Quick link: A Muslim, a Christian, and a Baby Named God
This is a story close to my heart because it is about my first friend here, someone who was and remains exceedingly precious to me and my whole family. Someone who made me believe that this place, so different from Minnesota, could become home. Someone, without whom, I sincerely doubt we could have stayed so long.
When I needed someone to love my kids, she did. When I needed someone to make me laugh, she could. When I wanted to understand a cultural thing, she untangled it for me. When I need someone to hear my anger or my sorrow, she welcomed it.
This is a story of two women, coming from such different places, with such different faiths and such different ways of living, and finding each other, finding ourselves, together. It is about becoming mothers and about digging into our souls and finding beauty there.
When God and his mother were released from the maternity ward they came directly to my house to use the air conditioner. It was early May and the summer heat that melted lollipops and caused car tires to burst enveloped Djibouti like a wet blanket. Power outages could exceed ten hours a day. Temperatures hadn’t peaked yet, 120 degrees would come in August, but the spring humidity without functioning fans during power outages turned everyone into hapless puddles. I prepared a mattress for Amaal* and her newborn and prayed the electricity would stay on so she could use the air conditioner and rest, recover.
In 2004 when my family arrived in Djibouti, I needed help minimizing the constant layer of dust; Amaal needed a job. I needed a friend and Amaal, with her quick laugh and cultural insights became my lifeline. My husband worked at the University of Djibouti and was gone most mornings and afternoons, plus some evenings. We had 4-year-old twins and without Amaal I might have packed our bags and returned to Minnesota out of loneliness and culture shock.
I hired Amaal before she had any children. She wasn’t married yet and her phone often rang while she worked, boys calling to see what she was doing on Thursday evening. To see if she wanted to go for a walk down the streets without street lights where young people could clandestinely hold hands or drink beer from glass Coca-Cola bottles. She rarely said yes until Abdi Fatah* started calling. He didn’t drink alcohol and didn’t pressure her into more physical contact than she was comfortable with in this Muslim country. She felt respected. She said yes.
Click here to read the rest of A Muslim, a Christian, and a Baby Named God
When comments like Trump’s about keeping Muslims out of America are headlines and people think these sound like reasonable ideas, I don’t know whether to scream or cry. If ‘Muslims’ kill Americans and therefore should be kept out of our borders, what about teenage boys who attack elementary school children? Should we keep all teenage boys out of America? What about pro-life people? Since a man who claimed to be pro-life killed people at an abortion clinic, should we keep everyone who claims to be pro-life out of America?
Below, I have written about people who showed me how to be a good neighbor, how to love well. When I was a stranger, an outsider living in a foreign land, these people, all of them Muslims and all of them people I have never met before or since, served me and my family. I am forever grateful…
My three-year old daughter stood in front of a Barbie Doll in the Carrefour at a mall in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates. She gently caressed the packaging. I wasn’t going to buy the doll. We lived in Somalia at the time and had already overspent our budget on necessities like diapers and food items.
An Arab woman wearing a full niqaam, the black face veil, pulled the Barbie box from the shelf. She gave the box to my daughter and pressed a wad of cash into her chubby little fists. She smiled, I could see it in her eyes, and said something in Arabic, I will never know what it was. But I also never forgot her.
We were landing, finally. The end of an exhausting thirty-five hour plane journey back from Africa to Minnesota. My toddler started to scream. She couldn’t leave her seat and refused all the distracting toys I offered.
The flight attendant, an elderly gentleman, passed us in the aisle. “I know what to do!” he said and ran, ran, to the front of the plane. He came back with a handful of Snickers Bars and M & M packets. She calmed down immediately.
Again in Dubai, several years later. We were eating in a Chili’s restaurant, a huge treat since we now lived in Djibouti and there were no American restaurants like this. Again, the toddler started to act up. She wanted to run around the table, she wanted to cry, she wanted to leave.
One of the waitresses came to the table, scooped up my daughter, and entertained her for the rest of our meal.
I was driving to school to pick up my twins from first grade. The car got a flat tire. I gathered up the jack and prepared to change the tire when suddenly two men appeared. The temperature soared over 100 degrees and they refused to let me help. They changed the tire, wouldn’t accept a token payment of thanks, and wandered off.
My daughter and I walked through our neighborhood to a birthday party. She carried a wrapped gift and on top of it were several pieces of candy, taped to the wrapping paper. A group of girls strode past us and one of them snatched the candy from on top of the gift.
At the same moment, a car filled with men drove by. They saw the problem and immediately stepped in on our behalf. They protected us from these aggressive girls and defended our dignity.
In Somalia, a woman with a cleft lip* (see comment below by Rach) sold limes in the market for a living. She grabbed my hand as I walked past, pointed at my daughter, and gave me three limes, refusing to be paid. She touched her lips and blew a kiss at us.
In Turkey, my daughter dropped the bag she carried and inside it was her souvenier – a belly dancing outfit and some candy. A storekeeper found it, saved it, and still had it hours later when we returned. He soothed her tears.
In Somalia people brought us holiday treats when it wasn’t their religious holiday but they knew it was ours. And again in Djibouti.
In Djibouti, at the candy stores, Arab shopkeepers insist on offering me free samples and overfill my bags.
I could go on, there are so many stories of the kindnesses of strangers. I don’t have time to tell of our close friends who have protected, defended, served, and loved us. We are not refugees but we are foreigners, living in foreign lands. And these are just some of the people who have welcomed us well.
When I move back to the United States and am again in my own homeland, you are welcome to my home for dinner.
Quick link: A Mosque, a Book, and a Banister
Today I’m at EthnoTraveler writing about learning the social and religious codes surrounding mosques, the Quran, and faith in Djibouti.
Along with being an iconic building, the Hamoudi Mosque is considered one of Djibouti City’s top tourist sites. My suspicion is that this is because there aren’t many tourist sites, at least not in the city. Tourists mainly come to Djibouti for the snorkeling, scuba diving, adventure hiking, and rustic experiences available far from the city center. The mosque is as closed to me as a tourist as is buying a Quran. To get a feel for the building and the affection people feel toward it, I circle the mosque several times, looking, wondering, curious about what goes on inside.
A group of teenage boys pours out of the door after the evening prayer time. They slip into their black, faux leather sandals and scurry down the steps. One of them balances on the green banister and slides down, launching himself into the cacophonous street below…
Click here to read the rest A Mosque, a Book, and a Banister
Quick link: Afraid of Muslims?
Today I am back at SheLoves Magazine to join them in an important conversation, a response to Franklin Graham’s recent inflammatory words about Muslims and immigration. Others have already written beautifully on this, most notably Marilyn Gardner, this piece simply aims at starting a conversation.
Did you know that an American in America is more likely to be killed by their refrigerator than by a Muslim terrorist? Are you afraid of your fridge?
Are you afraid of Muslims? I say “Muslims” instead of “terrorists” because, as media outlets and Franklin Graham apparently want us to believe, the two words are synonymous.
Franklin Graham seems to believe we should be afraid of Muslims and that we are at war with Muslims both in the US and abroad. A few weeks ago he said immigration needs to be closed to Muslims, that we are under attack. He isn’t alone in this kind of ignorant fear-mongering. Over 160,000 people liked his Facebook post.
In the United States in 2013, three people were killed by terrorists (who were Muslim), all three at the Boston Marathon. That same year, five people were shot by gun-wielding toddlers, and about 34 died of dog bites.
Why didn’t Graham insist we prohibit toddlers inside our borders? Why hasn’t he called for a moratorium on dog ownership?…
To read more and to join the conversation, click here: Afraid of Muslims?
*”Ground Zero Mosque Supporters 4” by David Shankbone from USA – Ground Zero Mosque Protesters.