by Mark Redwine
Read Part 1 of Cami’s story right here in KRL.
The smallest thing can sometimes make the greatest difference in life. Especially to those who are losing hope or suffering. Music can be like that. There is a kid’s song from Africa. It is one of those silly songs that started in Lake Nakuru and spread all over Africa. No matter where you went in Africa, no matter what language group, you could hear the kids singing this song. It was a song from Cami’s childhood. One night we were singing songs under the bridge. Cami loves to sing. She tried to sing in Spanish, but it didn’t work too well so she helped by letting out a yell that all African women do called a regalia. That is where they kind of shout and roll their tongues.
I knew some African songs, so later I tried to sing with Cami. I only know Swahili songs and she doesn’t speak Swahili. Then I remembered this silly kid’s song that was in African/English. I played it for her and she recognized it, her eyes lit up, and we began singing it together. It goes something like this; “Winner (pronounced ween-ah), eh-eh-eh winner, (repeat), Jesus you are the winner-winner, battle-battle, you are forever winner”. Then it goes, “Looser (pronounced loos-ah), eh-eh-eh looser (repeat), Satan, you are the looser-looser, battle-battle, you are forever looser. And when the kids say Jesus, they raise their hands over their heads and wave them high. When they say Satan, they kind of mop the floor with their hands. Cami knew the motions.
She was losing hope under the bridge and was sick. I didn’t know how sick at the time. But this little song renewed her hope. And, I prayed with her. Many times, during her stay in detention, she would lose hope, and when she called me we would sing this song together, and she always asked me to pray for her, and her hope was restored.
Her African brothers stood guard over her while she waited in a heap at the line to enter the USA legally to ask for asylum. Finally, the guards from the American side let her pass and helped her to the detention center at the base of the bridge. From there, they rushed her to the hospital. She was evaluated, given medicine, and returned to detention. Here, they placed her in a very cold room for two days. The immigrants call it the ice box. You are given a blanket that looks like a piece of tin foil. You only get bologna sandwiches to eat, you are kept awake and harassed by the guards. The object is to dehumanize you. From there she went to Port Isabel Detention Center, which is a maximum-security facility. She was treated like a criminal. This is no place for a refugee. She couldn’t understand what the guards wanted because they gave commands in Spanish, and she experienced racism. Then, she was transferred to T. Don Hutto Residential Center. Hutto is a paradise compared to Port Isabel. It is a detention center for women. There were many Cameroonian women there, and Cami made good friends. She had her own room with a bathroom. Here, she would have three trials to determine her asylum plea.
One hearing is to determine if there is credible fear. It had to be the right type of fear. Escaping death from gangs is different than escaping death by a government. The second is to determine if there is enough evidence to proceed to a final trial. The third trial is to determine if asylum would be granted.
Gathering evidence for Cami would be difficult because it needed to come from Cameroon. Her husband and family were there, but they were being watched by the government. The family believed she was dead. The government believed she was still alive and in country. The police and the soldiers were putting a lot of pressure on her family to give information on her whereabouts.
While Cami was still under the bridge, a team from Oklahoma visited us and helped feed the asylum seekers. One of the women on the team, Lauren, made a powerful connection with Cami and an unbreakable bond was formed. She became Cami’s sponsor. Cami asked a friend’s attorney to help her thru all of the legal processes.
My part in all of this was to encourage Cami and to help her not get lonely. I could not see her at Hutto because it is about a day’s drive from here. So, I called all of my friends in near Hutto and asked them to visit her. One couple, Tom and Linda, are now her American grandmother and grandfather. They would sing together in the visiting room for hours. Many times, when she was discouraged, she would call me and we would sing that song and pray. The last time she called, she said that she felt a deep change in her spirit and knew for sure that God was in control of her life and situation.
Lauren was able to contact her husband in Cameroon. But, gaining his trust took a while. He wanted to believe she was alive, but was afraid that the contact from Lauren was a ploy from the government to trap him. He needed proof of life. The only proof he would accept was hearing her voice. That proved to be difficult because no recording devises are allowed in the facility. Cami’s attorney suggested that she call Lauren, and that Lauren record that conversation for proof of life. She did. She sent the recording to Cami’s husband. When he heard the recording, he said, “Now my mind is at peace”. Then he sent pictures of himself, the kids, and a sister to pass along to Cami. This made Cami happy beyond all measure. The situation for him and the family was growing more dangerous by the day.
Cami passed her second hearing and the time for the final trial had arrived. Lauren was there about 11:30. She met Cami’s lawyer for the first time. He wanted to prep her and Cami for testimony. But, they found out that Lauren would not be allowed in the courtroom. The trial started at 1:30. Lauren sat in the lobby praying. Every time the door opened, she looked for Cami’s lawyer. It must have opened a hundred times. Finally, he appeared. She asked the question with her eyes. He answered, “She was given asylum.” After Lauren was done hugging him, she asked him to put his bill in her name. He simply said, “What bill?” Lauren cried. It was late afternoon, too late to finish all of the paperwork for Cami’s release that day. The next day, Cami and her best friend were released together. Lauren drove them to Dairy Queen. From what I hear, their first experience with the soda machine was memorable. I can barely work one of those myself.
Later, after they dropped off the friend, Cami called her family. This was the first time they had a conversation in nearly a year. Lauren said that there were shrieks of joy, laughter, and that everyone came running to hear the miracle of her voice. She goes on to say this, “And her children! The sweet sound of children calling out to their mom! At that moment, sitting in my car, in a hotel parking lot, as she spoke to her family……that moment made it all worth it.”Since then, Cami has been able to video call her family. Lauren said, “Just last night, she was able to talk with her mom. Mom had been skeptical about of her being alive, but after talking to her thru relayed phones, finally believes!” Her daddy died of a broken heart while she was traveling.
Welcome to America, Cami.
If you would like to know more about Mark and Marilyn’s work on the border, or how you can help, like their Facebook page or email Mark for more information at mtmasai@aol[dot]com.