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Not My Values

Perspectives change after a month in a refugee camp

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The words "not my country" will never cross my lips. I have traveled the world and seen immeasurable suffering first hand. Every time I have returned from such travels, I have been overwhelmed with how lucky I am to be a citizen of the United States of America. I am so appreciative and thankful for things others take so much for granted. Toilets, water from a tap, washing machines, refrigeration, reliable electricity; but, primarily, the safety and security that my country affords me. I love my country. Burn my flag and you burn a hole in my heart.

The words "not my president" will also never cross my lips. I value our democracy and free and open elections. So many have fought for fair and open elections, and I respect those valiant efforts. Our elections are an anomaly. Most countries around the globe do not have elections without fear of persecution or violence. Many countries' elections are riddled with corruption and unrest. I will respect a free, open election even if the candidate I voted for isn't elected, as was the case in this most recent election.

I was raised in a remote town in eastern Montana with a population of less than 5,000. This town was three hours from an airport or a shopping mall. There is not a single mosque or Islamic prayer center within a 10-hour drive. Ninety-four percent of the population is Caucasian, which is 20 percent higher than the national average. Fifty-eight percent of the population affiliates as Catholic or Protestant, with only 4 percent stating "other" as a religion. If there is anyone with an excuse to be narrow-minded or sheltered to international politics, I believe it would be me. I have only ever held residence in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. I am a Caucasian female, aged 30, affiliated as a non-denominational Christian.

I am an emergency room nurse. Very rarely do I spend a day at work in which my actions do not intervene in a way that saves another person's life, even if that person treats me poorly or disrespectfully in the process.

I spent November working as a nurse in a refugee camp in Greece. I was terrified and overwhelmed when I left Boise. I knew I would be working with predominantly Muslim refugees displaced by conflicts in the Middle East. I felt awkward and uncomfortable, my family and friends worried about my safety. I vowed to open my mind and focus on something familiar: working hard. No heroics or patting myself on the back as a do-gooder, just good old fashioned "do more than is asked of you."

I was wrong.

I played basketball and trash talked an Iraqi man in his 50s while we body-checked and fouled each other to no end. Apparently, no matter where you're from or what customs you have, no man likes to lose to a trash-talking girl. Sweaty and out-of-breath hugs, back slapping and smiles were shared by all.

I rode shotgun with a 22-year-old hijab-clad Muslim woman while we both cursed in-car navigation systems as we tried to find a local hospital where one of our critical patients had been transported. We listened to her choice of music on the way and I realized some of the same artists she prefers make up an entire playlist I listen to while snowboarding. We chatted about relationships, marriage, careers and goals like I chat with my girlfriends in the States.

Nearly every day I did pull-ups and wall sits with two Syrian teenage boys from Damascus. They had fled Syria because their mother, a French teacher, and their father, an engineer were academics and valued education. When one of their sons graduated high school, he was going to be forced into fighting and they fled so he could become an optometrist rather than a soldier. I helped to teach them how to use an AED, CPR and first aid. I also helped teach them the finer points of American education: English slang and profanity, '80s hip-hop and resume writing. We Facetime still and they call me their "sister from another mister."

I could sit here and write all day about my experiences and how my expectations were absolutely wrong about these people, their religion and their customs.

The words that will cross my lips right now are "not my values." I will not stand by silent as we make mass generalizations about such a large group of people. I will not support sweeping political policies that alienate human beings based on religion, race, stereotypes and labels. I will not listen to the fear mongering that refugees are "terrorists who haven't been vetted." Eight federal agencies are involved in the current vetting of refugees that make it to the U.S. Six security databases are utilized and five background checks, as well as four biometric checks, are logged and performed to ensure our safety. This process at minimum usually takes 18 months and can take up to two years. Our government knows more about these refugees than it will ever know about me as a natural-born citizen.

This is not a political issue, this is a human rights issue. Basic. Human. Rights.

We owe it to these people to open our minds, educate ourselves to the facts, and speak forcefully and with conviction against violations of basic human rights. We also owe it to ourselves and to our country.

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