May 26th, 2018
There is a lot of traffic on Scott Street. There shouldn’t be, but there is. Scott Street is lined with old bungalows, tall shade trees, and kids who don’t watch for cars. The city tore up Greenfield Avenue, which is one block to the south of Scott Street. Greenfield is the main thoroughfare through the Latino neighborhood, so many cars bypass the construction by going down Scott Street. This is especially true around 5:00 PM on a Friday. For at least an hour, a long line of cars waits to cross at the four-way stop on the corner of 17th and Scott.
A big, old house sits on that corner. That is where I go at 5:00 PM on most Fridays. It is a house full of kids, just like the house where I grew up. There are eleven children in the family, and the house is quite crowded when they are all inside. Even after nearly a year, I still can’t always remember all of their names. The two oldest boys, Hussein and Bashar, are not often at home. They go to high school, and I am pretty sure they both have part time jobs. Nada and Amar are sometimes have me help with their homework. They are of middle school age. I usually spend time with the younger children, in particular Yasmin, Nizar, Ibrahim, and Nisrin. We read stories together. The pre-school kids, Muhamed, Yusuf, and Hanin, don’t interact much with me. They all live together in that old house with their parents. They are all Syrian refugees.
It was a very warm afternoon, and some of the children were playing outside, either in the tiny yard, or on the sidewalk. Some of the kids were sitting on the front stoop. A couple of them waved and yelled to me asked I crossed the street to meet them. I walked up to the house and climbed the steps up to the porch.
Um Hussein, their mother, was standing in the open doorway to the house.
I said, “Assalam walaykum (peace be with you).”
She replied, “Wa’alaykum assalam (and peace to you also).”
Um Hussein didn’t smile. She seldom smiles. Her face and clothes are severe. She always wears a dark colored robe and a black hijab. I am convinced that she has had a hard life life thus far, and it shows.
Nisrin ran up to me smiling, her dark curls looking wild around her freckled face.
“You read today?”
“Yeah. What should I read?”
Nizar quickly came up to me with a book we had started the week before. It was “The Fugitive Factor”, a story about two kids on the run from the government.
Nizar gave me the book and said, “Read this.”
Nisrin slumped visibly. She said, “Nohttp://www.yahoo.com/t that book! That one is so boring.”
Nizar was indignant. “It is not boring!”
Yasmin stopped by. She asked, “Can we read it together?”
I answered, “Sure, I don’t care.”
Nizar said, “No! Let him read!”
I sat down on the old sofa that covered part of the porch. Nizar sat on my right, and Yasmin on my left. Nisrin stood in front of me to listen. I started reading the book by myself, and sometimes the others chimed in. We read in spurts, because there were many distractions on the street. It’s a typical urban neighborhood, so the sound of squealing tires and the wail of police sirens are not unusual. There was also the rhythmic bass thump of a car blasting rap music. Sometimes we were drowned out by the Mexican music of La Gran D, a local radio station blaring from the open windows of somebody’s vehicle.
Nizar would get up from the sofa, and shout at the driver of the the car,
“Hola! ¿Cómo estás?”
Sometimes the driver would look up at the porch and smile at the boy. It’s pretty cool that a Syrian kid is learning both English and Spanish.
The father of the family showed up in his car. I had never seen him before. He was always working when I came to tutor the kids. He had brought some food for the evening meal, but he was also on his way to his job. He stayed in his car. His kids yelled and waved to him. I got up off of the sofa, and I waved too. He waved back. Obviously, he knew that I was there to teach his children. Otherwise, he would have done something other than wave.
We kept reading. Yasmin is good. She is almost able to read that book on her own. Nisrin and Nizar can sound out most of the words, but they aren’t ready yet to read at this level on their own. They will get there. They will get there soon.
Um Hussein informed me that I would not be receiving the customary glass of hot, sweet tea that I have grown accustomed to drinking.
She told me sadly in her very broken English, “We…my whole family…we are fasting now. No more tea.”
I nodded and said, “Ramadan.”
Um Hussein nodded back to me.
That’s cool. I never expected them to give me anything for just showing up. If they fast, then I will fast with them, at least for the time that I am there.
Nizar told me that he had had enough from the book. I stood up and asked Um Hussein if I should stay and read something else. She spoke to Nizar in Arabic, too quickly for me to understand anything.
Nizar looked up at me and said, “It is your choice. Up to you.”
I was tired. I told them all that I would come again next Friday.
I left their front porch.