Dinner with my neighbors

Well, I left off with my discovery of the importance of finding halal (permissible) ground beef for my BBQ with my Somali neighbors. So I went on Saturday to the halal grocery and met Hazim, who was a really helpful young man with three kids. He showed me a 10 pound slug of ground beef that would have fed 38 hungry fire-fighters in the San Bernardino mountains. I gladly purchased two 1 pound packages of 90% lean beef that had been dutifully prepared in the halal way. I thought of getting some tea, but my daughters have left chai tea mix in my cupboard; I did however get a few sticks of frankincense to set an aroma of the east; Hazim was a bit impressed that I would do that.

Food preparations took a while since I am a novice. I was trying to think of things they would like, remembering mama’s helpful advice to get fruit. I stopped off at Winco and got a variety: papaya, two kinds of melon, bananas; plus some deli corn salad. I hard boiled some eggs. That with the burgers, sodas, and chips, I sensed I didn’t need the rice I had planned but that I actually had too much food. Which as it turned out, was correct. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

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On the way to Hazim’s store, I acted on a suspicion that my neighbors, for whatever reason, were not going to come. So I stopped by their house, knocked, and reminded one of the men of our evening dinner. Sure, he said. So six hours later, now 45 minutes after the time we had set, I decided to walk to their house and determine if they were coming or if I was going to be delivering the food to their home. I finally got to talk to Hussein, the father of the house, and he apologized that he had not gotten the message. I offered to wait and walk them to my house since they were not sure which one it was. No, he said, he needed to shower; they would come in a while. Flexibility is key in this kind of friendship. So I was happy to welcome them into my home at 7:30. There were seven of them; three men (brothers I think), one wife, and three teens (several small children were left at home).

We had a delightful time. I showed them my back yard, with my two small waterfalls; they were intrigued by those. Since it was getting dark and a bit cold, we went indoors and sat in a circle in the living room. We talked about family. We joked with each other about how guys and girls get interested in each other as young people. We debated whether or not tall people live longer. I asked about their journey to the states (via refugee camp called Dadab in northern Kenya). They seemed to like the food. I showed them pictures of my family. They expressed condolence at my wife’s recent death. They said they would pray for her. One asked if I was religious. “Yes, I am a follower of Issa.” And I could tell they were very devout in Islam. In fact, close to 9pm they said they needed to leave. I felt badly that I joked that they had a TV show they didn’t want to miss, when in fact, “No, we need to go home for evening prayers.”

Hazim had given me some advice during my purchasing expedition to his store; I reiterated my desire to learn from him how to treat my dinner guests with respect. He complimented, “Americans are very sensitive to these things.” (I doubt we have earned such a compliment). He said, “One thing is pets. We are not used to seeing dogs in the house.” We had to adopt our dog out in January, so perhaps God was up to something there. “Also, (and here he showed me the bottom of his shoe) try not to cross your leg and expose your shoe to your guest.” (Thinking back, I have no idea how well I did at this, since I cross my legs without even thinking of it). “And don’t use your left hand to eat, since we use our left hand for washing our body. We eat with our right hand.” I had heard of all these before, but appreciated the confirmation from Hazim, and felt it meant something to him that I asked.

So the night ended very cordially. They were so appreciative (“This is the first time we have been invited to someone’s home since we moved here.”) I persuaded them to stay for a scoop of ice cream with chocolate syrup and a cookie. Then, off they went with most of the food we hadn’t eaten. Having seen the amount of space I have in my house and yard (and no dog, perhaps), they promised to bring all the little kids next time. That told me they enjoyed our time together enough to think of doing it again. And that is really good.

Tweet ThisHere’s what an evening with a Somali family can look like  #NearFrontiersTREK

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