Last night I knocked on a door and was invited into a home. As I walked through the door- I walked into a new world. Another family's world. I gained a privilege afforded to only a few.
Sabida came to America 5 months ago by way of refugee camp. Originally, she is from Somalia. She is a single mom of 10 kids. At least I think that is what I concluded- communication was a touch challenging. Primarily because of my lack of the Somali language.
Sabida's kids go to school with my kids. Souleman is Olivia's classmate. When I first met him he didn't speak a word of English. He had a few "accidents" because he didn't know how to tell someone he had to go. Can you imagine the frustration and humiliation of a 10 year old boy in that situation? Back then, he never spoke. He wouldn't make eye contact. He never smiled. When I met him 5 months ago, he stole my heart.
His 3 sisters are easy to spot in the hallways at school. They are covered from head to toe in beautiful scarves and colorful dresses. Two of the older sisters rarely crack a smile. They often appear overwhelmed and distressed. I have been determined to crack the code as I smile and wave each time I see them in the hallways. No response.
Until last night.
I sat in their living room, with my daughter by my side. As we entered their home, we were offered a Mountain Dew and were whisked to a couch and invited to sit. It was an impeccably tidy house with potently delicious smells wafting from the kitchen. My mind went to my own living room, trashed with piles of mail, junk, toys and folded laundry strewn about the furniture. Signs of hurriedness and a general lack of commitment to housekeeping.
I had arrived at 5:20 to pick them up for a school function I was in charge of. I was suppose to be back to the school at 5:30. Ironically, the evening's event would discuss cultural diversity and building relationships among parents within the many cultures of our school community. So OBVIOUSLY, I needed to get off of this couch and to the meeting!
Yet, there I sat at 5:30 (late for the event) on a couch in the home of this Somali family. (You do catch the irony, right?) Olivia and I were very certainly the first Americans to step foot into their home. The oldest brother - a high schooler-(bless his heart) found himself as the interpreter. I'm still not sure if any of them knew why I was there or why there about to get into my van. I DO think they understood we would be going to the school. I think.
I sat on the couch, wondering how I would fit these 8 people, plus Olivia, into my mini-van. I decided we would be creative and risk breaking the "rules." Whomever wanted to come, could come. Where there's a will, there's a way. Thankfully, the oldest (and tallest) 2 would stay home.
At 5:45 I kindly, yet assertively stood and asked if they were ready to go. I began to sense we might sit on the couch all night if I did not do so. We all shuffled out to the van. Never in my life have I realized how nice our van is. We have a button that opens the doors. The kids were delighted over this. It took 10 hilarious attempts to communicate, "You don't have to pull the door handle." Once they realized it was automatic, we had to push the button 10 more times to watch in amazement. And FORGET ABOUT IT when they realized we had a 'tele' in the car and can watch a movie.
The event at school was a success. I assigned myself Sabida's friend for the evening. She was the only one at the event who spoke zero English. I can't even imagine. She hung in there, smiled a lot and was a good sport. We gave the thumbs up to each other about 100 times and used " it's good?"/ "it's not good?" about equally as many times.
The ride home seemed much more relaxed. Probably because they now knew the crazy lady who just showed up at the door and shoved them into the space-age mini-van isn't a total maniac.
Olivia and I took them on the scenic route on the way home. Our neighborhood has a street festival every 1st Friday night. It was the first gorgeous one of the season and the neighborhood was out in full force. We drove past street performers, sidewalk cafes and even a fire juggler. The family stared out the window, clapped and declared, "It is beautiful" and "Dayton, Ohio is beautiful." I nearly cried, which would have once again regained my spot in their minds as the crazy lady. The oldest daughter told me, "We no car. Don't see Dayton. My mother says it is beautiful."
I hadn't considered this. Of course they don't see much of the city. No car. No English. I drove them past our house and told them we would love to have them over for dinner sometime soon. The oldest daughter answered, "We can't." My heart sunk. Perhaps I had offended them. "No car." When I told them I would pick them up, they clapped and said lots of excited things in Somali (which I'm choosing to believe were not things along the lines of "The crazy lady won't leave us alone." or "Oh, crap, now she wants to have us to her house with no way of getting out of there.").
I knew the ice had been broken when I was about to turn onto their street to deliver them safely home and there was a quick conversation in Somali which was soon followed by a request to go to Kroger. They usually have to walk nearly a mile to get to the store. I would gladly save them this walking trip. What are magic vans for?
I kept the kids in the car (to watch a movie, of course) while Sabina and her oldest daughter shopped. They came out with a full cart of food. How long had it been since they stocked up like this? I have no idea. 9 kids. No car. No English. No husband. A struggle I can't even fathom.
Olivia and I helped unload the food into the house. A perfect end to a perfect night.
A man in a truck drove by and yelled at Sabina as we all had bags full of food to be carried into the house. Apparently, he had some negative opinions he thought he needed to share with her... loudly. He drove away before I could give him my opinion back. I wanted to punch him in the face. Sabina yelled, "Sorry. So sorry." as he peeled out. Two of the only English words I heard her say other than "good."
He was an idiot. He has no idea.
She is brave. She is smart. She is amazing. I saw her handle her brood amazingly in the few hours I was with her. I want her to teach me how to do it. I want to learn all that she knows. I want to hear her stories and where she comes from. I want to know the names of the delicious smelling spices cooking in her home. I hope someday she is able to tell me all about it. If she wants to. She served me last night in ways she will never know. She trusted me. She allowed me to peek into her world. A sacred space. I met Jesus in a new way last night. He opened up His heart to me through Sabina and I am humbled.
How was I chosen for such an honor? It is a mystery. For all of this to be shared with my daughter is beyond words. I wish for YOU such a grace and a pleasure. I am truly the wealthiest person on the planet today. I hold a treasure worth more than any earthly value. God's heart through a human experience.