Arrival Surprises
After passing the final interview and promising to pay back the $3,200 loan
for their airfare, Isha’s family finally began their journey to the United States
in 2005 when they were sent to Atlanta. Their recollections of their airport
arrivals buzz with uncertainty about how to navigate the new setting. Deplan-
ing along with everyone else, the family walked through the airport to board
a small train. But because they could not read or understand En glish and no
one helped them, they remained on the train circling the airport over and
over before finally figuring out where to exit, even though the escalator sty-
mied them until they felt bold enough to step on after carefully watching how
others navigated the moving stairs.1
Isha’s sons Iman and Cabdulkadir, who left Kenya together a few months
after Isha’s voyage, did not realize their destination was Atlanta until they ar-
rived. After deplaning they were immediately whisked away by armed immi-
gration and police officers, who marched them to a locked room where they
were guarded by white men with guns, so frightening fifteen- year-old Iman
that he forgot all of his hard- earned En glish language skills. He thought that
they were taking them away to kill them, a not unrealistic possibility in the
experience of a young war survivor. Eventually the brothers were released,
but since they had been kept so long in custody the caseworker sent from the
resettlement agency to pick them up at the airport had given up and gone
home. Iman was allowed to phone Isha, who was thrilled because no one had
informed her that they were arriving in Atlanta. Another relative, Ahmed,
remembers stepping outside the airport into the February eve ning in his
T- shirt to wait for his ride and realizing that his body was beginning to shake
uncontrollably. “I didn’t know what was happening!” he recalls. “I thought I
was becoming really sick.” Only later did he learn that he was freezing. He had
never experienced cold before.
Refugee resettlement in the United States is managed by eleven federally
approved voluntary agencies, called volags, that are contracted by the federal
government to provide arriving refugees with modest assistance during their
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