Rohingya Reunions: Wisconsin

“Hey Soph, what are you doing this weekend?”

“Oh, I’m gonna be out of town. I’ll be in Wisconsin.”
“Again?!”

I’d be the last person to say that some of my favorite weekends are spent in Sheboygan, Wisconsin in the dead of winter. I’d also be the last person to say that chicken feet soup is starting to freak me out less. Yet here we are.

My Rohingya friends are there. They are the first ones I found that were resettled from the shelter in Thailand. Naturally, I’d do whatever I can to be part of their lives again, even if it means eating more chicken feet soup and hopping on a couple more airplanes.

Chicken feet, guys. Good eatin’

I’ve visited this Rohingya family 3 times now, each time I’ve done it a bit more creatively.

The first time, I found a roundtrip flight from Denver to Milwaukee for $38, took a bus from the airport, and hopped off when I felt I was safely in the middle of nowhere. I walked a couple miles and tracked down the house that they had shown me via Facetime and my successful Google Maps investigations.

The second time, I defeated all stereotypes (as a single white girl) and hitchhiked from the airplane (not the airport, the actual airplane) to the family’s house in Sheboygan. I even got free food from Culver’s. It was a good time.

The third time, I took a train from Chicago and ended up meeting a friend in Milwaukee who let me borrow his car for the weekend.

Who knows how I’ll get there the fourth time?

These Rohingya reunions are an interesting social experiment for me to see just what people think of America. I ask them to show me all of their favorite places in America and we make a weekend out of it.

My first weekend in Sheboygan went as follows:

  1. Surprising the family at the front door, just in time to eat a Rohingya meal the size of Thanksgiving
  2. Visiting their neighbors (who are all refugees and all decide to cook me a meal)
  3. Drinking 4 Redbulls in one sitting (they wouldn’t stop giving them to me…and I kept on drinking)
  4. Taking a trip to Walmart at 11:00pm, cleaning out the Serrano peppers in the produce aisle in preparation for our next meal.
  5. Blasting Bollywood music while driving…and going to McDonald’s at 2:00am because apparently “Teacher Sophie is still hungry.”
  6. Finally snuggling in bed with 4 kids and their mother…but not sleeping at all. Facetiming families in Bangladesh instead. Sleep? What is sleep?
  7. Finally sleeping at 4:00am only to be woken up at 6:00am for (you guessed it) another meal.

Food is serious business in the Rohingya culture. No kidding. That’s worth a whole other blog post.

Amidst the craziness and constant state of confusion (I regularly hop in the car with them with no idea where I’ll be going), I’m learning more about their story and their incredible journey. I had the privilege of visiting their family in the refugee camps in Bangladesh. It’s heartbreaking to know that they’ll never see their entire family again.

Meeting their family in Bangladesh

I’m just grateful for the day they let me into their family.

Since then, I’ve stood beside the son as he shared his story with his entire school. I walked the halls of the daughter’s middle school and met with her teachers. I spent a day in kindergarten class with the youngest who never knew English before — now he won’t shut up.


Sharing his story in front of the entire school. So proud of him!

These weekends are unpredictable and spontaneous and that’s what I love about them.

If you ask me what I’m doing next weekend, the chances are I’m probably visiting more Rohingya friends. That’s probably the only thing in my life that’s fairly predictable.

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