Last night the president declared today a holiday and so (surprise!) the office is closed and we get the day off. It’s the anniversary of the second revolution, and with the bombing yesterday killing a lead prosecutor (nowhere near us, don’t worry!), foreigners have been advised to stay close to home today. So we have a stocked fridge and are laying low for the day. Which is just as well; yesterday was a weird day in the office.
From the start of the day there was some flustery agitation in the air. The printer/copier wasn’t working and neither was the internet. Quite essential things for most people in the office to be able to do their jobs. A few of the staff were out sick, and they were ones that my to-do list for the day depended on. So I spent the first part of the morning kind of feeling immobile. I’m still learning my role, but everything I knew that I could be working on, I couldn’t because people weren’t there or things weren’t working. Finally get to be here, and then a morning that I felt like wasted space. I hate it.
Then a man came in through the staff entrance to talk to me. He looked Ethiopian and after terse greetings started to explain his situation. He was clearly upset. My Arabic is conversational, but not enough to solve issues involving a lot of nuance and bits that should not be lost in translation. So I tried to get a member of staff to translate, but he walked outside and grabbed a random person and refused to let a member of our staff translate for him.
Eventually I worked out that he’d come to us over a month ago for us to help him find work. He’d come to our office twice, using the money from his pocket for transport. He was told to come and meet with an employer at 10:00. He’d been waiting for an hour. Unbeknownst to him the employer had been told to come at 11:00. They usually do this because the refugees are generally not on time, and we don’t want to make the employers wait.
I asked him a few times in a few ways what it was that he wanted me to do, or what he wanted from me. I never got a clear answer—thankfully the employer showed up at 11:00 on the nose, but the guy said he was leaving. But an amazing South Sudanese lady, well-in-years, who works in the job placement department that we call Mama, took him by the arm and pulled him into the other room to meet the employer.
It was a stressful encounter. There were 1-3 other people around as we tried to sort out the situation. In the end I think he just wanted to lodge a complaint to me, their supervisor. He just wanted to be heard. At one stage he was so upset his lip was quivering. A thing I’ve never seen from a male in this part of the world nor would ever expect to see.
Obviously he’s desperate. Who knows what’s happened in his life. What or who he has lost or had to flee from or be forced to leave. He probably doesn’t want to be a cleaner. Possibly he’s educated and well qualified or skill to work that is far above any informal jobs he’ll be able to find here. He just wants to work and perceived our staff to not be taking his situation seriously or disrespecting him.
The truth is that it’s really difficult to find work placements for men. Most work in the informal sector (cleaning, child-minding, cooking) is offered to women. When he hears nothing from us for a few weeks and then finally does and shows up and has to sit and wait for over an hour, of course whatever pent-up trauma and anger he has from whatever situation has forced him to be a refugee, bubbles over.
The meeting didn’t go great. The guy was still fuming and the employer even asked him why he was sitting there so furious. But he’s still giving him a chance and the man is supposed to start his job today. Anger can be such an awful thing—ruining the very thing you’re seeking. I spent most of the afternoon praying that the man would cool off and be able to really take advantage of this work opportunity.
It was a hard situation. In the end I didn’t actually do anything or improve the situation for anyone. And what could I have done? That’s the bit that’s the hardest. When there’s a situation you feel like you really should be able to do something to help but can’t even really figure out what that should be.
But we keep seeking, keep trying. It’s why we’re here. We saw the situations in our previous countries, we knew people were flooding to neighboring countries, but finding that they had little hope or help there too. So this is us being here, trying to do something to help, and I suppose even when you’re in your sweet spot, you’ll still feel immobile at times. But keep seeking, keep trying. Keep identifying injustices and being wise and brave and try to set them right. It’s when you give up on the trying that stagnation sets in. And this world wins.
“The dominant culture is a wearied culture, nearly unable to be seriously energized to new promises from God. We know, of course, that none of us relishes criticism, but we may also recognize that none of us much relishes energizing either, for that would demand something of us.” Walter Brueggemann