I’m lucky because my pursuit of languages has taught me wisdom that I may not have learned otherwise. They always make me move out of my normal life and comfort zone to see vastly different ways of approaching life and various assumptions that people live by. Languages broaden my mind.
My family left town last weekend, so I decided to go on a cultural and linguistic adventure. I decided I wanted to have some Somali sambusas and sweet tea for breakfast. Plus I wanted to study Somali in a place that would be nice and immersive.
Thought the opening time on the sign was 9:00, the restaurant was not open. Fortunately, I ran into a frustrated Somali in the parking lot who told me that the restaurant wasn’t planning on opening “for a while.” He also wanted a breakfast; he was on his way to work. He called inside one more time, and they said they would open in a minute. He offered for me to sit in his car to wait since it was bitter cold out, so we started chatting.
He told me his name was “Ahmed” (not his real name), and we continued our conversation at a table in the restaurant. He suggested I try the fish sambusas, and since I had only had beef ones before, I decided to try this new variety. I couldn’t believe how well the flaky fish went with the coconut and crispy, fried pastry. I had the standard sweet tea with milk as my drink.
I was fascinated by Ahmed’s story. He came to the US as a young adolescent and was put into foster care. He got into trouble with drugs as a teenager, and finally ended up in jail. In the meantime, he was married and divorced and had two kids. After jail, he turned over a new leaf, went back to school, and landed a great job. Now he’s a successful professional who wants to teach other kids how to work in his profession and stay out of trouble.
How did he do it? It’s hard to say. He has siblings who went through the same childhood difficulties but who are not doing so well. In our conversation we had to admit that there’s a bit of luck or the supernatural that allows one person to make it and one person to flounder.
After Ahmed went to work, I studied my Somali vocabulary and watched some basketball on the restaurant TV. The young man working at the restaurant wasn’t very chatty, but at least he chuckled when I said, cuntoo baa fiicaan “The food is good.” “Thanks, Boss,” he answered.
Have you been on a local adventure recently? Tell us about it! What did you learn?