- Associated Press - Saturday, May 14, 2016

TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) - Beatrice Bahati warmed herself in the sun at a park Feb. 16, the first day pleasant enough to hint at the return of spring to Twin Falls.

Enduring the strange cold of her first Idaho winter, the Swahili-speaking mother from the Democratic Republic of the Congo often was confined to her apartment by the weather, by her pregnancy, by the unfamiliarity of her new city and - after her husband started his first job in the U.S. - by the necessity of caring for two children alone.

Finally, under a brilliant blue sky, she could take off her coat, the Times-News reported (https://bit.ly/1OhSxsn).

That afternoon marked 92 days since Bahati and her husband, Kanegamba Mulabwe, arrived in Twin Falls from the Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi, on the day Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter joined other governors in urging President Obama to halt refugee resettlement.

By now, a stranger Bahati met at the Twin Falls airport that night was trying to fill the role of sister and friend.

Stay-at-home Twin Falls mom Allison Bangerter - on her first assignment as a volunteer mentor for the College of Southern Idaho Refugee Center - helped Bahati and Mulabwe navigate the strange customs and holidays of their new home. While supporters of an initiative seeking to ban refugee centers in Twin Falls County gathered signatures they’d need by early April to get the measure onto the ballot, Bangerter took Bahati and her children to stores and library story times.

On this outing to First Federal Bank Park - the refugee family’s first - it wasn’t yet noon, but the swings, slides and monkey bars already teemed with children.

Sarah Mulabwe, 3, quickly took a liking to the slides, but she held onto the sides as she moved slowly to the bottom.

Bangerter helped Sarah into a chair swing and pushed her across the tracks from which it hung. At first, Sarah didn’t smile. But she hopped on for another ride with Bangerter’s daughter.

“All the way to the top,” Bangerter said. “Three, two, one, go.”

She ran and pushed, the red seat floating across the park, the girls’ legs barely visible.

Bangerter pulled them to the top again, and this time, in English, Sarah started her own count: “One, two, three, four.”

When Bangerter sent them sailing, Sarah grinned.

The slide and the swing were nothing to fear.

The Refugee Center’s rapid-fire orientations and its English lessons have a simple goal: self-sufficiency. In early February, Mulabwe’s first step toward supporting his family - and repaying certain refugee benefits - was a job as a Jackpot, Nevada, casino housekeeper.

With Mulabwe gone at work, Bangerter made a point to visit Bahati often. They spent two or three days a week together, sometimes just running errands. Bangerter took Bahati to the laundromat and the grocery store. While the clothes spun, Bangerter taught Bahati how a pregnant woman says “my feet hurt” or “my back aches” in English. With no interpreter for their shopping trips, the women used hand signals when they didn’t have the English words to discuss toiletries or produce.

Bangerter, a mother of four, knows how hectic life can get. She also knows how important it can be for a young mother to have a support group. So she planned a baby shower for Bahati - not only to celebrate the birth of the family’s first American citizen, but to gather items Bahati would need for the baby.

More than seven months pregnant, Bahati was feeling especially tired March 7, as beef boiled on the stove for that night’s dinner. Sarah and her 1-year-old brother, Daniel, were watching a PBS cartoon on television. The family television now had an antenna, so entertainment wasn’t limited to reruns of “The Lion King.” Bahati was waiting for her favorite show, airing at 7 p.m. She didn’t know its name.

Daniel and Sarah sat directly in front of the television, their faces close to the screen. Daniel said “A, B, C, D,” with the cartoon character.

Now that her husband works, Bahati stopped attending English as a Second Language classes at the Refugee Center; someone has to stay home and watch the children. But if she had a choice, Bahati would go to ESL.

“Yes, because I want to learn,” Bahati said in Swahili as Mary Lupumba, another refugee from the DR Congo, translated.

Bahati - who, like her husband, does not have a high school diploma - wanted Sarah to start her education soon, and on April 13, with Bangerter’s help, she applied for Sarah to enter Head Start. Sarah thought that meant she could stay with the children in the classrooms that day, and she bawled when she learned otherwise.

“I want her to learn,” Bahati said. “It’s very important for her to learn.”

Besides her need for better English, Bahati on March 7 was also fretting a little about the new baby and finding a job after the birth.

“I haven’t prepared myself yet,” she said. “I don’t have money.”

In the first years of their marriage, in the camp in Malawi, Mulabwe and Bahati were usually together. Those days are gone.

“When it’s just me alone I feel lonely sometimes,” Bahati said. “At the camp, he was always home.”

Sometimes Mulabwe left for work and returned a few hours later; the Jackpot casino sent him home when there was no work for him. But he usually spent his free time riding around Twin Falls on a bike he got from the Refugee Center - trying acclimate himself with the town and buying items they needed at Fred Meyer and Dollar Tree.

“He rides it all the time,” Bahati said. “Even when he’s not at work.”

And even on nice days, Bahati was still apprehensive about leaving the apartment on her own. At seven months pregnant, she was afraid she wouldn’t be fast enough to grab Sarah or Daniel if they ran into the street.

So for the rest of that March day, she would rest.

“After I am done cooking, I just sit,” Bahati said.

Is she happy?

Yes, she said. “Because I woke up this morning and I’m OK, I’m not sick. No one is sick in the house, so we’re fine. So I’m happy.”

Other moms in Twin Falls know what it’s like to stay home with young children.

Miranda Irby, a mother of three, didn’t know there was a Refugee Center when she moved to Twin Falls two years ago. But when she heard about controversy surrounding it, she called the center to volunteer and became a mentor for an English-speaking family of four from the DR Congo.

“I wanted to help provide a welcoming face and positive experience,” Irby said. “It broke my heart that people would come here and be met with resistance.”

The refugee resettlement program at CSI has operated since the 1980s. It became the focus of controversy when CSI announced in April 2015 that Syrians could be among the refugees to be resettled in Twin Falls this year. The issue became more heated as the refugee crisis caused by the Syrian civil war worsened and after terrorist attacks in Paris.

When Irby contacted the CSI Refugee Center last year to volunteer, she introduced a new idea: play dates for refugee families. Zeze Rwasama, the Refugee Center’s director, liked her idea, but it wasn’t until Jenny Reese was hired in December for the new position of volunteer coordinator that Irby was able to set her idea into motion.

Irby wanted to help refugees - particularly mothers - make friends in their new community.

“I know how it is to be in a house all day with kids,” said Irby, the mother of boys ages 2, 5 and 7.

Bangerter - who met Irby at one of the first mentor meetings Reese organized - brought Bahati on March 8 to their second play date at Irby’s Twin Falls home.

Irby invited some of the friends she is trying to recruit as mentors. She also invited Sharifa Fnu, a refugee from Afghanistan, who has four children and has lived in Twin Falls for three months.

In the play room near Irby’s front door, children’s artwork hung from clothespins on a clothesline. The opposite wall displayed a canvas map of the U.S. Daniel was drawn to a motorcycle; when he pushed its buttons, rock music played and white lights flashed.

He stomped his foot and danced. All the mothers in the room laughed, and the moment needed no other shared language.

“It’s been very eye-opening for our whole family,” Irby said. “It’s good for the kids to focus on another family.”

Sarah also found things in the room that she liked. She put a yellow stethoscope in her ears and held the other end on her mother’s heart. When she discovered a red Paw Patrol backpack hanging from a hook, she immediately opened it to see what was inside. When a boy approached, she hid the bag behind her back.

But it was the playhouse in Irby’s backyard that Sarah and Daniel enjoyed the most.

When it was time to leave the play date, Sarah cried to stay.

Later that day, Bangerter and Bahati shopped for the baby shower that Bangerter would host that weekend.

Bangerter bought goat meat at Cash&Carry.; Bahati bought cornmeal at WinCo Foods.

Bahati poured cup after cup of cornmeal until she filled two huge plastic bags. Then she chose two bags of frozen tilapia. With her mom busy shopping, Sarah started to climb out of the cart.

Grocery shopping can be difficult with three or four young children. But Bangerter and Bahati help one another watch each other’s children.

“You want to get down?” Bangerter said to Sarah. “Don’t be naughty like Nicolas.”

Sarah quickly joined Bangerter’s son, opening barrels of grain in the bulk section and playing with the scoops inside.

At the checkout, Bangerter helped Bahati load items onto the conveyor belt.

“Beatrice, you are a very good shopper at WinCo now,” Bangerter said as they pushed the cart out the door. “You are a professional.”

Bahati just laughed.

As they started across the parking lot, Nicolas hung back looking at the games in the grocery store lobby. Sarah, sitting in the cart, wanted to make sure he wasn’t left behind.

“Nicolas!” Sarah shouted.

Written on a chalkboard, “Congratulations, Beatrice!!” greeted baby shower guests as they arrived March 12 at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints meetinghouse on Orchard Drive.

The room’s corner was filled with clothes, a crib, a mobile and a big teddy bear in a stroller. Foods lined a kitchen counter, including the predictable American shower fare: a fruit plate, a punch bowl, tiny lemon cakes. But also the unfamiliar: a bowl of bugali - a cornmeal dish that looks like mashed potatoes - and fried goat meat.

Bahati and Bangerter had made the bugali and goat in Bahati’s apartment that morning. Bahati boiled the meat and pan fried it in oil, retrieving a lid from the cabinet to subdue the grease that spit and popped. Bangerter took notes on the food preparation.

“I am a bad cook,” Bangerter told Bahati. “If I don’t write it down, it will taste bad. It won’t taste delicious.”

That morning, Bangerter brought along her oldest daughter, Clara. When Clara told her mother she was hungry, nobody translated her comment. But Bahati - whose understanding of spoken English is improving despite leaving ESL classes - retrieved an apple from the cabinet.

Seeing Clara’s apple - nicoupe in Swahili - Sarah and Daniel wanted their own. Fruit was hard to get in the refugee camp.

Bangerter is trying to learn Swahili words as well as the recipes for bugali and goat.

“I will be a very good African cook and you will say, ‘Allison, cook for me,’” Bangerter said.

In a bright red coat, Sarah walked around the room at her mother’s baby shower, licking the blue frosting from a cupcake. Daniel had already eaten all the frosting off his cupcake.

Among the guests, a few faces were familiar. Bahati knew Sifa Kalunga from the refugee camp in Malawi - a discovery the women made at a Twin Falls Public Library story time months after Bahati’s arrival in Idaho. Irby, the mentor of Kalunga’s family, knew Bahati from the play dates. Other guests were strangers.

“And this is Beatrice,” Irby said, making introductions. “She’s the pregnant one.”

The baby shower games started quickly. Everyone received necklaces of multicolored pastel yarn with pink pacifiers hanging from them. Every time someone said “baby,” anyone in the room could take her necklace. When Bahati said “baby” in Swahili, Lupumba took her necklace. Bahati laughed, trying to turn away and keep it.

Some games were typical shower fare: a diaper-changing race and a contest in which Bahati had to choose whose Play-Doh baby she liked best.

But another game was a quiz, matching a list of Swahili words to their English counterpart - diaper, labor pains, doctor. And Kalunga taught the group a Swahili nursery song. Soon the guests were singing in unison: “Babe nyamanza yako mama atakuletaya bombo yako.”

Of all the gifts she received that afternoon, the one that brought the biggest reaction from Bahati was from a woman she hadn’t met before that day - a woman who goes to church with Bangerter.

Bahati gasped when she opened the bag to find a handmade blanket.

“Thank you,” she said softly. She looked up briefly, but with a smile.

When the LDS church two weeks later encouraged Mormon women to help refugees, Twin Falls women answered the call.

For Bangerter, it validated her choice to become a mentor.

“I knew I was doing the right thing,” Bangerter said. “It was just great to see this support from my religion group.”

Vocal opposition to refugee resettlement in Twin Falls has motivated other volunteers and donors, too.

“It’s not just Mormons and Christians,” Bangerter said. “There are people interested in helping. I know there is this group of people who have been kind of vocal, but everyone I’ve talked to wants to help.”

In 2015, the LDS church encouraged members to provide assistance to refugees around the world. The First Presidency, the church’s highest governing body, sent a letter Oct. 27 to church leaders, signed by President Thomas S. Monson and his counselors.

But many Mormon women rallied when they were given a special assignment March 26, during the Women’s Session of the church’s 186th annual General Conference. The church’s organized refugee relief effort, “I Was a Stranger,” has a website that gives women ways to serve as individuals, in families and in organizations to offer friendship and mentoring.

Since then, Rwasama said, the Refugee Center has seen an increase in calls from people looking to help.

The call to help refugees came four days after Islamic extremists struck the Brussels airport and subway in Belguim on March 22, killing 32 people and injuring more than 200. In that attack, three Mormon missionaries from Utah and one from France were among the injured.

Deb Coffey, executive director of the Utah Refugee Center, told the Salt Lake Tribune on March 29 that her group has seen a flood of offers and donations from individual Mormons and LDS groups, as well as families, corporations, bloggers and a variety of auxiliary organizations.

Helping can be simple. When Bahati wanted a microwave, Bangerter posted on her church ward’s Facebook page, asking if anyone had one to donate.

Bahati likes her new microwave.

Mulabwe and Bahati grew up Christian. Both of their families attended Pentecostal churches in the DR Congo, and now the couple attends one in Twin Falls. On Easter, Bahati took Sarah and Daniel to Light Pentecostal Church in the basement of First United Methodist Church in downtown Twin Falls.

“I just go there because there are fellow refugees there,” said Mulabwe, who didn’t attend on Easter.

Keyboard music blared from a sound system as Magogwa Eriyakimu and three assistant preachers stood on stage in front of the room. The audience was filled with women wearing colorful dresses - black and white, purple, orange and red. Some sat in metal folding chairs; others stood and sang. A woman in the audience dabbed her eyes with a mint-colored tissue. Bahati, in an orange dress her husband made, sat in the back.

Sarah was drawn to a group of children playing with balloons in the middle of the congregation. When she left her mother’s side to investigate, so did Daniel.

“For those who speak English,” said Charles Sindayihebura, one of the leaders of the church, “that song was about praising Jesus.”

After many songs, the pastors came forward and preached in four languages: English, Swahili, French and Kirundi, the official language of Burundi. Sometimes they switched languages mid-sentence, while other sermons were completely in one language.

Sarah and Daniel seemed to grow bored and decided to explore. They took off around a corner near the front of the room and re-emerged in the back next to their mother.

Though Bahati is Christian, some holidays in her new home are foreign to her.

Bahati had never dyed eggs or seen an Easter egg hunt until March 26, at Bangerter’s house.

When Bangerter pulled two cartons of hard-boiled eggs from the refrigerator, Sarah immediately grabbed one and banged it on the table to crack it.

“So, Beatrice, have you ever dyed eggs in Africa?” Bangerter asked.

She hadn’t. But following the example of Bangerter’s children, Bahati submerged one egg into a cup of green dye.

“Yeah, do another one,” Bangerter said to Bahati.

Instead, Bahati cracked the next egg and gave it to Daniel to eat.

Sarah watched as 5-year-old Amaya Bangerter placed her egg in red dye then, a few minutes later, pulled the rosy shell from the cup. Sarah was more excited to write on her egg with a white crayon.

When it was time to hide the eggs, Bangerter sent all the children downstairs to watch television. Sarah and Daniel didn’t want to go, though their mother told them in Swahili to go downstairs.

Instead, the two followed the women outside and helped hide the eggs in bushes and trees.

“Just hide them, Beatrice,” Bangerter said. “Do you understand hide?”

Bahati didn’t, and she placed a few on the ground. Watching Bangerter, she eventually got the hang of it, putting a few eggs in the shrubs.

After all the plastic eggs were hidden, Bangerter yelled down the stairs. “OK, kids, come up for the Easter egg hunt!”

Sarah giggled with each egg she discovered. After the hunt, when other children ran for the playground, Sarah and Daniel opened every plastic egg in their baskets, piling up the candy they found inside.

Teaching holiday traditions is standard fare in a refugee mentoring assignment. But Bangerter was determined to help Bahati through something far more serious: giving birth in a new country, without any relatives around, and with a husband working long hours.

The women had a plan. Bangerter gave Bahati her home phone number, her cell phone number and her husband, Joel’s, cell phone number. But she was still worried.

Bangerter was on her way to church when Bahati called April 17 - the baby’s due date. Bahati had been having contractions all morning. When Bangerter arrived at her apartment, Bahati had her bag ready to go.

Daniel and Sarah were excited, too, but for a different reason: They thought they were going to a park. Instead, they went with Joel and the Bangerter children.

“Beatrice did great,” Bangerter said later. “She was a trooper. She seems pretty happy. I figured we’d have a long time, but we were there for four hours.”

At 5 p.m. that day, David Mulabwe was born at St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center. In the family’s culture, they don’t say a baby’s name until he or she is born, so David wasn’t officially named until his father got to the hospital later that night.

“Oh, my gosh, he was so cute,” said Bangerter, who had never before accompanied another woman giving birth.

That night, Sarah and Daniel spent the night with the Bangerters because Mulabwe had to be ready by 4:30 a.m. to get to work on time.

The Bangerters rocked Sarah and Daniel to sleep. When they tried to move the children to Amaya’s bed, they woke up, crying. So the sister and brother slept with the Bangerters through the night.

“It was a little rough on them,” Bangerter said April 18. “Now they are fine. I think they are having fun. We saw the pigs, and they are going to a playground.”

She planned to pick up Bahati and David from the hospital that day - after 6 p.m., because that’s when Mulabwe would be home. Bangerter didn’t want Bahati alone the first day at home with David.

Bangerter also worried about who would make dinner for Bahati’s family that night.

“When we were at the hospital I asked her, ‘Are you hungry? Look there is tilapia and there is rice,’” Bangerter said. “But she said, ‘I’m not hungry.’ Then I talked to Kanegamba and she told him, ‘Bring me African food.’ So, Kanegamba made her bugali and leftovers.”

Mulabwe had rice ready when his family returned home. Sarah and Daniel carried around bottles of orange Fanta as they crawled on the chair their mother sat in. On the floor in front of her, newborn David, dressed in green and white, slept in his car seat. When Bahati reached down to pick him up, he awoke and started to cry softly, so she pulled a blue pacifier out of her bag. David looked at his mother as his siblings clambered around to get a view of their new brother.

It was the first time Mulabwe had been away from his family all night. He was glad to have them home.

In Africa, men aren’t traditionally at the births of their children. Birth is something for women, Bahati and Lupumba explained.

Here, Mulabwe was prepared to attend the birth, but he had to work instead. In February, Mulabwe had left his housekeeping job for work at a Jerome dairy: 12-hour shifts of machine milking cows, six days a week.

They are long and tiring days.

On April 15, two days before his son’s birth, Mulabwe was feeling the pressure of work and bills.

“Yes, he’s stressed right now,” Lupumba said, interpreting for Mulabwe. “His right foot and leg is hurting. He didn’t sleep well last night.”

It wasn’t that he didn’t like making beds and vacuuming carpets in Jackpot; he wasn’t making enough money or working enough hours.

At his new job, he and other refugee workers communicate in English.

“Sometimes it’s difficult, but there are other refugees,” he said. “We try to help each other.”

April brought other financial responsibilities for Mulabwe, too; it was his first month to pay the apartment’s $600 rent.

To cut costs, Mulabwe wants to find a cheaper apartment. Bangerter made a few calls but didn’t find any leads. She told Mulabwe that it may be difficult for him to find an apartment with rent of $550 or less. When she did find an apartment within his price range, the landlord refused to rent to a family of five; the apartment was too small for that many people.

On April 6, Bangerter took Mulabwe to Idaho Housing and Finance Association’s office in Twin Falls. He received papers to apply for low-income housing assistance, but the woman at the front desk said it can take up to two years to be approved.

Despite feeling a bit overwhelmed, Mulabwe was optimistic.

“I feel I have the strength and I have no problem.”

A few days before David’s birth, the petition for a ballot measure to ban refugee centers in Twin Falls County passed its early-April deadline almost 3,000 signatures short of the number needed to get the measure onto the May ballot. But Rick Martin, head of The Committee to End the CSI Refugee Center, vowed to continue his efforts.

“I’ll fight on this issue till hell freezes over, and then I’ll fight on the ice, to end refugee resettlement at CSI,” Martin told a reporter.

Bangerter, as usual, pursued a different brand of advocacy.

Her own children’s births had taught her something: “Everyone wants their mom after having a baby.” So Bangerter did what family might do the day after a birth. She took Bahati’s older children to give Bahati some respite.

When Bangerter showed up at the apartment, Sarah and Daniel were excited to go. This time at First Federal Bank Park, Sarah ran up the stairs and glided down the slides without trepidation. She spun in circles until she was dizzy and walked across a jungle gym maze.

Bangerter’s mother, Alice Sowards, visiting from Georgia, helped her daughter watch Sarah, Daniel and Nicolas as they took off to play in different parts of the park. A ready-made grandma.

It’s also helpful, Bangerter said, when family takes turns making meals for a new mother. So Bangerter put out a call on social media asking friends to cook dinner for the refugee family that week. She already had someone lined up for Thursday. Bangerter intended to attempt bugali one night. If Mulabwe can do it, she said, she can too.

When Sarah wanted to sit in a black bucket swing, Sowards pushed her gently so she soared back and forth.

Sarah spotted Daniel across the park, and the protective big sister yelled to get his attention - in English. “Danny! Daniel, come here!” When Daniel finally returned, Bangerter put him in a swing.

“Grandma will push you,” she said.

As they powered the swings, mother and daughter discussed the summer Sarah might have: swim lessons, preparation for Head Start.

Martin’s committee intends to focus on November’s college trustee elections. Bangerter intends to show this refugee family Dierkes Lake and the other staples of a Twin Falls summer.


Information from: The Times-News, https://www.magicvalley.com

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