Saturday, January 2, 2010

Is That All You've Got?

I mentioned in my New Year's post that work has been getting me down.  If I'd been writing this a month ago I would have said that I despised my job.  I would have mentioned that the only thing keeping me at my job is that every Sunday when I begged Joel to let me put in my 2 weeks notice the next Monday morning he asked me just to stick it out until he had a stable job teaching.  And for a while I really thought I hated it!  Lately things have been better, but I think it's been more a result of my change in perspective rather than anything different at work.

It's not that I don't care about my job. Far from it!  I am very happy to be back working with a resettlement agency, because it is such important work, and being active in the global community is really important to me.  But as a job developer, sometimes I feel like I am being asked to do the impossible, as though I am the very last chance for our refugees to make it in this world. They have come here from circumstances that most Americans can't even begin to wrap our brains around, and their resettlement here is supposedly a compassionate response--Welcome to America, the Land of Opportunity! Yet instead they find themselves here in Houston, living in apartments infested with bed bugs and vagrants, trapped in government assistance programs that at times hardly pay enough to cover their rent and tick like a time bomb while they race to learn English and fight the ever-widening job pool of qualified Americans for a job that pays minimum wage!

Every day I have a case manager come to me with their sad story, about a single mom or family with 7 kids or a disabled patriarch. They advocate for their clients, fight to keep them in the forefront of my mind as I petition employers and sweet-talk HR directors. Daily I am asked if I have anything for someone who doesn't speak any English and I find myself laughing in their faces (unprofessional, I know, but what else do I do to keep from crying?). And every person that we fail to aid in the integration process, every person that fails to find a job and every family that ends up on the street is my own personal nightmare--someone that came here promised the world and that I let down. And then I have dreams at night, dreams that master those moments where I could have done more. After one such dream I even offered our spare bedroom to my resettlement director (another of my wild schemes that my crazy and adoring husband accepted without question) but he refused.

Sure, I know there are a lot of aspects that go into a person's transition here to the United States. I know there are a million different factors that can make them fail or succeed. I know every interaction from volunteers, caseworkers, neighbors, and friends helps along the way. I know their ability to grasp English, prior education, and the effort they put into going to class make a huge difference. I know their character, personality, presentation, determination, and sheer good luck each contribute to their process of starting over here. But somehow, it all seems to culminate in finding that job, and that is where I come in. The measure of their success starts and ends with me!

Maybe I feel it strongly because I've been a stranger in a new country where people wondered what the heck I was doing there (even though technically, they were the ones that brought me there). At times they could even be hostile! But at the same time, I never worried that we wouldn't make it. There no one registers for food stamps or medicaid and then has to wait months to receive said "benefits" (and here we stumble across yet another example of my favorite pet peeve, that is, the way our language is used to isolate and alienate at-risk populations so that the "average American" just can't relate, widening the gaps in our society that much further...who does it really "benefit" to receive a measly TANF payment that only helps your family sink further into poverty? just like identifying undocumented workers and immigrant as "illegal aliens" evokes imagery of crazed little green men in space suits trying to take over our entire country! sorry, long aside...I won't go into it further right now...). Anyway, in Mauritania, people help each other out. Even the strangers.  The few occasions where Joel and I were having a tight month, friends and neighbors stepped in by lending us money and inviting us to meals.  There is no massive bureaucratic sinkhole that sucks in the unfortunate never to be seen or heard from again! Not that the Mauritanian government (aka military) has things better figured out than we do, seeing as they tend to screw up pretty much anything they get involved in. Maybe that is the point?....

Ok, so I'm starting to ramble a little bit.  All I really wanted to say was that although my job makes me exhausted, stressed-out and frustrated, I don't hate it, at least not anymore.  I am constantly at a loss of what to do with the college-educated, professionally-experienced clients we have that can't seem to manage to land anything better than a manufacturing job.  And I'm at a loss of how to show employers that hiring these clients is not a social service, but a wise business move.  And I'm also at a loss of how to show my other co-workers that I am not here to compete against them, which seems to be the current mode of operation, but that I'd really love it if we could work together!!

I should point out that my job is something that I've been really grateful for. Not only was it a huge blessing just to find employment of any kind in order to keep a roof over our heads, but this job is an engaging and also laid back (most of the times :o) environment full of coworkers that I have grown to really appreciate and like! I love hearing the different languages circulating through the office, especially trying to pick up what I can of the Arabic that I hear.  I get to learn about different cultures every day.  And some of my only friends in Houston are from my work, and it helps to not feel so lonely all the time!

My goal for this year is to be better at my job, which means finding more jobs (the economy could help with this if it would just get its act together!).  Also to keep from being isolated, which has been hard to avoid in a new place with Joel working whenever I am not.  But I tend to keep a better perspective when I'm surrounded by people to keep me in line, and to keep me from obsessing (and being depressed) about situations at work.  So I'm going into 2010 with a new attitude, and I'm bouncing back.  Is that all you've got, YMCA?

Friday, January 1, 2010

Ringing in the New Year...

New Year's Eve.  A celebration full of fun, anticipation, good times with friends, and excitement over a fresh start in the year to come!  And I made it to approximately 11:50pm last night before falling asleep. 

Don't get me wrong.  2009 was a big year (even if it went out as a bit of a flop).  I look forward to 2010 being even bigger, if for completely different reasons.  But by 11:50 last night I could completely relate with old man 2009, staggering along barely even caring that baby 2010 was about to be born!  Because I am completely exhausted!  I feel like the last few months I've been living like a person in a coma, and I have no idea what has been going on around me.

I attempted to write a blog about it, which turned into my personal memoirs, so I'll just summarize some of it here, and maybe post the rest in subsequent entries (not for the faint of heart).

In short, 2009 was a marathon that left me exhausted.  In 2009 I managed to hit 7 different countries, crossed the Atlantic 6 times, finished up some major projects in Mauritania (including getting my theater club en brusse and helping with several murals), saw my roommate get married, had a whirlwind COS, said goodbye to dear friends both Mauritanian and American without promise of ever seeing them again, travelled back and forth from Texas and Wheaton 6 or 7 times, unpacked all of our belongings, repacked them all, drove to Houston, unpacked everything again, started a new job which drives me absolutely crazy, watched my husband re-start an old job at the Dirty Bird which also drives me crazy because it keeps him out most nights, and I lost my cat--whom I love and still makes me sad! (did I mention she also traversed the Atlantic Ocean, 3 different countries, and 9 different states only to disappear during a Texas thunderstorm, never to be seen again).  I was also here for the birth of a new niece and a nephew, and in September came down with a bug of my own that I've been dealing with ever since! 

There is probably more that I am forgetting, and even though I didn't make it to midnight last night, I did spend today day hiding out in my apartment deciding what the next decade will look like.  So I came up with a couple of resolutions for the year: 

--Find a place in Houston that recycles so we can finally empty out the trunk of our car that has been accumulating paper and cardboard for the last 4 months.  Yes, I live in the least environment-friendly city in the country. 

--Not belittle david (or others, but mostly david I think) for doing things that I do myself (such as make new year's resolutions...)

--Gain 20lbs (Hooray for Heman!!!!!)

--Be a better wife, a better daughter, a better mother (can you be better at something you've never been before?), a better friend, sibling, and coworker

--Last but certainly not the easiest: find and record 1 reason per week to appreciate where I'm at and what I am doing (current state of mind-this is going to be tough)

Well, those are my resolutions.  Feel free to call me on them and keep me on track!  Especially if you know a convenient place for me to recycle.  A girl can only have so much cardboard furniture!!

Bring it on, 2010.