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.