WE HAD DINNER LAST TUESDAY at the home of a woman I tutor. Faduma and I began studying together six years ago and have continued on an almost weekly schedule, interrupted for a year when Johanna was a baby. I sometimes struggle to explain why I spend more time with this person than I do with many of my friends. Suffice it to say it’s an enjoyable challenge, I often learn something, and she really needs the help.
Faduma just finished her general education classes after three years of community college. At 35, she’ll soon start coursework to become a Nursing Assistant. She uses her wages as a full-time parking lot attendant to pay for college, living expenses, remittances to her relatives in Somalia, and for the lengthy and expensive process of bringing her new husband to Minneapolis this past September.
Since moving here herself in the early 1990s to escape Somalia’s civil war, Faduma has found relative peace, if not prosperity. That she works so diligently to get ahead, while making barely discernible headway, is part of what motivates me to help her. You only have to go a page or two into Othello or her textbook on moral philosophy after a long day at work to grasp her challenge, whether English is your first language or, like her, your fourth.
Our meal was served at a small table surrounded by plastic-covered chairs purchased for her husband’s arrival. There were heaping dishes of rice, meat pies, goat, fried pastries and lasagna (she was a nanny in Italy for a time) intended just for the three of us—neither Faduma nor her friends who helped cook ate with us, or even sat down. Apparently in Somalia women feed themselves separately before serving the men, a tradition made stranger when your guests include women.
After dinner, we talked about the dismaying state of Arab-Western relations, American education and obesity in Minnesota (of our three hosts, we were by far the least traveled, having only visited three continents and lived in one). When Jo got tired of listening to us, Faduma sent me home with 20 pounds of leftovers and the satisfaction of having been thoroughly thanked.
The following day, two young Somali men and an Oromo man were gunned down at a grocery across the street from Faduma’s apartment, one of the worst incidents in the 20-year history of Minneapolis’s Somali community. In an unrelated case today, a Federal judge in Minneapolis halted the hearing of a Somali man when she saw courtroom observers, apparently East African, passing around an unknown object, saying she felt threatened. It turned out to be a pair of glasses.