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Thirty Five Minutes Away. Worlds Apart.

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Raleigh's Midtown North Hills Neighborhood Houses  an Invisible Community

Raleigh's Midtown North Hills Neighborhood Houses an Invisible Community

FNF Staff Altered Photo

FNF Staff Altered Photo

Raleigh's Midtown North Hills Neighborhood Houses an Invisible Community

Zara Khan, Staff Writer

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Thirty-five minutes.

That’s about how long it takes to get to the North Hills area of Raleigh from Cary. Just a block or so from this bustling regional center of commerce is an isolated part of town where the only color comes from the rusting brown building inhabited by families of six, sometimes seven kids.

These families are invisible to most. They are Afghan, Syrian, and Somali refugees.

On my visits to the ailing apartment complex, I was accompanied by an older lady lovingly called “Aunty,” a former Afghan refugee turned nurse.

Prior to arriving at the housing complex, we stockpiled the back of her old Chevy pickup truck with clothes, toys, and food for the adults and kids. Entering the neighborhood, the smiles of young children glisten upon seeing our familiar faces. I crack open the squeaking door of the Chevy, and dozens of young children run and jump into the bed of the truck, excited to see what we’ve brought them. A short while later, desperate mothers with infants clinging to their hips rush down the stairs of their homes, hoping that there might be some sort of relief for them in our truck.

Aunty has the toughest job – she looks at the despondent faces and must decide within seconds who is more in need than the others. As she scrambles to distribute the supplies, I wander away, preferring to spend my time with the kids.

Hassan, a nine-year-old, tugs at my arm urging for me to go into his home, where he shows me his “new” backpack. Hassan’s home is shared with another family; the one bedroom apartment accommodates more than ten people. I look around as his siblings follow us into the room, glaring at his backpack as if it’s a golden goose. In reality, it’s a worn backpack that has a little life left and Hassan is its new lucky guardian. I open the fridge of their home to my surprise: nothing but a jug of milk. In all my privilege of eating Oreos and milk, Lay’s Barbecue Chips and all other brands of junk food,  my stomach turned sour seeing their condition. A salty tear began forming in my right eye and I briskly walked away, as if not facing their reality would make it somewhat less real.

After some time passed, it was time to go home. I tried heading towards the Chevy, but I felt a tug at my clothes: a youthful face hopeful that I would stay. I hugged the young child and we drove off. As the landscape changed from littered streets to the rolling suburban hills, the irony was not lost on me and I couldn’t help but question my privilege. Aunty dropped me off home and I walked in hungry, opening my own fridge to endless foods, snacks, and desserts.

Why was it that Hassan’s family had little while mine had more? The unfairness in our world and the sadness on those faces has never left me.

It all feels natural now.

Scrolling through our social media feeds and sharing heartbreaking pictures without feeling the heartbreak. We question ourselves how we can go about our day, yet we still do. In my technologically advanced generation, we’ve come so far, sometimes we’ve forgotten to see who we may have left behind.

Helping these refugees helped me understand that even a couple miles away, there are those who live a frightening reality, feeling so foreign in their new country.

Hassan and I look up at the same stars, pray to the same God, someday I hope we have the same equality.

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Thirty Five Minutes Away. Worlds Apart.