They Won the Green Card Lottery

2017 by Ed Chasteen

“Please, God, don’t let these dear people experience buyer’s remorse.” This is my silent prayer as eleven of us sit at the dinner table. Semih Ayaydin, his wife Sermin and their teenage son and daughter, Mustafa and Sude, were at home in Turkey until a few months ago. They had won the Green Card Lottery months earlier and passed all the background checks. Now they live in a duplex near Winnetonka High School in North Kansas City. Tom Dunn and I have been invited tonight to dinner.

Eyyup Esen is here. Eyyup, also from Turkey, is a naturalized American citizen with a doctorate from KU and directs the Dialogue Institute of the Southwest, based here in Kansas City. As part of the program the Dialogue Institute offers, Eyyup takes folks from Kansas City to visit Turkey. Jan and John Devaney have gone with Eyyup to Turkey and are here tonight. During dinner they discover they met the Ayaydin family in Turkey.

Winning the Green Card Lottery is not the same as being issued a Green Card. Those issued a Green Card receive it after being offered a job in the United States and securing a sponsor to ease their transition. The Green Card Lottery is a wholly different matter. Only in a few countries each year is it offered. Those who live in that country and learn of its availability may sign up. From those who sign up, names are randomly drawn and background checks are run. Those who make it this far get a Green Card and are allowed to come to America at their own expense, with no promise of a job and no certain place to live.

As the eleven of us sit around the table and dine on the delightful Turkish dinner prepared for us, my mind is churning, trying without success to understand what sinister forces ripped this winsome family from their home and brought them to a place they have never been, where people do not speak, worship or dine as they always have.

Across the table from me sit Mehmed and Irem Atik, a young Turkish husband and wife, also dinner guests here tonight. Mehmed’s father was a medical doctor in Turkey. In 2001 he moved with his family to the US, settling in Houston, where for five years he operated a Turkish grocery, before joining the medical staff at Baylor Medical Center in Houston. Mehmed and Irem have just moved from Houston to Kansas City so Mehmed can attend Kansas City Medical School and become a physician.

Semih sits on my right at dinner and fills my small glass with hot tea several times, but he speaks no English and I speak no Turkish. Mehmed, directly across from us both, relays my many questions to Semih. Thus I learn about the Green Card Lottery, how Semih found a job and a place to live, where Mustafa and Sude go to school. When I hear of Semih’s need to learn English, I tell him about my two sons, one on staff at Penn Valley Community College, the other on staff at Longview Community College, either of which might know where and how to put Semih in touch with needed language help.

Tom and I bid a reluctant farewell when dinner ends and we are drawn from this world as it should be, this blood transfusion for a patient on life support. Cloud nine has come down around us gathered at this table. We have come in from the cold on a winter’s night. Each of us is a part of all as we leave.

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