Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Greatful Man

Suppose you had an unusual guest at your Thanksgiving table—a refugee from a dangerous and troubled land. One where opinions that run counter to the establishment can be unhealthy if they are found out. One where you will dress as you're told. One where the only thing you get to vote for is what to have for dinner, and that choice may be severely limited. One where the only due process you can expect is a kangaroo court where the government's witness is always truthful and you are always guilty. But you'll be lucky if you get even that because most who are accused go straight to prison or worse.

If you had a person like this at your feast-laden table would you be a bit more thankful of what we have here in our great country? I did. And I am.

Ali (not his real name) is waiting for his wife to arrive in December. After that I can use his real name. She is waiting for the US embassy in a neighboring country to approve her visa. Because we don't have an embassy in her country, she will have to go there first, as Ali did, then fly here. Our home has has been Ali's fourth stop in about a month since he's been here.

The first three were with other friends of his—and mine. We all learned to fly together in USAF pilot training class 73-06 at Vance AFB, Oklahoma. When Ali was training with us, his country was friendly with ours. 
Shortly after he returned it had a revolution. Now its government hates us. Come to think of it, its government hates everybody.

Soon after the revolution Ali became involved in a long, devasting war. He flew Phantom fighters. He saw many friends die. No one won that awful war, and honestly, none of us in 73-06 thought he survived. But after the war he wrote letters to his former classmates and one of them made it through. The recipient forwarded it to all of us. Ali was alive! He had taken a job as a crop duster pilot.

Three years ago 73-06 had a reunion in Las Vegas. Ali applied to the neighboring embassy for a tourist visa. They required him to have letters of sponsorship from 73-06 members. We responded promptly, but by the time the visa was processed the reunion was over. Ali came anyway and visited a few of the classmates. I didn't see him then but spoke with him on the phone.

When he returned to his country a local government official heard of his trip to the US and began badgering and threatening him. One day Ali lost his temper when the man came to his home to pester him. Ali told the man that the country's government was corrupt top to bottom, immoral and idiotic. He knew then he had crossed the line. The man took the matter to higher authority. Prison, or worse, was in the offing.

Ali quickly applied to the US for tourist visas for himself and his wife. His was approved but hers got caught in a red tape screw-up. They promised to correct their mistakes and get her visa done by December. Ali could not afford the risk of waiting for her. He came ahead and was welcomed by his old classmates.

The first family he stayed with sold him a car for one dollar. With that he drove to the home of a second classmate, then a third, staying from a few days to a few weeks at each. Before coming to our house he ventured a trip to California to visit friends from his country who had immigrated here. At each place he has used some of his time to research opportunities to get a permanent work authorization (green card) or seek refugee status and to find leads for a job. With the current financial crises we are in, he has a long hard road ahead.

When he drove up my driveway and got out of his $1 car a lump crawled into my throat. I had not seen him in 35 years. My old friend was back; back to the land of freedom and opportunity he had discovered in his youth. Ali is a man without a home, a man without a job. He has placed his future in God's hands and is at peace. And he's here to stay; can't go back.

One way or another, this is his country now. If you know know of a way to help Ali in getting his green card and/or a job, please contact me. He is an expert crop duster pilot and an experienced flight instructor and flight school manager, but he will work at anything.

We sat for several evenings and listened to Ali tell us about the goodness of his old country—its people. And he told us about the bad. His stories are a revelation. Fascinating too, and maybe I'll relate some of them in a future post.

Ali is Muslim and is an intensely optimistic man. He believes with all his heart that God has prepared a place for him in America. As to Thanksgiving, this is his second one. His first one, 35 years ago, didn't mean too much for him then. But now he told us, “I give thanks to God for all things. All things are good. Nothing is bad in God's great plan. When I breath my last breath, I will still be giving thanks.”