As we slowly pulled into the lot the first thing I noticed was the police car. It could have been a coincidence. Just a routine drive through the neighborhood most likely but my heart sank a bit as I thought to myself, “Please keep them safe. Please let them be treated kindly.”
We climbed the open, outdoor staircase and knocked on the door. As the father pulled open the door we were led into a clean, sparsely furnished apartment. The lights were dim. The place was quiet. My friend, Stefani, shook hands with the father. I followed behind. The mother appeared from around the corner. A huge smile across her face. And then little ones slowly made their way into the living room. The boys in their best khaki outfits. The girls in lovely dresses. Stefani and I trying to blink back tears of emotion at their gesture of being so dressed up for their photographs.
At first, we had all eight of them bundle up. I thought the lighting would be better outside. But somehow as I clicked away, I realized that to cover up their outfits was a shame. No these pictures wouldn’t be the ones. We would make do with the light inside.
With coats set aside and everyone gathered in the kitchen, I snapped away at their family. Two parents. Six children. And I tried to make sense of what I had been told about them. Left their home in the middle of the night to escape civil war violence. Spent six years in a refugee camp waiting to come to America. Six years.
When I was done with the whole family. I took pictures of the parents. So beautifully regal in the way they looked into the camera.
After the parents, I snapped pictures of each child. They were reluctant at first but then the littlest one came forward in her long white dress with the little pink flowers. She encouraged her brother to get in on the photography shoot. They were precious. Holding hands. Posing unabashedly for the camera. I wanted to reach out and just bundle them up in my arms.
The older ones. The almost teenagers. Were shyer. More self-concious. And yet, despite their efforts to stay reserved, the camera captured their personalities. A shy one. An outgoing one. One of mature beauty. And a littler one, not quite sure about himself…yet.
The eldest children said they went to the nearby middle school. I thought, “Please, please let them be treated well.”
We shook their hands and said good-bye. Stefani promised to be back soon with framed copies of the photographs.
On the car ride home, my dear friend explained to me that within 30 days of moving to the United States, all of the children must be enrolled in school. The parents, usually the father, have about 8-9 months to find regular employment. The organization she works for, Lutheran Community Services, helps support refugee families like this one through their arduous transition of settling in the United States.
I tried to comprehend what it must be like to move to a foreign country, to learn a new language, a new school system, a new culture and find employment all in one year’s time. I thought of the things on my To Do list that had been languishing on there for not just a year…but years. Fix broken window in living room. Put photos of kids in photo albums. It’s almost embarrassing to type that. They are extremely trivial in comparison.
And so, while I can write and say the words – Violence, Civil-War Unrest, Refugee Camp – I can’t really know what it is to experience them. No. Not really.
But I can know what it feels like to look into their eyes. To be taken away by their beauty. To want desperately for them to be treated well. To want to gather up the little ones and hug them. To be overcome with emotion by a long white dress with little pink flowers.
And I can know on some level, that the dinner I’m cooking for my family….this simple little dinner of shrimp and pasta…is a privilege to be able to cook in my own kitchen. And it is a privilege to sit around our worn kitchen table. In safety. Eating our meal together.
And I can know what is is like to hope that this family of eight…that I had the privilege of photographing…can now sit around the safety of their own kitchen table and do the same thing.
Garlic Shrimp with Spaghetti
I love this dish. So fast. Perfect for a weeknight. I use frozen shrimp for this. I find that I use a lot of frozen seafood in the winter. Many times frozen seafood, once thawed, is fresher than the “fresh” fish at your grocery store especially when the seafood was frozen soon after being caught. I have made this with bow-tie pasta and penne but my favorite pasta with this are the longer types – spaghetti, spaghettini, fettucine and so forth. And I must insist on one thing…that you use fresh Italian parsley. It is easy to find in the grocery store (or perhaps your garden) and lasts a long time in your crisper especially if you wrap it in a paper towel.
1/2 lb spaghetti
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined (dethaw, if frozen)
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 c reserved pasta water
juice from 1/2 a large lemon
1/4 c chopped Italian parsley
salt and pepper, to taste
grated parmesan cheese
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Sprinkle in some salt and then, drop in your spaghetti. Cook 8-10 minutes or according to directions on packaging.
Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add your olive oil and butter and heat until butter is melted. Drop in your garlic and cook for about 1 minute. Add in your shrimp and saute over medium heat 4-5 minutes or until the shrimp has turned pink all over.
(For some reason typing that just now made me think of the riddle: What is black and white and red all over? A Newspaper. Ha! Ha! But I digress…)
By this time your pasta should be done. Before draining it, scoop out a 1/2 c of the pasta water and set aside. Then, go ahead and drain your pasta.
Once the shrimp has finished cooking, add your 1/2 c of reserved pasta water, the lemon juice, parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Maybe 1/2 tsp of salt…1/4 tsp of pepper… Then, stir gently to combine.
I like to put the pasta in a large pasta bowl and pour the shrimp over the top. Then I gently toss everything together making sure to coat the spaghetti with the delicious garlicky-lemon sauce. Scoop up into individual bowls and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Yum….
Note: If you have an 11-year old who loves shrimp like I do and he is first in line to serve himself up….make sure you let him know that he has a 6 shrimp ration. Otherwise he will take up to 12 or 15, leaving only a few meager ones to be split between the remaining four members of his family.
Yield: Serves 4…but in our house, it serves 5 since the Kindergartner eats like a bird…..
Spring is Springing
I just adore the work of clay artist, Rae Dunn. Her pottery always catches my eye. And today was no different. I happened to come across her post announcing her new spring plates. Adorable. You’ll have to check them out here.
Organizing Project Progress
The bags to be donated are still in our entryway. We are just stepping around them. They don’t seem to be bothering anyone.
All original text and photographs copyright: Carrie Minns 2009-2011