Sarment, too. Roy had roselle—that was it. Alimasi had some
sweet potatoes and leeks. “Everything else has been completely
destroyed,” he said. Constant was still in Congo. He’d been anxiously watching the reports on television, tracking Harvey once it
entered the Gulf. His nephew got news to Constant that besides
the sugarcane and maybe some cassava, all his crops were gone.
Clech, Christine’s daughter, stood with her fussing infant
strapped to her back in a sling. Sarment’s wife, Henriette, sat
on the couch next to Liz with a chubby-cheeked baby on her
lap, a pacifier clipped to his shirt. Their toddler, in Batman sandals, wandered the room. “Okay, we will cancel CSA for now,”
Liz decided after hearing the reports, but reminding the farmers that they would still get paid, even though they had no produce for their subscribers that week, or maybe for awhile. As she
spoke, Henriette’s baby grasped Liz’s finger in his fist and pulled
it to his mouth.
Since Liz had taken over, she’d been scouting around for some
kind of insurance that would provide real coverage for the farmers. After a surprise January freeze that had killed o= everything,
and now these floodwaters that had washed their crops away, the
farmers were growing anxious. The Plant It Forward vision of sustainable work at a living wage was possible but tenuous. These
disasters, accelerated by a changing climate, reminded them of
their vulnerability. Plant It Forward could cancel the CSA shares
for a few weeks, and help the farmers replant by purchasing seeds
and resupplying damaged irrigation lines. It could divide up the
donations that were coming in—$500 for each of the farmers.
And it could set up volunteer days to clear away debris. But the
farmers’ losses far exceeded that help. Still, for now, this was the
best Liz could do. “Ah, merci,” said Guy under his breath, almost
to himself. Nodding beside him, Alimasi, the Pentecostal pastor,
added, “C’est un bon esprit, eh?” It’s a good spirit.
After the flooding, and with his own limited English, Alimasi
was now feeling helpless to speak up for those in his congregation who depended on him. Some had spent almost a week
hemmed in by the waters, or had evacuated only to return to
apartments with carpets and walls turning black with mold while
managers demanded rent and did nothing. Others had lost jobs
at businesses a=ected by the flooding. This su=ering hurt Alimasi. Even the conference room in the Holiday Inn where his
congregation worshipped had taken in water, so now on Sundays
they crammed into his living room to sing and o=er praise.
Alimasi figured he himself would be losing about $1,000 a
month through December, which was $1,000 a month more
than he could a=ord to lose. Perhaps because Alimasi and
Fatuma have so many mouths to feed, including their children
and the orphaned nieces and nephews they brought with them
from Congo, or perhaps because they are older, they have not
found the financial success with Plant It Forward that they origi-
nally imagined. They are making a living, but just barely. Farm-
ing has given them independence from the night shift work of
cleaning windows and floors at the upscale mall, but they have
lost the security of full-time employment with a company that
provided benefits. Alimasi doesn’t mind hard work, but some-
times it seems like their future has been blocked. Sometimes
they can’t see where they are going.
Still, looking back over his life, Alimasi realizes that in leaving Congo for the refugee camp in Uganda, where he built a
church with refugees from all over Africa, and then in leaving
Uganda for America, where he lives among Hispanics and South
Asians, he has assembled a philosophy out of his displacement.
He sees that he can live anywhere and with anyone. Being a
refugee and working with Plant It Forward taught him this. A
malady has spread through Congo, Alimasi thinks, carried in by
Rwandans, by Burundians, fleeing ethnic slaughter. People of
di=erent tribes used to live together peacefully in his home country. But these ethnic divisions have increasingly become sources
of trouble. Alimasi longs to be able to return to his people and
say: You are fighting for nothing, man. You are dying for nothing.
The stranger could bring some things that you didn’t have before.
Considering this longing of Alimasi’s, the decision by the current presidential administration to cap refugee admissions into
the US this year at 45,000 — down from the 110,000-person goal
that President Obama had set before he left o=ice, and lower than
that of any other White House administration since 1980, when
legislation first gave the president authority to define the cap — is
wrongheaded. America is a kind of ecosystem nourished by the
displaced to whom it o=ers refuge. To welcome refugees here is
also to carry seeds of tolerance, as if on the wind, back to relatives
and friends in home countries razed by violence. These ideas,
planted in their native soil, could take root and flourish. Refugee
resettlement is a sustainable foreign policy which, in the end,
could protect us all.
“Don’t feel sad and don’t feel alone,” Liz was telling the farmers as the meeting at the warehouse came to a close. She wanted
The crisp air sharpened and
clarified everything. It had become
a world again of fundamentals:
green crops, blue sky, black earth.