Hello from South Portland!
We started the day in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Next to an elaborate Civil War monument – with fresh Memorial Day flowers in honor of people no longer remembered – and an unflowered plaque dedicated to Spanish American War (1898-1902) vets, we met Chris, who is cheerful despite being, um, between things.
Chris was not surprised to hear that our government doesn’t provide counsel for refugees seeking asylum, and that private efforts are not enough. He’s glad that Human Rights First does what it can.
We were delayed a few minutes by the open drawbridge across the Piscataqua River.
Then we entered Maine’s oldest town. The first commercial establishment we encountered touts Maine’s signature food, which reminds us of a large insect.
Up and down we rode through the countryside. Stoneyards.
And too many old graveyards to count.
The GPS sent us on a bike route that turned into 2 miles of sand and gravel . . .
. . . then into undulating packed earth.
Just as it started to rain, threatening to bog us down beyond Jeffrey’s ability to extract us (remember his broken leg!), we reached pavement again. Then we were directed to a paved bike path that quickly turned to sand. We had just survived two miles of dirt; we were not going to try to pedal through 6 miles of sand to an abandoned railroad bed that might also be dirt.
We preferred to add miles to the trip to keep it on pavement. And that’s what we did.
Some of that pavement was on U.S. 1. That highway has great smooth shoulders . . . except when they shrink to 6″ (15 cm) or disappear altogether.
We saw lightning. Danger! We stopped, covered the Sprint 26 seat with Jeffrey’s rain cape, I stayed in my plastic bag, and just as rain began to pour, Jeffrey went into a shop with a covered porch.
He refueled with a sandwich, the rain stopped, and we prepared to leave.
Patty Martel came out of the shop, asking if we accept donations. We gratefully accepted hers. She is charming, but shy and modest and declined to be photographed. She gave me a sticker to publish instead.
We had a nice talk about how asylum applicants in the U.S. can get lawyers only “at no expense to the government” – this information had led her dad, who made Jeffrey’s sandwich, to shake his head in disgust and disbelief – about reckless drivers on cell phones; the recent death of her boyfriend’s biking companion, hit by a driver who “didn’t see him”; and her son’s admission to law school. We wish this kind family well! And they make a great sandwich.
Maybe Patty’s son will participate in the law school clinic that won asylum for E, a 25-year-old refugee from Djibouti. E, shy and modest like Patty, also declined to be photographed. We met him as he walked to the bus to go home from work in South Portland. E’s English is good, but his French is much better. He is grateful to the clinic lawyer who helped him (and continues to help him) for free. He is grateful to the U.S. government for granting him asylum. He is grateful to have work. As for his American neighbors, he said he knows some wonderful people here, and others – he wouldn’t say anything bad, so he said nothing. Jeffrey told E what we see on our travels, that people have good hearts but they know little about immigration and asylum, and understand even less. When people learn the truth, things are better for refugees and for our country.
Kevon, born in Jamaica, didn’t mind being photographed outside our motel. We talked about how diverse Maine has become. This evening at a nearby mall, Jeffrey saw a significant number of women in hijab. If those women aren’t already American, through engaging in that most American activity – mall shopping – they soon will be. As when Americans learn the truth about immigration and asylum, that will be good for the shoppers and good for our country.