Meet Abdi. Abdi is from Harar in eastern Ethiopia . Abdi lives in Minneapolis with his wife and four children. Abdi is from Harar but lives in Minnesota ? Let me explain.
My wife and I were in line for a complimentary sandwich and drink at Ethiopian Airlines’ café because our late afternoon flight to Dire Dawa was delayed 45 minutes. Abdi was behind us in line. He asked us where we were from.
“The U.S. ”
“Oh yeah…where from?”
“ Minneapolis .”
Abdi left Ethiopia 24 years ago. He hadn’t been back before this trip. He spent his first 8 years living in Somalia before being sponsored by a Lutheran Social Services in Jacksonville, FL, where he lived for another 8 years. He spent a few months in Denver after Florida , eventually settling in Minneapolis .
Why Minnesota ? Abdi met his wife there. She too is from the Harar area. They are both of the Oromo people, and speak Oromo in their home in addition to English. Their four children speak Oromo, and dance the traditional dances of their parents’ native land at weddings and other celebrations.
Abdi explained that a large Ethiopian/Somali community thrives in Minneapolis .
I am not sharing Abdi with you only to show that the American Dream is alive and well. I am sharing this story of Abdi with you because of what Abdi did for my wife and me. From the moment he met us, he displayed nothing but kindness and genuine friendliness. I wish I could say the same of my reactions to him. I was a little suspicious of him. Why was he so outgoing with us? Why was he so interested in us?
Our flight soon boarded and we were on our way. Passing by Abdi to take our seats, he told us he would negotiate a taxi to the bus station when we landed so that we wouldn’t get ripped off. He was going to Harar as well.
When the plane landed he took us under his wing the way a bigger brother would do for his younger siblings. The taxis were waiting outside the little airport office. He worked a price we could never get with our white skin in Africa . Hey, the reality is that traveling white folks in Africa have more money than the locals.
The taxi carried us to the minibus. We were quickly packed into the minibus, 20 people in a bus that should hold maybe 11 or 12 at most. And the windows were jammed shut. Abdi sat in the seat in front of us. Dire Dawa to Harar is an hour’s ride, at least. The entire way, Abdi asked if we were ok.
“Are you comfortable?” “How are you doing?” “I told the guy we will pay when we get out. Don’t worry about getting your money out right now.”
Hot, sweaty, and wanting nothing but to get out of that bus, we arrived in Harar in the dark, around 7:30 in the evening.
Harar is a mostly Muslim town. It is Ramadan, a time of fasting. No practicing follower of Islam eats between sunup and sundown. When the sun is down, the people eat great meals. The streets were filled with women selling fatiras—a fried dough pastry treat—and other food delights of Ramadan. Crowds of people were on the streets, walking around town and visiting each other’s homes.
We got out of the minibus and Abdi told us that he was going to walk us to our hotel. Another man decided to walk with us because he knew exactly how to get to it. In a short 5 minutes or so, we were at the hotel. The other man wished us well. Abdi stayed with us.
He met the hotel management, had them show us and him the room. Upon entering the room, he checked the lock to make sure that it was secure, not damaged. He made sure the price was fair. When all was settled, he asked if we were satisfied. We said yes. We thanked him for accompanying us throughout our trip. He said “you’re welcome.” Humility. As he walked out of the room he said, “Maybe we’ll meet again. In Minnesota or Pennsylvania .”
When you travel in lands where language and culture is not familiar, there are times when you find yourself putting complete trust in a stranger. We are taught from a very young age to not talk to strangers. While this is probably a good parenting strategy, it does make for not being suspicious of fellow human beings very difficult in later life.
Abdi made our travel from Addis to Harar much smoother than it would have been without him. Sure, we would have managed, but it would have been more of a hassle, especially getting the taxi, bus and hotel room.
I wonder if Abdi was our guardian angel. At the same time, I do not like to think that he was something beyond our common existence. Rather, I believe Abdi is what we humans can be.
I hope that wherever his head lies down tonight, that it does so in peace.
Let us offer a collective wish of peace for Abdi and his family as they live out their American Dream.
(16 October 2005)
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