Old Traditions with New Friends
Abdul Haikal and his family enjoyed a very special first Thanksgiving this year with some new friends – the Brenners. The Brenner family is a host for AirBnB, the peer-to-peer online homestay network that enables people to list or rent short-term lodging in residential properties. This year, AirBnB helped connect hosts like the Brenners with refugee families for Thanksgiving to share a meal together and demonstrate the power of welcome.
Everyone has a story to tell, but Abdul can now freely share his. Abdul is an employment specialist with New American Pathways who came to the United States in 2012 on a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV). Many individuals who aided the U.S. military in Afghanistan or Iraq and were expedited out with SIV status when it was no longer safe for them to be there.
Always seeking opportunities to make new friends, Abdul accepted the Brenner’s invitation and was delighted to bring his family over to share in their holiday celebration. Last year he was alone as his family was all in Afghanistan, so this was an amazing first for them all. He said that this wonderful family welcomed his warmly, respectfully – and with hugs. Being from such different backgrounds he thought, “How could they be so warm when they don’t even know us?”
Both families discovered that, while they had very different backgrounds and experiences, they also enjoyed sharing their ideas and values.
All the kids played together and the adults enjoyed a bit of a cultural exchange. Abdul and his family learned all about the history and tradition of Thanksgiving while enjoying the delicious food. Then, they shared the history and tradition of Eid al-Fitr – the celebration of the end of the fasting during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. This year, the Brenners are invited to celebrate Eid with the Haikal family!
Linda Brenner, the hostess, had a real appreciation for the challenges Abdul and his family faced to leave Afghanistan and rebuild their lives here. For Abdul, he says, “I’m proud of what I did. If I can help anyone – to stop people from doing negative things – put me on the front line. A person’s race, religion, whatever – doesn’t matter. I want you to have the same things I have. To have a good life.”
“Abdul’s story – the whole evening – was fascinating,” Linda said. Her father appreciated the experience so much that he wrote a piece for his retirement community called, “Abdul is a Mensch”. You can read his story directly here.
When asked about the similarities she found between the families, Linda said: “Fundamentally, we all just want our families to be safe.” We are all grateful for Abdul’s service and feel safer because he is here.