World Relief Seattle’s family Christmas card this year features Mai, Salai, and the show-stealer, July. Take a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to spend an afternoon with this big-spirited family.
Photos by Avery Milo, Helm & Harbor Photography
The first thing I was struck by when I entered Mai and Salai’s apartment was the shoe rack. I was caught off guard by the volume of shoes—all different colors, all different styles and, seemingly, almost all women’s shoes. Salai was quick to point out that only a few pairs were his.
I took the shoe rack as an invitation to take off my shoes and stay a while. Avery and I stepped into a simple living room in Mai and Salai’s Seatac apartment. The family moved from Kent a few months ago in order to be closer to Salai’s work as a cook at the airport. I’d only met them once before our visit, but this was enough time to know that theirs was a story we wanted to share. Plus they have a very cute 3-year-old.
I had a list of interview questions prepared, but as these things go, we ended up just having a conversation. Mai, Salai and I talked about topics like English and education in the U.S. while Avery tried to get July to hold still long enough to take a picture. A very tough task, since July was busy preparing a meal of plastic toy fruit, with an empty 5-Hour Energy bottle standing in for the drink.
As we spoke, I was reminded anew of how irrepressible refugees are. Here are two young people who fled their homes to avoid being forced into unpaid labor by their government, all for coming from the “wrong” ethnic and religious groups. They moved from the Burmese countryside to the city of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, where they lived for 7 years working illegally in restaurants to make ends meet. Mai told me she waitressed until she was eight months pregnant with July.
But I was also reminded that these folks are fascinating, with goals, hobbies, and lives that are full, despite all that’s been lost. Salai proudly showed off his photography gear and pictures to us. As a self-taught photographer, he was excited to hear about how Avery learned the art. He also shared his cooking skills with us in the form of delicious homemade pork and potatoes. Mai spoke about her love for cosmetics and expressed her hope to turn this from a passion to a profession in the future.
July operated throughout most of the afternoon blissfully oblivious to what the adults were up to—except when a camera was pointed at her, at which point she made faces or looked the other way. The rest of the time, she busied herself with “preparing lunch” and watching kids’ YouTube videos in English and Spanish.
It has been our great pleasure at World Relief to work with this small family, helping them to find their feet and begin to succeed in their new life together in Washington. To support others like Mai, Salai, and July as they begin their new lives in Western Washington, please make a donation to World Relief Seattle’s refugee programs. Your dollars help our newest neighbors establish their first home in America, learn English, get jobs and connect to their local community.