Monday, December 3, 2012


I pulled into the back parking lot at work this afternoon and saw the manager standing there with a big smile.  As I got out of the car and walked towards him, he laughingly said, "Lori! You are halal! In Islam, we say someone is blessed if they appear right after someone was talking about him.  He kept laughing about how I am "halal."  He never told me what was being said about me before I got there, but if I'm blessed, I don't guess it matters.

This same manager said during a lunch on Friday that his religion teaches that when you get to heaven, God's first question to you is about how relationship was like with your neighbors before you died.  If all was well, you get into heaven, but if you died with bad relations, God sends you straight to hell.  He is from the central African country of Chad, where the first thing you do when you wake up each morning is to go check on your elderly neighbors to find out how they made it through the night.  He talked about how big of an adjustment it is for newly arrived immigrants when they realize how isolated Americans are.

Hearing him talk about this reminded me of an afternoon I spent last summer in Addis Ababa with the daughter of an Eritrean man I know.   Behind her gate lived two households, both sharing the same yard and garden.  As I sat on her couch eating her amazing doro wot and injera, drinking cup after cup of coffee while watching Amharic music videos from the '80s, people kept coming in and out of the house.  Some ate, some did not.  I was struck by the closeness of these people who were not family to each other.  The doors to each building were open most of the time, probably since neither had any windows.  The two cats, named China and Sweet, walked from house to house, roof to roof, begging for scraps from whoever was offering.  Sweet found a nice spot on my lap for a long stretch as I talked to an older kid living in the next house about his schoolwork.  I could easily see how, when living in such close proximity and sharing so much more of life than we do here, it would be natural to wake up in the morning, open your door, and check on your neighbor.

It just doesn't happen that way here.  My coworker from Chad calls me Halal. 

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