Patience was a 20-year-old refugee from Africa. Originally her family had fled from Liberia. They had spent seven years in a refugee camp in Ghana. She had come to the United States with the rest of her family: her mother, her father, and two younger sisters. The family had been sponsored as refugees by a church in northern Indiana.
She had been enrolled in a small private high school at age 18, shortly after arriving in America. This was part of an attempt to bring her spotty refugee camp education up to the standards of her new country. She was the most educationally driven of the sisters and the attempt was very successful. In a small, middle-of-the-school-year ceremony she was awarded a high school diploma just a year and a half after beginning her 'catch-up' activities.
Patience stood about 5' 3", was small framed, and was as 'black as the ace of spades'. She was African black not the brown of the typical African American. She had a pretty, oval little face that ended in a shapely chin. She had a pair of prominent cheekbones and a smile that lit up her face. Her hair was short, generally worn clubbed together with a scrunchie in the back. Sometimes it was in cornrows neatly put in by her one of her sisters or by her mother. She had often chosen to wear a wig at school. Her choice of a brunette or black Caucasian wig was originally meant for a laugh, but they actually looked good on her.
Her bust was larger than either of her younger sisters', but to look at her mother as an example, would never be overwhelming. Her butt was a nice, shapely little bubble, with emphasis on the little — she was not a large person. She had a very small waist, which in fact gave her the traditional 'hourglass' figure and made her breasts look larger than they really were. If forced to estimate her weight I'd guess it at about 100 lbs. even. After a year plus of eating food that was much more wholesome than she had received in the camps, she would be described as slender and healthy in appearance. Her voice was quiet and her accent was British African. To a listening American the softly voiced British accent was charming. Because she spoke so seldom most people never had the chance to hear it.
She wanted very much to attend and complete 'university' as she called it, college to most Americans. Her main problem was that the allotments under which she had been supported for her first years in this country were about to expire. She was now over the maximum age and had completed the high school education that had kept the allotments coming. While they would keep coming for her sisters, she was about to be cast onto her own. The United States government had helped the young refugee, but was about to set her free to try her own skills.
An additional problem in getting that education, perhaps in fact the biggest, was with her parents. They also had been put on their own and were unable to really succeed at any of the several forms of employment that they had tried. While their pride demanded that they pretend self-sufficiency, they were in fact now dependent on the government's allotments to their daughters. Since Patience would no longer be bringing in an allotment she was about to become a burden on the family. In the usual way of handling some of their problems back in Africa her parents were determined to either cut her free from the rest of the family, to 'force her out of the nest', or to put her to work for the benefit of the rest of the family. It was beginning to appear that there would be no 'university' for Patience, no achievement of her American dream.
Some of her sponsors were attempting to set her up with a job to help out the family. They had found Patience a local job. It would be repetitive hand labor, not paying much. She already had a bicycle to ride to and from work. She could continue to live with her family and her paycheck would go to help support the family group. It was obvious to her that the situation would probably be permanent.
She was becoming desperate. She felt that none of these people cared about her as a person, only about taking care of the family problem. They were not going to help her 'go to university'. She was going to have to get help elsewhere or work, apparently without chance of release. Her level of frustration was very high.
Speaking to one of the staff people at her old school about her problem was a result of her frustration. She ordinarily concealed personal thoughts from these people; she did not share with them easily. The school system's social worker tried to help Patience evaluate the moneymaking possibilities of her skills. It became obvious early on in their conversations that she didn't have the skills that would make enough money to do what she wanted to do. At one point in the frustrations of one of their conversations she actually suggested that she would consider becoming a prostitute to get out from under her family's control, to cover the costs of living alone and of going to 'university'. Another option, which she was heard to voice under her breath, was that of committing suicide.
These two ideas from this generally levelheaded young lady shook up the social worker she was working with. She quickly brought the situation to her next departmental group discussion. She reported that she saw Patience as becoming desperate and feared a 'non-rational' response to the situation. Having heard some stories of the desperation of the people in the refugee camp the committee was really concerned about her possible resolution of these problems. But not a one of them knew how to solve Patience's problems. She had not done anything that would allow them to begin a more active intervention.
One member of the school staff was particularly concerned about their discussion about Patience. Cynthia was probably the only staff member who would first of all believe that Patience's overheard comments were truly meant, and secondly, could think far enough out of the box to see a possible answer. She simultaneously feared for Patience's well being and could also see a possible (but non-traditional) way out of the situation.
She called Patience to a meeting at the school and talked with her about her home situation. Patience had always been quite open with Cyndi while a student, and this situation proved no different. Patience was in fact very talkative about the situation. Cyndi knew that some of the extreme frustration that Patience felt was surfacing in the words that were being showered upon her as the girl vented.
Patience fully understood why her family had fled from their homeland. As the oldest of the three children she had experienced much from what they had fled. That flight had allowed the family to survive when others had not. She could understand why they had to be in the refugee camp in Ghana even though she thought that the Ghanaian government was wrong not to allow them to become citizens. She was thankful that they had been admitted to the USA and also to the church that had sponsored their family so that they could come into America. But Patience was thoroughly fed up with her father's and her mother's inability to adapt to their new country. She had recently come to view them as abject failures based on their inability to lead the family or support the family for the past 8 years. She certainly did not feel obligated to give up her future to support 'them'. She was fed up with the limits on her future that were being placed in her way by the people who wanted to trap her into working to support 'them'. She had fully bought the American life scenarios that placed a college (a 'university') degree at the center of a successful life. She had come to see that diploma as her only hope for a life other than the one of flight and poverty that she had grown up with and which she continued to experience even now.
Eventually she wound down. As her words stuttered to a halt, her eyes glistened with unshed tears. She shrugged her shoulders in a universal gesture of hopelessness and slumped far down in her seat.
Cyndi sat and looked at her for a full silent minute. As Patience brought herself under control, Cyndi took two deep breaths and began to talk. "Patience," she said, "I understand that you are very frustrated. I understand that you aren't happy with your family right now. I can't do anything about them or for them or to them. But I am concerned about you. I was told about some of the things that you said the other day. You were angry and frustrated and because of that you were saying things that you otherwise wouldn't say out loud. Do you remember what you said?"
Patience was too dark colored to show the blush that perfused her skin, but she certainly felt it. Embarrassed by what one of her teachers had heard her say, she looked down at the table as she nodded her head yes.
"Did you mean it when you said you would kill yourself," asked Cyndi.
"No, not really. But I did mean that I will do anything to get out of that family and into university. Killing myself wouldn't get me into university."
"OK, let's talk about just what your anything means. You also said that you would sell your body if that were the only way you could go to college. Did you mean that?"
"Yes," said Patience, "if I could find a way to get away from 'them' and go to school I would willingly play the whore to pay for it. I had plenty of friends who did that to get things in the camp and they did pretty well for themselves. Do you really think that I couldn't or wouldn't do that? Don't you think the results would be worth the sin?"
.... There is more of this story ...