MEETING A SOMALIAN REFUGEE IN MY OWN BACKYARD
Engaging With A Stranger
This last week, I learned that I can meet incredibly amazing people from around the world right in my backyard. By connecting with my uber driver, and not just idly letting the ride pass me by, I learned that he is a Somalian refugee. This conversation allowed me to experience one of the many pleasures of travel: learning about other cultures. All I had to do to learn new things and feel a connection with someone was be friendly and keep up a pleasant conversation.
Being from South Dakota means that I have had almost zero contact with anyone that’s Muslim. Meeting Hassan, my uber driver, was my chance to learn more about his culture and religion! At first our conversation was basic, just simple greetings, until his phone rang. The name Shariff popped up. I made a joke saying, “Oh wow I thought the sheriff was calling you.” He said, “Oh no, that’s just my friend.” That simple question propelled me into asking about where he’s from since I noticed his accent. He told me he was from Somalia.
Hassan started by telling me that before he came to America, he lived in Europe. There he had to take a training course on being a Muslim in America. Who knew that was even a thing. Then he proceeded to tell me how he has never felt discriminated against. All I could do was smile when he said that.
Question After Question
Continuing to engage with Hassan, I asked more questions like: Was it difficult to get into the US? How does a mosque work? Do you go once a week for a service? Do you know Zayn Malik from One Direction- who is a Muslim but drinks, smokes, and has tattoos? I asked Hassan if it was difficult to get into the US because it was an impossible dream for anyone I spoke to in Asia. He informed me that most of those countries are peace countries and Somalia is a war-torn country. So he came to the US as a refugee. I explained that I wanted to explore other religions but I always felt skeptical of going to a mosque. Like maybe I wouldn’t be welcome considering the discrimination many people face. I knew my fears were ludicrous when he said, “ABSOLUTELY you would be welcome!”
To answer my other questions Hassan shared that a Muslim person typically prays five times a day. The same five times every day. Ideally, you go to the mosque to pray all five times but if you aren’t near a mosque, you pray wherever you are. This blew my mind because as a Christian we only step inside a church once a week and think nothing of it. Hassan explained that you pray for 1-5 minutes if you’re alone and if you’re at a mosque usually someone leads the prayer but for no longer than 10 minutes. He wasn’t privy to Zayn Malik but said that those Muslims are not traditional and considered “not good” Muslims. Apparently, Hassan has never drank or smoked, ever. Traditionally, that’s not allowed. Also following tradition, one is not allowed to touch a woman in any way until you’re married. This includes hand holding or just a small kiss.
Once we arrived at my destination, Hassan spoke and took the words right out of my mouth. Thanking me for the amazing conversation we had and saying how he loves talking so much and practicing his English. I told him, “Hassan your English is fantastic, I don’t know what you’re worried about!” He was beaming from ear to ear.
The feeling of warmth and love that I felt for Hassan came from our willingness to engage with each other. Since I have only been exposed to negative things about Muslims, you would think that Hassan and I wouldn’t be able to build a connection. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
As a reminder, let me just say that a smile can go a long way. And it’s universal. Building relationships and forming connections are some of life’s biggest joys.
This experience showed me that I don’t need to leave the country to learn and experience a unique culture. I can learn and grow in my country by reaching out to those around me who have come here for peace and refugee.