Day Seventeen

This morning. I strap on ice grippers to my shoes and crunch down the street in the dark for my first appointment of the day. It is before nine. The darkness makes me feel that I am heroically early. I meet with the program manager for the intercultural center. Her job is to involve immigrants into the community. “It is through the person to person contact that you make the change. Do I want everyone to have a fulfilling life? Yes, but I don’t think we can city-wide make that happen. It has to be person to person. Sitting down having coffee, talking to them in Icelandic, teaching them.” She is from Latvia, married to a German she met in French class, raising children in Iceland who prefer to speak Icelandic except when online when they communicate in English. We pondered how to create an inclusive community. “Are they doing anything around the fireworks?” Have you met with the other agencies involved?

Strapping on the grippers again, now to the backpacker cafe. A newscaster greets me. We talk Icelandic history (a colony of Denmark until their distraction in WWII made it possible for Iceland to make its break; the British on a military base during the war, until the US replaced them. “It is how the US army organized things that really changed us. They built roads. We were just a small fishing island”); “In fact, until 9/11 Iceland had only good feelings about the US”. I cringe. Bush, Trump. We can’t talk about refugees without talking about Iceland’s place on the global stage. “Over a million tourists come now because of the volcano eruption in 2010. It saved us, our economy. But we need to think ahead. They come to see our nature, and we are damaging it in the process.”

A quick walk across the street to the health center. “Will we know if they have been vaccinated? We are getting calls from people worried.” The medical records should come with them. “Do you know if they have been tortured?” The UN biographies might have that, but you will need to do your own assessments. “When will the interpreters come?” You are in desperate need of interpreters. There are two Arabic speaking people who live nearby. Have you met with the other agencies involved?

Then a long walk, made longer due to confusing hand gestures, misunderstanding that hus “house” means building, and a good intended person using a large ship as a landmark instead of using a more direct route. I crunch on. I realize that soon it will be dark and this enjoyable voyage through the shipping yards might become a cold night of wandering. Thank you google streetview. A woman in a truck parts office gives me a virtual walk to my next meeting.

Life long learning. “We provide Icelandic language lessons to foreigners. But you know, we get to know them really well. They show us letters they want us to translate. We help them fill out forms and navigate the systems. We do much more than teach them the language.”

“Do you know if we will be teaching the adults?” I think they are expecting that. Have you met with other agencies involved?

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About ndubus

Assistant Professor of Social Work, San Jose State University, USA
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