Friday, January 22, 2010
"AN AFGHAN FOR AN AFGHAN"
On the west side of Columbus there is a small settlement of refugees from Afghanistan. When the Russians left Afghanistan after an invasion of nearly ten years, the Mujahadin seized control and they were eventually overthrown by the Taliban. Many Afghanis escaped to our country, settling in Detroit and other areas of the country.
In 1996, there were six Afghani men working at my plant. All of them were good, dependable workers. One of them, Salim, was a short, slender, bearded man in his forties. It was obvious that the other Afghanis deferred to him and as his language skills were the best of all of them, he often accompanied the others to resolve any problems. I later learned that Salim had been a Colonel in the Army. Of course, I knew that they were of the Islamic faith. They all showed respect for me and they all addressed me as "Miss Sue".
One day, I went to the manufacturing floor during lunch break and I was standing behind Salim and he was on his prayer mat. I didn't want to interrupt his prayer, but when the buzzer rang, he arose and folded his mat and went to his work station. I asked, "Salim, aren't you supposed to pray to the east?" He answered, "Yes, Miss Sue." I asked again, "Is your head supposed to be toward the east?" He nodded. I said, "Salim, you're praying to the south!" He laughed--I had never seen him laugh before--and it was a wonderful, boisterious laugh. He said, "That's probably why my prayers haven't been answered!" We both laughed and I told him the quote from St. Teresa of Avila: "Answered prayers cause more fears than those that remain unanswered."
After that incident, Salim would smile each time we saw each other. Several weeks after the incident, Salim came to my office and told me that his wife was going to have a baby and that he would need time off then. I wrote on my business card my Nextel number and my home phone number and told him just to call me whenever she went into labor and I would make arrangements. I asked him if he knew whether it was a boy or girl and he literally beamed and told me it was a boy! The day after the baby was born, Salim came to work and I gave him a present for the baby. I crochet and I always keep baby afghans in various colors to have ready for gifts. When I gave him the present I told him that I had made it for his baby. He looked stunned and asked, "You made it for the baby?" I answered, "Yes, it's a baby afghan." He looked at me and laughed and said, "An afghan for an Afghan!"
Several weeks later, Salim invited me to his home for dinner. When I went to his home, I was surrprised to see a very young woman as his wife. Her English was limited. Their food was spread on a mat on the floor. They had set a tray table set up for me. I asked if I could join them on the floor. We had a wonderful meal of a soup called Shorma, steamed rice with lamb called Qabli Pulao, and Qorma which are steamed onions and Mantu, steamed dumplings, with wonderful bread called Naan.
Salim's wife would not allow me to help and as she was cleaning up from the meal, Salim asked if I would like to hear music and see pictures of his homeland. He told me that his main language was Dari, but that he had learned English also. A little later, Salim's wife brought out the baby, wrapped in the afghan I'd made. She smiled and thanked me for the blanket and then she offered the baby to me to hold. As I cradled the baby and held his head in my hand, I noticed there was stubble on his head. She saw my reaction and she told me that it was a custom to shave the baby boy's head.
As a Colonel in the Army, Salim had spent his life fighting the Russians, the Mujahadin and the Taliban which had not allowed him to have the opportunity marry and have a family. He'd been able to escape and settle in the United States. His marriage to the much younger woman had been an arranged marriage. There is an even larger settlement of Afghani refugees in the Detroit area and Salim's wife had come from there.
Several weeks later, the receptionist called and told me that Zahid's mother was in the lobby and wanted to see me. Zahid was another Afghani worker and he was the exact opposite of Salim: young, tall, and about 240 pounds. I would oftentimes see him show what I gathered to be a deferential manner to Salim. Zahid's mother had brought me several bowls of food. I asked her to go to my office and she said that she'd heard that I liked Afghani food and that I was a kind person. I told her it was very kind of her to bring me food and to compliment me, but I asked her what could I do for her. She told me the purpose of her visit: Zahid needed to go to Detroit as his marriage had been arranged. She continued that Zahid had not worked a year so he did not have vacation time coming and she asked if I would excuse him. I said, "Of course I'll excuse him, but why didn't he just come and ask me?" She said, "He's afraid of you and Salim told him that he wasn't going to do it for him and that he had to act like a man!" I was still shocked that Zahid was "afraid" of me! Zahid was marrying Salim's wife's sister!
I returned to International in 1997 and lost contact with the Afghanis. In 2002, at a political meeting I attended, a woman stated that "We should round up all the Muslims and kill all of them." I stood up and told her that I was sorry for her ignorance and that unlike her I actually knew some Islamic people and that it had been a blessing for me to have known good, Islamic Afghanis and you can't brand and condemn all people of any faith because of the actions of some.
That evening, I called Salim and he told me that he and the others had been experiencing backlash because of being Islamic. He said, with great indignation, "They don't even understand that we are NOT Arabs--we are Afghanis!"
I asked, "Will you return to Afghanistan?" He answered, "No, Miss Sue, I want my children to grow up in freedom."