Bethany Stories: Hannah Rumsey


During our Bethany Stories series, we’re hearing stories about our namesake, a town outside Jerusalem where Jesus’ friends Martha, Mary, and Lazarus lived. We’re also hearing stories from our Bethany, especially from the past year.

On Sunday May 19th, regular Bethany visitor and dedicated Refugee One volunteer Hannah Rumsey shared some of her experience helping to resettle a refugee family (as part of our partnership with our friends and neighbors at Pilgrim Lutheran).

Hannah’s Bethany story:

For several months I’ve visited the refugee family from Burma. The father, Mohammad, speaks some English—and with him I can have short conversations, like remarking on the weather, or pointing to the sports game on TV and asking him if he likes to play. The 3-year-old girl, Nur Ritzke, is extremely outgoing, always chattering and bossing me around in Rohingyan, and saying occasional English phrases like, “OK,” “come on!” or when we leave, “thank you so much, bye-bye!”

The mother, Husen, speaks almost no English, and because of that I think, she is the most withdrawn when we’re there. The first couple of visits, she would sit a little removed from us, or be buried in cooking or cleaning. She has opened up more and more over time, but because of the language barrier I just didn’t know how to connect with her. So, I started by pointing to objects and asking her how to say it in her native language, Rohingyan, and I noticed that her usual look of vague panic or confusion would relax into a smile. So I kept doing it. Over time she’s taught me the words for many objects and animals, and the ONLY one that I’ve managed to remember is the word for horse. GOOLA.

The first time she taught it to me, was when Nur Ritzke got a wooden rocking horse. She dragged it out to the middle of the living room excitedly, chattering incessantly as her parents giggled and watched on from the couch. She got on the horse and then turned to me, pointing behind her and telling me what I assume was: “Get on! Get behind me.” I kept saying “I can’t, I can’t fit!” Because there was about this much space behind her, and there was no way that I would be able to fit without injuring me, her, or the horse, but I couldn’t explain that to her, so I eventually gave in and squatted in the air behind her, and we went on the fasted, silliest, rowdiest horse ride I’ve ever been on, yelling and “yeehaing!”—and if there was a landscape it would be ZOOMING past us, and the most amazing thing happened. We were ALL laughing, but Husen was laughing hysterically—hardly able to breathe, rocking back and forth on the couch, tears streaming down her face--the kind of laughter that happens when you’re with your best friend, and you’re doubled over, clutching at each other, dizzy and light and drunk with joy.

This went on for several minutes, and it was so simple, and spontaneous, and beautiful, to all be breathless and happy together.

For weeks after that, I kept going back to that horse. I was like a child telling the same joke to her parents over and over again, because it made them laugh that first time. “Goola!” I’d say, pointing to the horse, and we’d pull it out and play on it again, and it’d get a smile and a few chuckles, but it just wasn’t the same.

Nur-Ritzke pulled it out again several weeks later. I watched from a distance as she rocked faster and faster, and right when I started to think that she might be going too fast, the horse tipped over and she crashed onto the coffee table. She screamed and cried immediately, and in less than a second Husen was scooping her up, clutching her to her chest, frantically checking her head and limbs for injury, and then promptly whisked her away to the other room. I sat there, stunned, not knowing whether or not she was hurt, not knowing how to help. A few seconds later the crying stopped, and Husen slowly walked back into the room and sat on the couch with a teary Nur Ritzke in her lap. We were all quiet after that, not really knowing what to do or say, and I dragged the horse back to its corner.

And I was a little sad. Like the kind of sadness that I felt in high school when I got together with my old middle school friends and we would tell stories of the fun times we had together, but each time we told them we’d laugh less and less, because it had faded into something we could no longer grasp; like a memory of a memory.

I’ve found that there’s a melancholy that follows extreme joy. Especially when it’s shared. Because you know that you can’t experience it again, and you can’t recreate it. So I’m trying to be grateful that I did have a moment of intense connection, and look forward to the next one—which will probably come, as it always does, as a complete surprise and without any effort.