Saturday, December 27, 2008


by Pa Rock

My friend Benson is a senior airman in the Air Force. She is a mental health technician in the unit where I work. Benson was born in the Philippines and arrived in the United States after residing for awhile in Canada. She recently received her United States' citizenship.

Occasionally Benson and her husband, Bobby, and their housemate, Jeremy, drag me out of my apartment to share an adventure. We have been to a couple of very good plays and also taken in the activities of two First Fridays in downtown Phoenix. Last night was another Benson adventure.

Benson (her given name is Giovanna - which is very pretty, but she goes by Odessa - which is very Texas) plans on becoming a social worker. To strengthen that effort she does volunteer work that will eventually shine on a resume. Benson is currently a volunteer with the International Rescue Committee, an organization that helps refugees get established in this country. She is a sponsor for a large family from Burundi.

Last night Benson had plans to take her refugee family to see the Christmas lights in Glendale. I got invited to go along because she wants to get me involved with the IRC and figured that some first-hand involvement would get me hooked. She also needed an extra car and driver to get her trip on the road.

I arrived at Benson's half-an-hour early and played with their dogs (or did the dogs play with me?) while she and Bobby and Jeremy got ready. They were wrapping some last minute holiday gifts for the family from Burundi, and Bobby was experimenting with their new camera - something that would become an important part of the evening to come. When things were finally organized, we convoyed over to the apartment of the refugees.

The Burundi family was delightful. The father, Emanuel, and the mother, Justina, appeared to be about the age of my children. They had five children (four boys and a girl) ranging in age from twelve down to around two). They had arrived in Arizona several months before from Burundi by way of a few years in Tanzania. Getting into their home required hugging everyone and shaking several hands. We were immediately offered some non-alcoholic cider that was shortly followed up a large hot and spicy omelet prepared for the group. I passed on the cider, but accepted a portion of omelet for the specific purpose of not offending our hosts. It was delicious!

The excessive holiday lights of old town Glendale were a hit, especially with the kids. Every palm tree (a couple of which had to be sixty feet tall) had their trunks wrapped in colored lights, and many had their fronds outlined in lights as well. Every building and bush was also aglitter. The kids eagerly posed everywhere and then crowded around Bobby to see their digital images on his camera. Before the evening ended, we stopped in a local cafe and had hot chocolate for ten.

I think that Benson has sold me on the International Rescue Committee. It was obvious that she and Bobby - and Jeremy - were getting as much out of the experience as their Burundi family. Everybody was benefiting, and everybody was happy!

It was a beautiful evening.

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