Last Monday, Tim Lindgren of The WhereProject described his personal experience helping refugees from Srebrenica.
This week marks the 10th anniversary of the massacres at Srebrenica when nearly 8,000 Bosnian Moslems were killed and the international community stood by without intervening. The last couple of days, I’ve been thinking a lot about the Bosnian co-workers and clients I got to know as a refugee resettlement job developer in Chicago….
The anniversary evoke strong emotions for me, not simply because of the horrific nature of this event, but of all the other stories I heard from clients as I helped them find jobs. Many of these stories came out in the process of writing resumes for clients attempting to find their first job in the US. As a 23-year-old in one of my first jobs out of college, I learned a quite a bit about the nature of work as tried to construct resumes, resumes not only to represent 20 years experience as a machinist but also to account for the three year gaps in work history created by time in a concentration camp. This was perhaps my most profound experience of collaborative writing, listening to a client’s story through a caseworker’s translation and then trying to tell that story within the generic constraints of the resume.
* Jusuf was one of my first clients, a gentle and appreciative man in his late fifties, who was looking for his first job in the US. He had experience as a welder in Bosnia, so I took him to apply for work at Homaco, Inc. specialized in telephone jack towers. In the process of gathering information for a resume, he told me that he had been in the Trnopoli concentration camp for three months with his sons. He dropped 25 kilos and was eating grass by the end. Friends he had known for 50-years became his captors….
These stories continue to haunt me, not only because terrible to have heard, but because I feel like I walked away from them. In stead of remaining in Chicago, in proximity to these people and their stories, I felt compelled to move half way across the country to become a professional student of literature, to immerse myself in the canonical texts of Western civilization, to consume countless critical articles, and learn to create my own critical texts. In contrast to the subject matter of literary studies, the refugee stories were highly situated, located in specific communities and place, and I was lucky enough to find myself in the midst of it for a time. But when I had the chance to stay in Chicago, to stay local, in proximity to all I had gained, I wasn’t able to make a connection between my graduate studies and the value of staying nearby.
I realized yesterday how deeply I still regret this decision, and how closely my interest in place is tied to this formative moment. When I moved to Boston, the transition was so difficult because I began to feel the loss of that deep sense of place I had gained in Chicago, in part through the people and places I encountered as job developer: the factory where airline meals were assembled; the laundry rooms and back entrances to every major hotel in downtown Chicago; the factory where women sewed fine silks; a floral shop on the west side; the factory where fire extinguishers glowed read in the sweltering air; the tannery that smelled so bad we were relieved to find out they weren’t hiring; the plastics factory in Skokie where I learned the difference between extrusion and injection molding.
via Rhine River