Tuesday, January 31, 2017

One Suitcase

Several years ago my husband hired someone over the phone for a position in his lab. The person had been recommended to him and because he was a resident of India the typical interview process was not going to work in this case. They had a couple of conversations, a visa was issued, Mark found him a furnished apartment near the campus, and we filled a few boxes with pots and cooking utensils and sheets and towels and washcloths. After months of planning his day of arrival came and Mark picked him up at the airport and brought him back to the house for dinner.

He came in, shook my hand and set down his suitcase. One suitcase. I looked at Mark. Was that all he had to start a new life alone thousands of miles from home?  One suitcase?

Through the years of his career there have been many immigrants that have worked for my husband. Russian, Ukrainian, Japanese, Chinese, Iranian. This is his life and through marriage it has become mine. I have eaten foods I couldn't pronounce and toasted with drinks that burned my throat all the way down. I follow Mark's lead and it is generous, deeply generous. When his Japanese student was leaving the Easter dinner we had for a houseful of people, he came to me in the kitchen to thank me and then stood there. There was a long awkward silence between us until he said, "Dr. Fisher said you'd give me some leftovers."

There have been missteps along the way. Sometimes people don't work out for many reasons and that is a heavy burden - being responsible for any employee, and more so when they are far from home. There have also been cultural missteps. When we had a lab party at the house we thought shish kabobs would be a safe bet and the chicken ones were. The beef ones sat untouched. I have nodded and smiled through many conversations because distraction led me to lose pace with an unfamiliar accent. Time after time, though, I have watched my husband throw himself into the world of these students, post-docs, technicians, and colleagues with gusto, and you cannot be around that without wanting to embrace it yourself.

When a visiting professor from India came and worked for six months in Mark's lab we both fell head over heels for him. He was so much fun and when his time was nearing an end his wife and kids arrived for a whirlwind tour of America - New York and Disneyworld and then off to Los Angeles. Before they left they had us over for dinner and his wife said to me, "I want you to know that my family will never forget the kindness of your husband. Never."

Since last fall I have been working at a university and am exposed to international students on a daily basis.  My job is handling the finances for our student organizations - 300 in total that requires a lot of juggling. It also requires me to always be cognizant that for many of our students English is not their first language and conversations and emails have to be thought out carefully in consideration of that.

I recently had a meeting with a Middle Eastern student who was planning a large event for her organization and needed some advice. Event planning is not part of my job but I have done enough of it in my personal life that I was happy to help her and she wrote down everything I said.

Ask around and see where people like to go for happy hour. Narrow it down to three places.
Be aware of your group's ability to get to your event. Should it be within walking distance of the campus? Near a bus line?
Always talk to a manager. Underline that. Always talk to a manager.
Don't be afraid to ask for a discount.
Make sure that the staff knows that nobody can order alcohol unless they are paying for it themselves.
See if they'll give you iced tea and lemonade for free.
Tell them how many people you'll be having, pick a few appetizers, and tell them you need a ballpark figure. After you have that call or email me and we'll see if it will work within your budget.

When I had finished she looked down at her notes and then at me with her big, beautiful, brown eyes and said, "I have a question. What is this thing called ballpark figure?" And I laughed so hard because I thought I was so measured and careful in my explanation and yet....

"It means estimate. Cross that out and put estimate in there."

"No, no, no," she said. "I like this ballpark figure. It's American."

Yes, my dear, it is American, but you are very much like me because I, too, travel through this life with a suitcase of the hopes and dreams my family handed to me to set my course in the world, and were it not for the kindness of others along the way I'm not sure either of us would make it very far.

2 comments:

  1. Kathy, A beautiful and endearing letter of your Life with Mark.
    Tom and I were so humbled when we went to Mark's University and were so shocked to see all the accolades about him there and all that he does for others. We always knew he was brilliant , but this was a tribute to his humility . So glad we were able to see a part of his world .
    Your new employment is giving you an education in diplomatic relations and we are proud of that as well. Your last words, in your story with the student and trying to help her plan an Event , is so profound .
    It's' s American .
    Hopefully some time in the near future we can say those words with Pride . Great writing.

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  2. Love this one a lot!!!!We are from one earth.. we are all connected. Let us not forget that. It is what sets us humans apart. There are unfortunately many humans that are suspicious of others. They are insecure, and yes a bit ignorant (or a lot). They have never immersed themselves in diversity. Its funny, when they die, they think they are going to a place where everyone is like them.. This place does not exist. Billions of people will never be like them. And that is a good thing.

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