Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Everywhere Immigrants Have Enriched"

This poem is spillover from the October 6, 2020 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] erulisse, [personal profile] readera, rix_scaedu, and Anonymous. It also fills the "Costume Malfunction" square in my 10-1-20 card for the Fall Festival Bingo. This poem has been sponsored by a pool with [personal profile] fuzzyred, [personal profile] ng_moonmoth, [personal profile] janetmiles, and [personal profile] mama_kestrel. It belongs to the Rutledge thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

"Everywhere Immigrants Have Enriched"

[Sunday, October 5, 2014]

Gideon Wheeler was working
the front desk in the lobby of
Family Business Rest when
Elry Richards came in.

Gideon glanced over at
the Syrians lounging on
the couches in the lobby,
who seemed fine for now.

"What can I do for you,
Elry?" asked Gideon.

"I'm hoping that you can
find me some folks in need
of work," Elry said. "All of
my summer help declined
to stay on, and I need people
to handle fall rush and holidays."

Elry and his wife Lenore ran
Green Mountain Yard & Garden,
which shifted through the seasons
to meet different shopping needs.

Right now they were selling fall bulbs,
autumn-themed holiday decorations,
apples, pears, pumpkins, and squash.
In December, they would switch to
winter-themed decorations, wreaths,
and balled or cut Christmas trees.

"What kind of work?" Gideon said.
"Most of the Syrians who speak
English or French are educated,
and most of the outdoor workers
don't speak either local language."

"That's just it," Elry said. "Mostly
what I need seasonal help for is
basic fetch-and-carry. You don't
need a common language for that."

He pointed to the Syrians. "You."
He mimed lifting something. "Carry."
He pointed at the couch. "That."
He waved a hand at the wall. "Here."

Instantly the children bailed off the couch.
Two men grabbed it and hustled it over
to Elry, giving him a questioning look.

"Yes, right here," he said as he
pointed at the floor nearby.

They put the couch down
against the wall beside him.

"Good job," Elry said, giving
them two thumbs up. "You guys
just earned a seat in the van."

He motioned for the men
to sit down, and they sat.

One man was sturdy with
short hair. Ghazwan,
that was his name.

The other was taller with
a ponytail hanging over
his leather jacket. Dabeer
was an activist driven out
of several countries.

"You brought the van?"
Gideon asked Elry. "Isn't
that a bit much? How many
people are you hiring?"

The garden center had
a van that they used for
bringing customers to
gardening classes or
taking employees and
their equipment to yards,
but the thing was huge.

"Yeah, it seats fourteen
besides the driver, so that's
how many applicants I want
to take for Lenore to sort,"
said Elry. "We'll hire five."

Gideon looked around at
the Syrians in the lobby.

There were at least
a couple dozen of them,
but most were women
and children, not men.

"I'm not sure you could
find fourteen applicants here,"
Gideon said. "Do you want
me to use the intercom for
a job call? You'd get mobbed."

"Mobbed is good," Elry said.
"I can do a rough sort here,
plus the practicals back at
the garden center, and then
Lenore will pick the best."

"Okay, I'll pass the word,"
Gideon said. "People here
can help call their friends."

"I'll call for an interpreter,"
Elry said, taking out his phone.

Thank God for that. The government
had sent five interpreters for a year,
and they helped immensely, as
few of the refugees spoke
English or even French.

Gideon scanned the cluster
of Syrians again and spotted
Fariha Ragab on a couch with
her husband and three children.

They had probably come to the lobby
to show off the new baby -- Karif
was not quite two weeks old.

Fariha spoke Arabic but was
learning English, and she
was young enough to do
fairly well at it -- so young
that it made Gideon feel
uncomfortable, in fact.
She was only 17.

He would have
to take what help he
could get, though.

Gideon walked over
to the family, stopping
a respectful distance away.

"I need to spread some news,"
he said, not looking right at her.

"News?" Fariha said, looking up
from the fussy baby in her lap.

"Five jobs." Gideon held up
five fingers. "Hard work outside.
Good pay. Tell everyone, please."

Fariha chattered to her neighbors
in Arabic, then passed the baby
to her husband so she could
send some text messages.

Yusuf cuddled the baby
with expert hands, grinning
even as Karif began to squall.
Yusuf said something in Arabic.

Daddy brag needed no interpretation.

"Congratulations on your new baby,"
Gideon said. "He has healthy lungs."

Then he went back to the desk
to make his own announcement.
It was in English, but the Syrians
who understood that would pass
the word to those who could not.

Within minutes, more people --
mostly men, a few women --
poured into the lobby,
chattering in Arabic.

To pass the time while
they waited for an interpreter,
Elry brought out his smartphone
and showed people pictures of
Green Mountain Yard & Garden.

He narrated in English, and
Fariha helped by repeating
in Arabic whatever she could.

"Garden. River bed. Swale.
Pond," Elry said, tracing
the edges of the sitemap
and bringing up photos.

"Swale?" Fariha said, lost.

"It catches rain," Elry said,
making a bucket of his hands.

"Ohh," she said, fascinated.
Most of Syria stayed pretty dry,
so everyone paid attention to water.

Family Business Rest had never
had a water bill so low with
so many guests before.

"Baby trees. Meadow.
Chickens," Elry went on.

Everyone recognized chickens,
of course, and most of the women
already knew that word, too.

"Eggs!" Fariha added.

Well, eggs if you got there
bright and early, because
it wasn't a big flock and
they sold out fast. Mostly
the chickens were there
to make good fertilizer.

Noemie l'Amour arrived,
and just seeing her face
made Gideon smile.

She always made him
feel like a weight had been
lifted from his shoulders. He
would've been lost without her
to explain things to the Syrians.

"So, what's going on today?"
Noemie said brightly. "People
look so excited in here!"

"Elry needs to hire five folks
for his garden center," Gideon said.
"He's right over there showing off
some pictures of the place."

Noemie waded through
the growing crowd to ask
Elry what he needed from her.

He gave a general job description,
emphasizing that the pay started at
the minimum wage of $15 an hour
but had room to grow with promotion
if anyone showed particular talent.

Most of the garden center's staff
were either family members or
people who worked their way up
from grunt work to skilled labor.

Green Mountain Lawn & Garden
did the landscaping for a lot of
the local businesses and homes.

Then Ibrahim Khaled came into
the lobby with his two boys.

"Ibrahim, it's good to see you,"
Elry said. "You want a job?
I could use a foreman who
actually speaks English."

"Thank you, but no,"
said Ibrahim. "I already
have a plan in progress
for my career here."

Ibrahim was working
to update his certifications
so he could teach in America.

He had taught history in Syria,
and plenty of people in Rutledge
now had an interest in that. He'd
have no trouble finding a job
when he finished his certs.

The high school principal and
the dean of St. Joseph's had
both hustled him already,
just that Gideon knew of;
there might be more.

Elry, Gideon, and Noemie
all tried to get people's attention
with no success in the growing noise.

All Ibrahim had to do was raise his hands,
and the whole crowd instantly fell quiet.

"Mr. Richards has work. Miss l'Amour
will tell us about it," Ibrahim said in Arabic
and English, waving for them to go on.

"I run a garden center," Elry said,
pointing to the map on his phone.
"I need to hire five strong workers
to carry heavy things, cut and haul
trees, dig holes, and other chores."

Noemie translated that for him.

"Who wants these jobs?" Elry said.
"Please step forward. I have room
for fourteen applicants. I have
already chosen two of those."

He pointed at the men who
sat on the couch they'd moved.

"By the way, Noemie, can you
tell me their names?" Elry said.
"And make sure they know that
they're already in the running."

Noemie talked to the men,
then said, "The shorter one
is Ghazwan. The taller one
with the ponytail is Dabeer.
Ghazwan has experience in
manual labor of many kinds."

"Excellent," said Elry.
"What about Dabeer?"

"He doesn't actually speak
much Arabic," Noemie said,
frowning. "He's just learning it,
and his native language is Farsi."

Dabeer called out, and a woman
crossed the room to stand by him.

A few minutes of conversation
enlightened Noemie enough
to explain things to Elry.

"This is Dabeer's wife Almeda,"
said Noemie. "She speaks Arabic
and Farsi fluently, plus a little English
and French. She says that Dabeer
is a writer and they want to save
money for college classes."

Elry brightened at once.
"Tell Dabeer that we have
a continuing education program.
If we hire him, we'll pay full tuition
for work-related classes, or half
for anything not related to work."

Dabeer and Almeda nearly bounced
off the couch, they were so excited.

Then Elry described what he needed
from workers, with Noemie relaying that,
and he motioned people forward or back
depending on how well they fit the bill.

"I need strong hands who can work
hard all day," Elry said, watching
the Syrians shuffle themselves.
"I'm open to anyone, but I will
say that I favor breadwinners --
I know what it's like to have
a lot of mouths to feed."

"Ghazwan is single,"
Ibrahim pointed out.

"He's already earned
a seat," Elry replied.

"That's fair," Ibrahim said.

There was a woman in front
of the crowd, staying there
no matter what anyone said.

She was bareheaded, unlike
the other women, and she wore
a T-shirt with Vermont wildflowers
while everyone else wore long sleeves.

"Make sure she knows these are
outside jobs, not office jobs,"
Elry murmured to Noemie.

The interpreter glared at him.
"You think women can't do
yard work as well as men?"

"My mother would smack me
if I did, she's a better gardener
than I am," Elry said honestly.
"But the cultural awareness class
mentioned that Syrians have
more gendered roles than us."

"Point," Noemie conceded.
"I'll right, I'll talk with her."

This proved more difficult
than expected. After a minute,
Fariha's husband Yusuf came
and talked with the women.

"Okay, I think I've got this
straightened out," Noemie said.
"This is Liyan. She is Kurdish and
not really religious, rather than Muslim.
She speaks Kurmanji and a little Turkish.
Yusuf speaks Arabic, Kurmanji, and
Turkish so that may be helpful."

"Definitely helpful if he can
do the work," Elry said.
"What has he done?"

"Construction work, but
Yusuf says he'll turn
his hand to whatever's
offered," Noemie relayed.

"Now that I can use," Elry said.
"We build our own tables and
such. Also, does anyone else
speak more than one language?
That could prove useful too."

Noemie asked the crowd,
and a few hands went up.

Elry motioned them toward
the couch and then asked,
"What about Liyan? What
kind of skills does she have?"

Liyan gave a challenging smile
and curled her arms, showing off
muscles that made the old women
chitter in disapproval. She ignored
them and said something to Yusuf.

He repeated it for Noemie, who
turned and passed it to Elry.

"Liyan used to work with
relief forces helping women
displaced from their homes,"
said Noemie. "She can haul
supplies, organize things, or
put trouble on the ground."

Yusuf shook his head, putting
one hand inside the other.

"In the ground?" Noemie said.

"It was a war zone," Elry said in
a quiet tone. "Some of my relatives
are veterans. I'm glad that Liyan
could protect people." Then he
tilted his head. "Wait, how's
her aim? It never hurts to have
another vermin hunter on hand."

A short conversation later,
Noemie replied, "Liyan lost
her gun last year, but she can
hit what she aims at. She used
to hunt rabbits to feed refugees."

Elry grinned. "That'll do," he said.
"All right, you two over there."
He waved them to the couch.

"I'm glad you're convinced,"
Noemie said. "Sexism sucks."

"Honestly, I did not want to go home
to my wife with a van full of all men,
nevermind cultural awareness," Elry said.
"In fact, get me the one in back -- she's
the only other woman left standing up."

Noemie called out and pointed,
and that woman joined Liyan.

"Seating?" Gideon whispered.
"I know that van is versatile,
but not with all the seats in it,
and the other woman's Muslim."

"It has two single seats plus
the copilot seat, and two pairs,"
Elry said. "I'll let the women
pick first, then the men."

"Other qualifications?"
Noemie asked. "You still
have several seats to fill."

"This might be a long shot,
based on what I've heard
about most of the refugees
coming from cities, but does
anyone have prior experience
with plants? At all?" Elry said.

Noemie repeated the question,
and a few more people responded.

One older man carefully peeled
his son's hands off him and
settled the boy in a chair,
stepping forward alone.

"That's Bazyar and his son,
Hadis," Gideon whispered.
"The kid's a nerd, but blind."

All Gideon had heard was that
they'd gotten caught in a bombing,
which explained the awful scars.

"Well ... we'll think of something,"
said Elry. "I definitely want Bazyar
if he can still lift things, because
experience is useful on the job."

"Who typically watches Hadis
now?" Noemie wondered.

"Bazyar," said Gideon.
"He's a single parent. Hadis
adores his tutor, though. I think
that kid would study all day long
if he could. He's interested
in just about everything."

"Okay, there's an idea,"
Elry said, making a note
on his smartphone. "We
could probably chip in for
more lessons, fill some time --
or heck, run him with our kids.
Hadis looks just a few years
younger than Willie is."

"For today, perhaps
Hadis could stay with
Fariha," said Ibrahim.
"She loves children, and
Hadis has different toys
than the others have."

"I'll ask them," said Noemie.

Bazyar and Fariha soon
agreed to the suggestion.

Hadis just seemed happy
to have a place to go.

Elry picked out all of
the experienced farmers
and waved them over.

"Couple seats left,"
Gideon observed.

Elry took the biggest
of the remaining ones
and thanked the rest
for their attention.

Gideon listened to
the disappointed sounds
from those left behind.

Surreptitiously he took out
his phone and ordered pizzas
from the one place in town
that had halal options.

Besides, that one also had
olives and pickled peppers as
sides, which the Syrians loved.

Missing a job opportunity
sucked, but you could still
smother your sorrows
under a pile of pizza.

Meanwhile, Elry was
explaining how Lenore
would whittle down to five.

"There will be no interview
where you wear a suit and
we ask you questions," he said.

Noemie relayed that news, and
the potential workers looked nervous.

"The job application will consist of
everyone doing some typical tasks
at our nursery, and the five folks who
do best will get the jobs," Elry said.
"So ignore everything that you've
been told about doing interviews --
dress warmly for dirty work."

Gideon looked around the room.
Honestly, most of them were
dressed for that already.

Even after several months,
few of the Syrians owned
any fancy clothes -- except
for a few businessmen like
Labib -- and with fall cooling
the air, most of them wore
the thickest clothes they had.

Some of the applicants
hurried away to change into
warmer clothes, or possibly
just older and tattier ones.

"It was nice of you to come
here," Gideon said to Elry.

"I've had no luck around town,"
Elry replied. "You know how
that goes. Then it hit me --
everywhere immigrants have
enriched and strengthened
the fabric of American life."

Gideon knew, all right;
everyone had a hard time
finding and keeping workers
because so many people
had moved away.

Then he heard
Noemie's laugh as
she translated for
one of the women.

Occasionally people
moved into town, too.

He wondered if Rutledge
could keep this one.

The applicants who'd
left to change clothes
came back ready to go.

Elry herded them to his van,
the open door letting a blast
of cold air into the lobby.

"I wish I could stay and talk,
but I've got my next assignment,"
Noemie said, reaching for her coat.

"Another time," Gideon offered.
"You know where to find us."

As she left, a fresh gust of
wind whipped through the door.

Ibrahim shivered, even though he
wore a hoodie over an undershirt.

"Cold?" Gideon said. "It's a brisk day
out today, and the weather is only
going to get colder from here."

"I know," Ibrahim said, wrapping
his arms around himself. "This is
the warmest outfit I have, and I can't
afford to ..." His voice trailed away
as he looked toward his sons.

"Understandable," Gideon said.
"Still, there are other options to --"

Ibrahim tugged his cuff down, and
the seam split. "Ah!" he yelped.
"My warm top, what am I do to?"

He'd had the thing since he arrived,
and he had worn it often enough
that the thread was wearing out.

"I have an idea," said Gideon.
"Why don't you get the boys
and the four of us can go over
to Shaw's Thrift Shop? Aurinda
got some capsule wardrobes
for Do Something Nice Day.
You could each pick one, and
maybe a few other things."

"I suppose it wouldn't hurt
to look ..." Ibrahim said wistfully.
"Darwish, Nadir, come here.
We're going to the thrift store."

The boys scampered over.
"Can we get sweaters?"
Nadir said, bouncing.

"We will see what they
cost," Ibrahim said.

The cost would be
affordable if Gideon
had to drag Aurinda
into the next room and
convince her to fib
about the prices.

He could afford
thrift store sweaters,
he just wasn't sure
how much charity
he could convince
Ibrahim to accept.

Better hidden charity
than seeing folks shiver.

"One minute, then I'll
get my coat," Gideon said.

He went over to Fariha and
gave her the claim number
for the pizzas. "Food,"
he said. "You share."

Fariha grinned. "Yes!"

"Thank you," Gideon said.
"I hope you all enjoy it."

Then he grabbed his coat
and went to join Ibrahim.
"We can take my car."

"Oh, good," said Ibrahim.
"We just missed a bus."

"No bus today," Gideon said,
happy that he could help.

After all, the immigrants
had already enriched him
by staying in his hotel,
even if the government
was footing the bill.

It would feel good
to give a little back.

* * *


This poem is long, so its character, setting, and content notes appear separately.
Tags: community, cyberfunded creativity, ethnic studies, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing

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