Thursday, November 09, 2006

stranger encounters: Mohammud

Today, I was exchanging Bloomington Avenue stories with a fellow young, urban, city dweller. I thought I would share one here too. But first—a bit of context. Bloomington Avenue is the “seedy” part of Minneapolis. All those with any “sense” stay away for fear of getting hustled, shot, robbed...whatever! Five years ago, I didn’t know that. I didn’t grow up learning to make the same sorts of distinctions about people and places.

I’m not naturally a very docile person but one has to choose into that manner of being when getting to know a new person or a completely new situation in a new context. One has to be open, comfortable, and keen on following the flow wherever it is going but then be quick and agile enough to shimmy out of exploitative situations. I like to go on these adventures, where I have to practice being as bendable as Gumby. The adventures are incredibly fun. One meets the most interesting sorts of people, goes to the most interesting sorts of places. It can get a bit addicting. It all started out quite unintentionally.

I worked as a night security guard at the Exel Energy building in downtown Minneapolis. The first night on the job was quite a shock to me, as all other male security guards drooled all over themselves because there was a woman working. But Mohammed was different. He was basically kind and very respectful to me. He gave half of his Subway sandwich to me and insisted that in his culture everyone shares. He was young. He was a devout Muslim. I felt an affinity to him because he was different and I was different. The other security guards would taunt him and say terrible atheistic things about God to him, just to see him respond as he always did. He would plead with them, terror and sorrow written all over his face, asking them to stop saying such things about Allah. Then he would kneel in the dirty grimy, city, alley and kiss the ground, pleading with Allah for forgiveness.

We would hang out, outside of work. I would occasionally help him navigate the city or go to the MCTC for an application. He would sometimes be fearful of odd things. For instance, he always paid for everything in cash. But when paying his bills at the bank one day, I suggested that I could simply write out a check and he could deposit his cash into my account. He refused because, he explained, they would be able to associate his name with me and my address. I would go over to the house in which he and his sister rented a room from an older Muslim couple, who lived on Bloomington Avenue. Both women wore the hijab. Mohammud and his sister’s room was plain and bare. They slept on the floor. But we would all eat together in the livingroom off of the most expensive, posh furniture I had ever seen, in front of a giant TV screen, where the American soap operas mesmerized everyone. They reminded me of Amish children newly exposed to the TV.

Sometimes he would take time out to pray in front of me. Kneeling and kissing the ground and reciting. He told me the story of their escape from their home in Somalia. His last name was the same name as a political leaders’ and one day the authorities came to their door. My Muslim missionary friends were terrified for me when they found out I was hanging out with a Muslim man. I didn’t know what the “rules” were for hanging out with a Muslim man but Mohammed seemed quite harmless to me. Once we went to the place in West Bank where he wired money to his family in Ethiopia. The man behind the desk spoke with Mohammed and there was much joking, laughing and knee slapping. Later, I asked Mohammed what they were joking about, and he wouldn’t tell me. Soon after that, I decided to be more open and descriptive with him about boundaries and what my present interpretation of what American boundaries were. He could never remember to call them boundaries—he always referred to them as crossing borders. He once read a personal letter I was writing a friend. I told him he had crossed my borders. When I told him I was moving to Wisconsin to finish my schooling, he insisted that he and his sister would come with and live with me. I told him we couldn’t do that because it would be crossing borders.

And crossing borders it was! It was an unusual friendship. It was completely platonic (at least from what I could tell) and entirely accidental.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful post!
I have many Somoli friends back down South. They are some of the sweetest, kindest people I have ever met.
I have the same fearlessness as you when it comes to associating with people of different 'colors.' In the Old Order background that I was raised in, the majority of Old Order people were equally prejudiced against all 'non-Mennonites' regardless of their skin color.
Also, as a Muslim woman living in the USA, it pains me to say, I feel safer living among my Spanish, Hindu and African American neighbors than I do in mainstream white American neighborhoods. I chose my wonderful, mixed neighborhood on purpose, for that very reason.