“There are nine members of the family – we will need two cars to get them to their medical appointment. Can you help?”
For the past several years, i’ve been supporting the mission of our local Refugee Resettlement program. The vast majority of arrivals in my city are from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Most of my transportation runs are to get 2-3 family members to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles for official ID cards, or taking one person to a medical appointment.
The primary language in DRC is French – and mine is pretty rusty. i’ve learned a couple words in Swahili, but my comprehension is non-existent. So i start with music – something upbeat, fun, targeting Beatles, Michael Jackson, and other international pop icons. As we get settled in the car, i tell them “i’m going to play some music!” and then we roll.
It seems to work.
Many times, while traveling abroad, i’ve been in a situation where i’m in a taxi and do not speak the language of the driver. It’s a little more comfortable if the driver is playing music, and happily bopping along. The best way to crush the awkward silence.
So i sing. i car dance.
Many arrivals from the DRC have been waiting a long time to get here. They have experienced things that i cannot comprehend. But my job is transport. i do not ask. Drive the car, and be-bop to the tunes. Assist with the paper work, pulling out the ol’ Google Translator as needed.
My SUV will comfortably transport 7 adults. For the large family transport run, it was me and 6 others, ranging in age from 4 to 19 years old. Mom, Dad, and the adorable 2 year old went with the other driver. The oldest daughter rode up front with me, and the rest of the children were tucked into the back.
Her English was pretty good. When i said “i like to play music” she said “That’s good!” and away we went! It was early October, and when “Thriller” came on, it seemed that even the younger members of the family recognized it.
“Dance Party!” i announced – and we all hit it hard, while cruising downtown toward the public health clinic for their appointment. Smiles, laughs, expert moves, and genuine curiosity about the crazy white-haired granny gettin’ down with her bad self behind the wheel of the Ford truck!
The original plan was to have another driver pick them up in a couple hours, but i let the program coordinator know that i was available that afternoon if needed. He sent me back downtown to assist with pick up. My heart turned to mush when i was greeted in the lobby by smiling, dancing children.
We car danced the entire drive home. And i cried a little after i said goodbye.
When i first started supporting the program, i wanted to only do housing set up, or collect items to support arriving refugees. i was afraid to work directly with the clients. Reluctantly, i agreed to start doing client transport – because that was the greatest need.
Getting outside of my comfort zone has led to the most rewarding volunteer gig i’ve ever had…
“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.” – Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.