Part survival manual, part tales from the front lines of refugee life in America, Pipher (Another Country, 1999, etc.) surveys the refugee scene in Lincoln, Nebraska.
The author’s hometown has been a settling area for refugees because of its low unemployment and reasonable cost of living, and it has enabled Pipher to work with refugees and gain an understanding of their predicament. Here, she tenders suggestions on how to survive in the US and also includes anecdotal material giving a taste of what it’s like to be a refugee: “Imagine yourself dropped down in the Sudanese grasslands with no tools or knowledge about how to survive. . . . Unless a kind and generous Sudanese takes you in and helps you adjust, you would be a goner.” Much of Pipher’s take on refugee life is plain commonsensical: transplanted from absurd, grotesque, punishing, often terrifying circumstances, refugees experience problems of trauma and stress, acculturation, expression, and identity. While many feel possibilities unfolding, others have a deep malaise. They are here because our nation has a tradition for empathy—sometimes not immediately visible, sometimes selective, typically fraught, but undeniable—and it is making America, in the best sense, “a richer curry of peoples.” As well as offering stories of refugee experiences—charted in groups by age: the young, adolescents, early adults—Pipher details attributes that will give refugees a leg up (attentiveness, flexibility, character, resilience) and includes a long list of things Americans can teach them—from how to feed a traffic meter to where to go with INS problems—that is the real deal when it comes to empathy.
If only a fraction of the advice in this valuable book were followed, cross-cultural compassion might become much more than just a handful of words beginning in C.