Fourteen refugee children from Africa and Asia are coming to the Pompanuck Farm Institute and Retreat this weekend to rest, sled, eat, talk and feel safe and at ease. Most, but not all, are members of the RISSE soccer team, which is based in Albany, N.Y.
It seems that Maria and I are hosting the retreat, and we are happy to do it. I've spent a good chunk of the week getting ready. And I think we are as ready as we can be for such an active and interesting group. Many of the kids are getting used to the reality of an upstate New York winter – this one a doozy – and have learned that flip-flops and socks don't cut it.
They'll arrive here around 8 p.m. and head straight to very beautiful Pompanauck, where they will have a dinner of Lasagna – meat and vegetarian – and salad and cake and cookies. After dinner, I'll read from my Edgar Allen Poe collection of horror stories, they are the best ones I know about.
The kids are always taunting me to come up with scary bedtime stories, the ones I wrote didn't impress them. We'll give Poe a try, he gave me some sleepless nights when I first heard them.
My friend Ali is coming, of course, and Molly, a friend of the refugees who often comes to help out. They will all sleep on mats and sleeping bags in the big room of the Round House building alongside a roaring fire.
I'm handing out books – "Outcasts United" – the story of a refugee/immigrant soccer team in Georgia who taught themselves and their new town a few things, to everybody. I also got a CD – McFarland, U.S.A. – starring Kevin Costner, a story about a down-on-his-luck football coach who comes to a poor California town and helps some lost kids form one of the country's best cross-country track teams.
We'll either get to that tonight or Saturday night. Tomorrow, the day will start with breakfast, then sledding and possibly, snowball hikes. Maria and Fate will lead hikes into the frozen woods to those with boots. Fate is the pathfinder on these walks, she never gets lost.
Maria and I and Ali will cook, serve and clean-up after lunch. I much enjoy cooking for these kids, they are appreciative and excellent eaters. They also help clean up.
I've negotiated a great deal with a local movie theater – $5 a person for a matinée movie – and another good deal with a nearby Chinese Restaurant, which hosts a buffet – $10 a person.
Sunday, breakfast, free time – they need and love free time as much as anything. I'm also going to surprise them by showing up with two live fish – Betas, also known as Siamese Fighting Fish – to give away (I have bowls and food, etc.) to the two kids who have the most interesting things to say about "Outcast United" and their own refugee experience.
Perhaps more sledding, I think they will love. I got seven shiny new colorful plastic sleds. We might have some races, Fate and Gus love to run after sleds and jump aboard.
Red, Gus and Fate will be present during the weekend, the kids are crazy about all three of them, and vice versa. They have all gotten to know one another well.
My goal and Ali's goal is for these kids, whose lives are filled with pressure, challenge, and sometimes hostility – get a chance to relax. I don't ever talk politics unless they do, but Ali says some are disturbed about the politics raging around refugees and immigration.
If they want to talk about it, we'll talk about it. The refugee experience is close to me, and I hope through weekends like this, the kids will come to understand that Americans are an open and generous people, for the most part. They certainly are very welcome in my town.
I'm excited about the weekend, it feels good to do this and participate in this. It helps Maria and I to feel grounded in this sometimes disheartening times.