The (supposedly) Greener Grass on the Other Side

Burma, Rohingya, Thailand, USA

“He was the single most hopeful person I have ever met…”

If I was Toby Maguire, those would’ve been the words I used to describe Leonardo DiCaprio in The Great Gatsby. Jay Gatsby, the man who had “an extraordinary gift for hope” and possessed a “heightened sensitivity to the promises of life…” (Fitzgerald).

But I’m not Toby Maguire. Not even close. Somehow, when I heard him speak those words in the film, they resonated with me. Every time I hear this quote, I can’t stop thinking about a boy who happens to be the single most hopeful person I have ever met: Siphul.

I mentioned Siphul in my previous post. He is the 12-year-old Rohingya boy who intrigues, inspires, and challenges me. His award-winning smile sparks joy. His laughter triggers excitement. But most of all, his enthusiasm ignites hope.

Hope for a better life. Hope for a better future. Hope for a sense of belonging.

If there’s a way to sum up Siphul in one sentence, Toby Maguire (or, I guess the screenwriter of the film) has already nailed it.

“He was the single most hopeful person I have ever met…”

It hit me one day when I was sitting next to him, watching him write his name in his new book I just gave him. He stopped, put down his pencil, and looked up at me with wide eyes filled with excitement.

“Teacher! When do you go to America?”
“I go back in 6 months.”

“Whoa!” He sat there and stared into the distance for a second, thinking of what he was going to say.

“Teacher! American men say I come to America in 6 months! 2 months finish, I get passport. I go to America. I see teacher! I study in American school. I speak English! Yes, yes, yes!”

I was really surprised when I heard this…I also had no idea what to believe. You never know what’s true when you’re speaking to a 12-year-old who’s escaped a horrific past and is barely holding on, trying to learn 3 languages at the same time.

“Whoa, really? Who spoke to you?” I answered.

“Teacher, in 3 months, my friend go to America. In 6 months, I go to America. American men say. They say I go to America. America is my new home.”

As he was saying this, several of his other friends came into the classroom. Hearing the word, “America,” they jumped up and down and shouted, “Yes, yes! We go to America, teacher! Same same! We go to America!”

Then they ran over, grabbed my hands, and started dancing with me, singing their favorite song I taught them, “Don’t worry! Be happy!”

I pretended to be excited with them, but deep down I had this nagging feeling that they’re having high hopes for something that will ever happen.

It’s difficult to be realistic with the most hopeful boys I’ve ever met. And why shouldn’t they be hopeful? They’ve had everything taken away from them. The only thing they can really hold onto is hope, so why should I take it away from them?

Instead, I did some research on my own. I tried to contact several embassies, asking them about the Rohingya refugee resettlement status. Luckily enough, we had two workers from UNICEF visit the school to meet with me talk about the Rohingya students. I asked them about the Rohingya being resettled in America. Their words were exactly as I feared. They said it is close to nearly impossible, knowing the American resettlement process (Dangit, ‘MURICA!). Even if it was possible, they will be stuck in Thailand for at least a couple more years. But they will never make it to America. If they will be resettled, it will most likely be somewhere closer, like Malaysia.

When I heard these words, I didn’t know what these boys would say if they found out; if their hopes and dreams were crushed. The next day, we spent time in class talking about different countries. I showed the students videos of America, Argentina, South Africa, Australia, and Germany. All the students were excited to compare the different countries, but when I had Siphul speak up in class, all he said was, “Teacher, I want to see the Statue of Liberty. Freedom. I want.”

I looked over to see that he had drawn the Statue of Liberty all over his notebook and wrote “My New Home” next to his American flag. It broke my heart to see that. I know that we always think that the grass is always greener on the other side. For someone like Siphul, there is no grass on his side. He’s in a desert. There is only grass on the other side. He doesn’t care what kind of grass; he just knows that there is grass. There is hope somewhere. To him, that somewhere is America; only America.

It’s like stealing candy from a child; telling Siphul about the realistic aspects of refugee resettlement. I don’t want to take away the only happiness he thinks he has found. It wouldn’t be fair.

I only hope that I am wrong and Siphul’s words of hope will be proven true when he receives his passport and hops on that plane to America.

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