In 1986 I was a student in London and thought that it would be great fun to travel with a buddy I had met at school. Susie Morgahni’s family was living in London after immigrating from Beirut. The cause was war. Her parents had applied for visas and were planning to immigrate to Youngstown Ohio when the school year was over. Susie talked about to heading to back to Lebanon to see her brothers and grandmother one last time.
The Morganhi’s had opened their London flat to me and it was a home away from home while I was abroad, and so when I heard Susie talking about the plan to travel home to Lebanon I asked if I could go too. There had been a cease fire, and hostilities had settled. It would be a non-tourist type trip. I would be in the homes of friends and I felt safe about it. I could see the Cedars of Lebanon. They said I would be an honored guest.
So the plan was that we would fly to Cyprus and then take a ferry over to Lebanon. I called the states and told my family, who were less enthusiastic and they put up some strong opposition. But I was 21, so I didn’t listen. I wanted to see the world for myself. I hated the US at that time. I thought that Ronny Ray-gun was going to cause the third world war.
Susie went ahead of me but I was going to meet her at the airport, head to Limassol take the ferry over, be met by her family and have a fantastic reunion.
When I arrived in Nicosia I saw armed security guards and instantly felt alarmed. In customs they took my passport. It felt like everyone was looking at me. The customs official glared at me angrily, pointed to the chairs and gave me directions in a language I did not know. He took my passport, pointed at me while talking to other officials then went into an office. He came back out a few minutes later and started to question my intentions.
Why was I in Cyprus? Why did I want to go to Lebanon? Did I have a contact number for the people I was going to visit? What was the relationship I had to them? Why had I come from London? Was I really a student? My name was Alexandra, maybe I was Greek?
I was terrified. They pulled my passport and I was connected to the American Embassy. I could head back to England or stay. What ever my choice, I wasn’t going to Lebanon.
The school was closed for the week, so I had nowhere to stay over break . Being completely naive, I figured I would stay in Cyprus for the week and at lease see the country.
The country was beautiful. I headed to Limassol and found a place to stay. I found some Canadian troopers who had been assigned by the UN as peacekeepers and they spoke English. I ended up having a terrific time for the first couple of days.
Then there was news that the United Stated had bombed Libya. There were protests in the streets, effigies of Reagan being hung and the American Flag being burned. I had never been so scared to be an American and so thankful that I had associated with Canadians and the Embassy.
Turns out my family, concerned for me before I left London, had contacted the State Department and I had been flagged. I returned humbled from the experience and I came to love the freedom of this country and the assumed safety I had always felt as a white, privileged citizen. Susie made her trip to her homeland and returned to London as well. When she made her trip to the states as an immigrant later that year, we picked her up from the airport and hosted her for a couple of days before she flew off to join her Mother in Youngstown.
I was so very lucky to meet people who were from different backgrounds than me. I was so very lucky to live in a different country and lucky to be welcomed into homes as a stranger. As such, I was treated with the utmost hospitality and felt honored.
I have strived to show the same here in this country. I have made friends with Jamaican domestic workers on H-2B visas and have invited them into my home at the holidays to share a meal. I have hosted Chinese immigrants, who have finagled their way here through a complex network of “marriage”and extended family. I have celebrated with friends who passed the test and became citizens. I encourage my daughter to travel in China when she was 16.
My own family is not from here. They finagled their entré as well. My grandfather immigrated from England and made a couple of attempts, then married my grandmother to get citizenship. My brother in law has a green card. Other ancestors came over on boats. From Germany in the 1800’s and from England in the 1600’s. Every one I am related to is from away. They came becuase of the myth that here, in this counrty, we are all equal.
His name is Omran. Tell me why you fear him.
He is a refugee and has the rotten luck of being born in the wrong place. I welcome him. I welcome those who have gone through all of the visa vettings and green card ques, those that are being detained at our airports. I welcome them. There are those that wish to do harm to those who have freedom. But it is not Omran.
We have taken a dangerous turn this week. Banning people and building walls will only make things worse. We are to welcome the stranger. We are to give hospitality. His name is Omran. He is welcome in my home.