One thing that I will never be able to match is the immense generosity and hospitality of the Rohingya people. Every time I am visiting a family, they welcome me into their homes with a feast awaiting me. It’s like Thanksgiving.
I arrive with nothing but some photos of their family members and a couple copies of my Picture Dictionary. They’re the ones who are pulling out all the stops — cooking large feasts, washing my hands, bringing out a fan to cool me off from the heat.
Today was no exception. It was the first time I met my friend’s mother. She stepped out of the home and warmly embraced me. We sat next to each other and I was handed a phone.
“Sophie?? Are you with my mother now??”
I put the phone up to my ear.
“Yes, yes I am!”
Excited squeals came on the other end of the phone. She was calling her daughters to join the phone call.
I couldn’t hear much after that, just a lot of excited shouts and “thank you, thank you!” exclamations. I handed the phone off to her mother. She held my hand as she spoke with her daughter in the phone.
That moment for me was surreal. To be seated next to a woman who was speaking to her daughter — a girl who is thousands of miles away and an ocean apart. She continued to hold my hand as she spoke to her daughter who she will most likely never see again in person.
I pulled out the photo album I brought with pictures of her daughter and grandchildren. I explained what life was like for them in the United States. The neighbors crowded around as the pictures are passed around and stories are shared. It’s my favorite part of a reunion — watching them point to people in the photos, say their name, and talk about their memories with them. A photo sent through a WhatsApp message is nice. But a printed photo is something tangible and timeless. It’s something that can be passed around and shared for years to come. It’s something that I always carry with me and bring along to share with others.
We step into their home to see an entire feast prepared for us. It wasn’t a one course meal, not a two course meal, it was a full 3.5 course meal. The 0.5 is the small coffee and Happy Tea break in between courses. We can’t forget that. We also can’t forget the 12 different curries and traditional dishes they prepared. We can’t forget about the fact that I had to try every single thing — non-stop eating.
I am constantly blown away by the immense generosity and love shown towards me from these Rohingya families. The time spent with them is so valuable. I am honored to share a meal in the same room as these incredible people with powerful stories. They continue to teach me about love and how no outside power could ever tear apart their families. In the chaos of it all, they still hold onto the single most valuable thing — family.