My daughter and me taking a water taxi across the Rhine in Basel

My daughter and me taking a water taxi across the Rhine in Basel

Okay, pantophobia or not, there are at least a few things I’m not afraid of.

Like, Turks, for example.

Let me explain: Earlier this month I visited my father who now lives in Basel, Switzerland. Basel is a beautifully quaint, sophisticated, cosmopolitan place with historic fountains, ancient Roman ruins, and modern pharmaceutical factories. Nearly everybody I met had traveled widely and spoke English. And yet, I kept overhearing the same kinds of worry-mongering that we’re used to hearing in the US about the dangerous lower-income immigrant section of town. Who knew?! Turks. Turks not learning German. Turks not assimilating. Turks keeping their wives under lock and key. (And don't get me wrong—I don't mean this as Swiss-bashing. The Swiss have far more refugees per capita than the US.)

I just don’t buy it. Sure, any neighborhood has problems. Lower income immigrant neighborhoods will have additional challenges of poverty and displacement. I would also bet that Turkish immigrants are ultimately going enrich a place like Basel, first economically—by helping to keep the boutique hotels running smoothly—and then culturally. I am about as afraid of the Turk section of town as I am of a rainbow. My guess is I’d find it just as beautiful.

And I know I’m not alone. Just last week I met a Kurdish man from a Muslim background, who happened to visit the protestant church I attend here in Providence. As we talked, he kept marveling at the racial diversity and sense of integration in the room. That was one thing we immediately had in common—we found the diversity beautiful. The people I know who have the richest lives are not always the wealthiest, but they are often cross-cultural. Their openness and curiosity to others’ lives and ideas and gifts bring them a lot of hope and joy.

A cloak I found under a bridge in Basel.  I assume it is Christ blessing the loaf, but it also seemed to be exploring what we see and what we don't.

A cloak I found under a bridge in Basel. I assume it is Christ blessing the loaf, but it also seemed to be exploring what we see and what we don't.

Here’s another thing I’m not afraid of: invisibility cloaks.

I read a book recently that described what some wealthier communities do as a magic trick of making certain people—meaning vulnerable people, or those with clear economic needs—invisible. Some take it a step further, making them out as both invisible and frightening. The fear makes the trick ugly, especially when it involves people who are essential to running a place. But as far as magic goes, it's not very hard to see through.

One simple part of our mission with Beautiful Day is to help remove the cloak and reduce the fear. It’s far from rocket science. We simply offer a healthy delicious product that introduces people to refugees. So when Ban and Ahrar (our new employees) are at the Mt. Hope Bristol Market and getting to know the guy next to them who sells oysters and meeting their new custombers, a lot more is happening than just granola sales. The starting point is contact, then connection. That can open doors to relationship.

With now over 50 million forcibly displaced people in a world (which is already distressed by almost surreal economic disparities) anyone who is surprised or dismayed by the presence of immigrants or refugees in their neighborhood has a few too many invisibility cloaks in their life.

Just last week, someone (actually a few people) wanted to educate me about the “problem” of refugees and the unaccompanied minors at our border. The concern was that since resettlement or asylum aren't durable solutions, maybe we shouldn’t allow them at all. I think this is just another form of bad magic—make a problem seem so big, distant, and overwhelming that small, local, partial solutions become "enablers" and thus the enemy. I am not so good at arguing, and this time I had to throw up my hands and say I don't know and get out of there. (Ah, but I have a blog!)

What I suspect is that none of us, including our policy makers, are going to find solutions by soliloquizing at a distance. Who can trust solutions that are devised by people who never get close to the problems? One simple starting point is to develop a meaningful relationship with someone who used to be underneath the invisibility cloak. I'm not afraid to help other people do that. And I expect everyone who tries it will realize their fears are as groundless as my fears of accounting or tall bridges. These kinds of meaningful relationships won't necessarily solve the huge problems, but they'll at least lay essential groundwork by developing interest and understanding.


As long as I'm potentially pushing buttons here, please feel free to comment on any of these blog posts. I do get emails after each one. (Sometimes the comments are so interesting I'm tempted to publish them here for you!) Admittedly, one purpose behind this blog is to market granola—but the granola is just part of our mission to introduce more people to refugee resettlement and promote refugee employment. Any comment you make becomes a way to make our site more useful and dynamic and will draw others to Beautiful Day.

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Written by Keith Cooper

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