Sunday, April 21, 2013

And Then There Was the Time . . .

I scared the stuffing out of a family from Sierra Leone. 

**Here's a quick primer for those of you unfamiliar with Mormons and their wacky ways. We don't go to church wherever we feel like. We are divided geographically into boundaries called "wards." If the area we live in has too few members to make a full-fledged ward (being an all-volunteer church), we are put into "branches." For a lot of Mormons, the ward/branch is pretty much the foundation, focus, and source of almost all our social life. Oh, and we call each other "brother" and "sister." But we're not Quakers.**

When we moved to our fair town, we knew we'd be moving into a branch, not a ward. At first, it was really difficult for me to be okay with this. Call me a snob. Call me lazy. Call me maybe. But I was not thrilled to be in a unit that I saw as so needy. (Not talking $ here. Talking leadership, experience, etc.) I kicked against the pricks until one night, the Relief Society president and I went to visit a sister who'd recently had a baby. I didn't know the sister at all, except that she and her family were refugees from Sierra Leone, and that her laugh was loud and infectious and wonderful.

When we got there, Sister C's first reaction was to burst into tears. I was so confused. Is she embarrassed because she's . . . in her sweats?? She started to thank us for coming and I realized, she's crying because she's happy! Happy that plain ol' Emily and friend came to visit. It was like a light bulb went on. OMGosh, she's as lonely as I am! We talked about her boys, about her job, and a little about her life during the civil war in her country. She showed us the huge barrels she fills with hand-me-down clothes and non-perishable food and then periodically sends to her village, paying the shipping fees from their family's limited funds. We had a wonderful visit. And I vowed to never complain about anything ever again. 

We also learned that her mother had come from Sierra Leone to stay with them for a year to help her with her baby. Then the sister told us that her mom was really her aunt, but her mom had been killed in the war. And this was her aunt's/mom's first time flying on an airplane. And her first time living in a home with electricity. And the first time she saw snow, it freaked her out. And she never left the house because it was so cold out. And she spoke no English. And on and on. Wow. For days after, I couldn't stop thinking about how lonely that woman must be. So we called up Sister C and asked if we could come introduce ourselves and . . . welcome her to America???

I didn't know what quite to expect, but I should have known that she would be just an older version of my sister. Happy and laughing and warm. Sister C translated for us from English to the pidgin language they speak. It was fun listening to them because we could understand a lot of the words, just not enough to make sense out of it all.  I tried to think of some way I could help this wonderful lady, but all I could think was, since you're taking care of kids all day, want to have a play date? Then the obstacle of the cold weather came up. (Cold as in, not her usual 90℉.) A-ha! I thought. I knew we had a big, heavy coat at home that had been "given" to us by a good friend. We had plenty of coats and wouldn't miss this one. Perfect.

A week or two later, I was going to be driving near Sister C's home and decided to make the drop. I put the coat in a big bag, tied it with a tie and a big card that read "To Mama T. With love, from her American sisters." I was so proud of myself. I drove to their street, parked a few houses away, then ran up to the steps. I debated if I should just leave the bag, but they live on a busy street and I didn't want someone to steal the coat. To make matters worse, they didn't have a doorbell. No problem! I'll just bang really loudly on the door until someone comes down the stairs! So I bang away, then I hear the dad shouting "Hello? Hello?" I run away and hide behind the neighbor's car. Hmmm. . . he sounds . . . angry. I run to my car, hop in, and drive by slowly to see if they got the bag. I see my friend standing at the doorway, with the most terrified look on her face. And it finally dawns on me:

Maybe it's not such a good idea to ding-dong ditch someone who's a refugee from a war-torn country in Africa. Just maybe!

I didn't know what to do. I didn't want to call the sister and explain it was me. It was supposed to be anonymous! But what if they didn't see the note? What if they thought someone was playing a trick? What if they were mad? It was a Thursday night so I thought I'd see how they acted Sunday at church and explain myself if I had to.

Saturday night, I'm out with a friend. I get a voice mail from Sister C. She thanks me for the visit. She says her mom really appreciated it. Then she mentions that someone left a coat on their doorstep, and that, at first, they were all really scared because . . . 


Oh . . . my . . . stars. I am an idiot.

In the end, the mom was very grateful for the coat.  I fessed up and said it was from me so I could apologize profusely for my cultural insensitivity. 

But a BOMB?!!

So as I've spread seeds of fear throughout the suburbs of New Jersey, I've learned so many things.

1. The only reason I had struggled at first to make friends in my branch was because (dramatic pause) it wasn't full of people exactly like me!

2. If you're lonely or feeling down, go find someone to help. Problem solved.

3. Ding-dong ditching is only fun and socially acceptable, if you've always lived somewhere where you always feel safe, where you know your neighbors, and where there isn't a FREAKING CIVIL WAR raging. 

Life lessons learned.