. and i always tell her when she travels to africa by herself being a minister that i'm praying for her, too." 

 

"at canadian weddings, the tradition in was to cut little slices of fruit cake and wrap them individually in foil and tie a doily and ribbon around each slice. the bride and groom would hand-out each slice to guests and thank them for coming. each guest would put the slice under his/her pillow that night and whoever they dreamt of was a soulmate."

 

"my dad is a badass. he came to the u.s. from hong kong as a kid with nothing but grit. he taught himself english, struggling word-by-word. like a lot of immigrants, he worked multiple jobs and relied on the kindness of others because his family had nothing and nowhere to go. he understood the value of education and the doors that opens, so he worked hard until he made it. he met my mom in a hospital and won her over with his broken english and quirkiness. he doesn’t complain about anything because almost 40 years and two grown kids later, he’s happily married and living the dream."