We Had Welcome
The very first person I reached out to when I first wrote about the Lewiston Blue Devils was Abdikadir Negeye. Co-founder of the Somali Bantu Youth Association -- now Maine Immigrant and Refugee Services -- Negeye and I chatted about soccer and kids and the long road his family took to Lewiston. It was the first of our many, many conversations over the last few years while I was researching, writing, and editing ONE GOAL.
During one of our talks about his journey from Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps in Kenya to Atlanta to Lewiston, he described to me what it was like to be on a bus for some thirty hours, knowing very little about where he was going -- thirty-plus hours of anxiety. But when his family finally arrived, they had people waiting for them.
"We had welcome," he says of that moment when he got off the bus. "It was a very big relief."
Last week, I returned to Lewiston for the first time since the publication of ONE GOAL. Where else to begin that visit but at MEIRS, an organization devoted, according to its own mission statement, to finding pathways "toward citizenship and community engagement, creating opportunities for inclusion and meaningful participation for immigrants and refugees." Walking into MEIRS offices on Bartlett Street in Lewiston, there was welcome everywhere: a giant poster of ONE GOAL on the wall, soccer players and their families, community members, MEIRS staff and volunteers, and a table bursting with food, including sambusa and rice and sandwiches.
After lots of talking and eating and snapping photos, Abdikadir asked if I would read a bit from the book.
"What should I read?" I wondered out loud.
"Read my part," suggested Warsame Ali, referring to the last minute postscript we added to the book after his overtime goal gave the Blue Devils a second state championship this past fall.
So I did. I read the postscript to those who had lived it, ending with the book's last words -- "soccer is life" -- while sitting next to the young man who uttered them. A few hours later I would be speaking to a packed house at the Lewiston Public Library on Lisbon Street, the heart of downtown, and while a little (a lot!) of snow would come that night, I would hang for a few more days to fit in an event at Bates College, where I started my Lewiston journey, as well as see some friends.
I found welcome. And I am grateful.