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Christ the King Church in Stoneridge, NY has a pop-up fund-raising Afghan meal every third Thursday of the month. Food is prepared by a resettled Afghan family. Reserve from a menu on the website: https://www.ctkstoneridge.org





Must living in peace - so fervently wished for throughout human history and yet enjoyed in only a few parts of the world - inevitably result in refusing to share it with those seeking refuge, defending it instead so aggressively that it almost looks like war?


-Jenny Erpenbeck, "Go, Went, Gone"



The asylees and refugees arrived for a  CV clinic. I could imagine my refugee parents in that room pulling an old suitcase with all their belongings, speaking in a foreign tongue, all their valuable dog-eared, well-fingered documents neatly held in a small satchel, the sorrow of family and friends left behind visible in their gestures and facial expressions. I was there, and I am here, because the United States took them in, a lifeline.  


I had volunteered that day because I wanted to do something useful after the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, strengthened restrictions at our southern border, and the backlash against refugees and asylees in the EU, the US, and now Canada where migrants are pressing for entry. New York State shares a 5,525 mile border with Canada, the longest international border in the world; our problem becomes their problem. With this week's treaty signing, Biden and Trudeau are in concert: we will share firefighters during a wildfire season, as we did on the Minnewaska Ridge last summer, and we'll send illegal migrants back to their first port of entry into the United States.


I have two cousins who began their lives in Canada because the refugee agency placed them there, separating the family. This happens a lot, even today, or even more so today. My husband and I mentored Nathan, a young Tamil man from Sri Lanka. His family was displaced during the Civil War after his father was killed. Nathan and his mother and sister fled, eventually reaching a refugee camp in Tamil-speaking South India. Because he was young and fit, Nathan was sent to America to work and study by the UNHCR; his mother and sister were sponsored by relatives in Canada. But Nathan had been granted asylum in the United States, which meant that he could not request asylum in any other country. "At least we are close enough to visit," he told us during one of our last visits before we moved upstate. His mother's promise to find him a bride could be easily fulfilled from within the Tamil community in North America.


At the CV clinic, I was matched with a young man from the Arab-speaking world whose father and uncle had been killed in a civil war. His schooling had been interrupted, his family scattered, many killed; his mother was missing and assumed kidnapped. I didn't get the full story; that wasn't my job. I had to find a way to create a one-page CV quickly so that he could find an internship or volunteer position while awaiting asylum, which can take years. This meant using my interviewing and rewriting skills. The CV he presented needed a lot of work. It was challenging to figure out what experience might be applicable and how to present it.


The young man has to be nameless here—asylum is not guaranteed, and deportation is always a possibility—but suffice to say he was sophisticated, educated, a former competitive swimmer and marathon runner, easy to work with—eager like most young people are—to complete his education and remake his life. I enjoyed myself, enjoyed getting to know him, enjoyed helping him. I am a swimmer, too, so that was our first touching point. Many others followed. It takes a village and this young man has lost his through no fault of his own. Now, he was rebuilding connection, however fragile.


He is one of many. In 2022, 103 million people were displaced. Each and every one are protected by international law, protocols and conventions, a set of guidelines on the treatment of people fleeing natural disaster, war, or persecution. Migrants, refugees, asylees, all have varying definitions in law, but, in essence, all the labels describe people on the move, people who have had to flee their homes against their will. Alas, laws, even international laws, do not guarantee humane treatment.


Small, mostly privately funded community resettlement programs are working in the United States, and the Afghan Circle in the Mid-Hudson Valley is hosting seven families, for example, but without government funding, they are struggling to raise funds through donations, fund raisers, and micro-grants. 


No atrocity, war, or civil war and subsequent migration happens in isolation from the flow of world events, particularly colonialism in all its past and present iterations. No flood or famine occurs in isolation from global climate change. What is our responsibility and what isn't? Some people feel the world's woes keenly, some are insular and apathetic. The call to duty, donation, or volunteerism is for every person to answer individually according to their own conscience.


Note: In the United States, the major difference between refugees and asylees is the location of the person at the time of application. Refugees are usually outside of the United States when they are screened for resettlement, whereas asylum seekers submit their applications while they are physically present in the United States or at a U.S. port of entry. Refugees and asylees also differ in admissions process used and agencies responsible for reviewing their application.



Volunteer opportunities in my community are listed below. Please add yours in the comments:









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Duck and Cover; America's First Lockdown Drills

 Bert the Turtle



When danger threatened him, he never got hurt. He knew just what to do.


-Bert the Turtle



In 1950 Mayor William O'Dwyer announced a plan to protect New York City school children, not from active shooters, but from the atomic bomb. The plan—which continued for a decade—included the use of the basements of school buildings as air raid and/or fall-out shelters. Teachers handed out a booklet: "STAY CALM," it said in big red letters. And it showed a picture of a little boy and a little girl smiling and staying calm.


A year later, the Federal Civil Defense Administration released a cartoon, a record album, and a book featuring Bert the Turtle, who ducked as soon as he saw a "flash of light" and then covered his head and neck with his arms, against a wall, or under a table. At least once a week at noon, an air raid siren would go off. This was the signal for students to slide under their desks and "duck and cover."  Sometimes, there were  "sneak attack drills." "Drop," the teacher would say, and students had to drop under their desks.


Dog tags were given out in the second week of October each year. "Just in time for Halloween," our teacher said, cheerily. "You can dress up as soldiers." Modeled after military dog tags, they were made of a lightweight aluminum, stamped with each child's name, address and phone number. With their long chains, they dangled right down to our belly buttons.


What fun! In the event of a catastrophe, we could be easily identified, just like on a battlefield.


Or could we? Wouldn't the aluminum be incinerated?


I rushed home in a panic on those sneak attack drill days, which my parents, who were refugees, said reminded them of war. My mother, a psychiatrist, went to speak to the principal. "These drills are not good for the children," she said. "America is at peace. Let the children live in peace."


Like all parents everywhere, and throughout time, a committee was formed. A minister's wife, Mrs. W.H. Melish, mother of two, formed the Parents' Committee to Safeguard Children From War Tension in the School. "Dear Parent," she wrote in a letter circulated widely and subsequently published in the New York Times. "Were you shocked when your children came home and reported that they had A-bomb air raid drills? Is your child one of those who is waking up in terror because of these drills?"


The newspaper of record then went on to report Mrs. Melish's address in Brooklyn, insuring harassment by irate citizens. Some accused her of being a communist.


I am sure the principal was polite when my mother was escorted into her office, but her admonitions, based on her professional assessment, went unheeded. The nonsensical, pointless drills were mandated by the government, a government that had unleashed an atomic bomb on a civilian population—the first and only time so far—and  knew full well what it could do: evaporate us. No wonder so many suburban families were building bomb shelters in their back yards. Magical thinking, we'd say today.


These memories came back to me recently when Putin threatened the use of tactical nuclear weapons. Well, just tactical, the pundits reassure us. This is not another Cold War, it is something else, perhaps worse: a geopolitical realignment. More damage is being done to Ukraine by the continuous pummeling of infrastructure with "conventional" weapons, so why worry about nukes? But the missiles cannot see the children down there, and even if they did, what would it matter? The war continues regardless, with no end in sight.


Because so many Ukrainians have evacuated and are living in exile, it's easy to forget that many remain, including children, who are forced into air raid shelters when a siren sounds, often in the middle of the school day. They sing, or continue with their lessons, they move quietly in well-disciplined lines, and sometimes they cry, the reporters on the ground tell us. They may emerge from their shelters unscathed, or they may not, as in Mariupol. Or their wounds may remain invisible for years to come. Their fathers are mostly soldiers now and will return with their own wounds, or in body bags. Their mothers are sustaining life away from the front lines as best they can until they, too, have to take shelter.


Grown-ups usually have well-intentioned plans, but they can't always protect their children. Survival in a war zone is day-to-day. Even in schools in a safe-enough country, such as the United States, there is a war mentality. With lockdown drills and school shootings, our schools have become war zones. The absolute safety of our children during the school day is an illusion.


There was a fallout shelter where my friend Diane lived. A yellow and black radiation sign was tacked to the front of her building. One day we persuaded the building superintendent to let us see it. Though these shelters had been de-commissioned, many were still intact. This one contained: dark gray metal cans without labels, jars of peanut butter, dried fruit, jugs of spring water, tinned candies, tinned cigarettes, cots and blankets, candles, a table and chairs, a radio, a gasoline lantern, a gasoline stove and a large medicine kit filled with Band-Aids and iodine.


Diane wanted to stay and play, but I said no. I was scared. The shelter was a tomb.


"You kids," the superintendent said affectionately as he escorted us back upstairs. "Get outside into the sunshine. Jump rope or something."


So that's what we did.





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Playing It By Ear

New Paltz, NY  in Winter © copyright Carol Bergman 2023


Playing It By Ear


  But to tolerate uncertainty is to  become buoyant, able to bob in the waves, no matter the tide.


Lydia Polgreen, NY Tines Opinion, 10/26/22



It's a strange idiom, one I rarely use—playing it by ear—but today, as I write, it is my birthday and I have been looking forward to driving up the mountain to have dinner with my daughter. She called last night when I was in the midst of a Zoom meeting. I excused myself and took the call; I always answer my daughter's calls. And we compared our weather apps. Snow is predicted on all of them, how much, whether the temperature will go up or down is all unpredictable, despite modern technology. Driving home would be all downhill, so best be cautious, we decided. We postponed our get-together until tomorrow after the dig out, plowing and sanding. But we'll still have to "play it by ear," just in case there's a shift in the wind, or the roads are still too slippery to travel.


That idiom—playing it by ear—has  stayed with me all morning.  I find it difficult to change plans and bob with the waves, to improvise, ad-lib or extemporize, which is strange because all writing—all  creative endeavor—is a form of improvisation. The page or canvas is blank, and we fill it with words or images that surface within us, often mysteriously.


I didn't know what I was going to write about this week, which is unusual for me, until my daughter said, "let's play it by ear." That set me to bobbing all day in the waves of life's exigencies.  I'm about to begin  another Young Adult novel, so I'm reading a lot and taking notes. I've written one page I think is viable, but I am not certain. And I'm slow-reading a biography of Peter the Great by Robert K. Massie, every sentence of which is fascinating and enjoyable to contemplate. The seeds of today's horrific war in Ukraine are in 17th century Russia. I will continue to write about that conflict until it ends, and we don't know how it will end. Uncertainty once again.


Slow-reading nonfiction big books began for me during lockdown. I'd always been a fast reader, goal-oriented, reading less for pleasure than information and as a writer studying what makes a book work, or not. But as life's activities suspended and there were more hours in each day to read, write, and think, I became more attentive to my eyes moving across the page, as though they were vehicles. The sensation of being transported into another time and place was almost surreal; it took me away from the sad reality of the pandemic. I have continued the practice. Massie's book is 800 pages, and it is the first of four in his Romanov series. Catherine the Great is already on the TBR stack.


Once a month I meet with what I have started calling my very special, advanced city writing workshop—Sherry, Ed, Betty Leigh, Eric and Max.  Much has transpired for all of us since we shifted to Zoom, and adapted to it, in the spring of 2020, including the tragic death from Covid of Ed's partner, Jody.  Yet, even after this terrible event, our get togethers remained focused, engaged, and supportive, full of warmth, humor, and improvised conversation. I dedicate this blog post to all of these particular, wonderful students, with gratitude.

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Owls for Peace

Barred Owl photo © copyright by Michael Gold 2023 with permission


Owls for Peace



The Lenape Indians believed that if they dreamt of an Owl it would become their guardian.


-The Owl Pages



The owl was sitting quietly on the branch of a tree as my photographer friend, Michael Gold, was on his way to the gym very early one morning. It was still deep winter, and cold, but he got out of his car and took pictures with his phone. Later that day, when he posted the image of the owl on his Facebook page, I unexpectedly felt both wonder and joy, a respite from the focus of most of my writing life. I hadn't read the paper yet, or listened to any podcasts. I didn't need any reports about whole towns destroyed in Ukraine, Syria and Turkey to know that whole towns had been destroyed in Ukraine, Syria and Turkey.


In our daily lives, we may not be at war, but we are not always wise, and we are very often unkind.  So eager are we for the restitution of warm connection since three years of masking and insurrection, that when a young man on line at the local bakery tells his girlfriend he loves her, everyone turns and smiles.


Often, then, if we are attentive, patient, perhaps too imaginative, something surprising happens that eases our worry: Polar bears are surviving, or there is a cease fire in Ukraine, or the end to a trade war with China, or release of a migrant from detention, or the demonstrations in Iran and Israel against despotic regimes succeed in toppling those regimes. Or, it could be something micro-cosmic, immediate and real: the moment love begins, the mountain air freshened by wind, or an owl sitting peacefully in a tree.


Dedicated to my Palestinian cousins, still living under an increasingly violent occupation, and the brave Israelis demonstrating against their government.

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