It's the fifth week of classes and my office hours are over for the day--I'm heading for the gym. I've got my key in my hand and my athletic bag over my shoulder. A student with a worried--no, desperate--face appears, and do I have a minute?
Could she possibly enter my Edwidge Danticat class now? I know I was supposed to register before, she says, in heavily accented English. But--I didn't. I have a visa problem. I do not want to go back to--
I'll call it Wartornia. You see the country on YouTube, you read about in the New York Times. She's far from being the only refugee, but some of my other refugees are only fleeing the impossibly expensive American University system, or they're from third world countries they were lucky enough to have removed themselves from before Ebola loomed. She's the first I've seen who doesn't want to get returned to a place where soldiers with guns could shoot her dead the minute she's back there--or she won't be able to find food. She is so distraught that I know she'll be a terrible student because she cannot concentrate on anything other than how she can manage to stay here, where she is safe, and, once that is established, how she can help her family. The contents of my course, which concerns a traumatized island nation that is always in the middle of an earthquake, a war, or political uprisings, and which is anything but kind to its women, are not likely to soothe her. I wonder if she can stand to read material that must be so close to home. But I am the one she thinks will let her into the course so late in the semester that we are about to have midterms. If she shows up, I think it will help her to stick to the regularity of classes, readings, papers. If she doesn't, at least I'm not the one who turned her down when she asked to get into my class.
P.S. Several months later . . . she never showed up again, of course, and I was afraid she'd been shipped off. But I spotted her in a local, never mind which one, store. She looked fine. I'm glad she's okay.