One Day, One Story
On Thursday one of our Homework Help students came into my office. She does that often, just checks in before getting to her homework. She is Oromo, a 9th grader at a Minneapolis Catholic school, Muslim and wears a hijab. This school seems to be a good school for her. She has struggled her first semester. Apparently, her grade school didn’t really prepare her for high school. But she has settled in and is doing fine. Joe had told me at the Wednesday Night Supper that she had had a bad experience downtown. And so I asked her.
She had been downtown at her work site. Every student at this high school has a job placement as part of their school week. While she was waiting for her taxi to come to Homework Help a 40-ish white woman, bigger than her, walked up to her and told her to go home, to where she came from. Others were standing there and no one said or did anything. This woman went on to say that her brother married a Somali woman and that she, this particular woman, hates her brother’s kids. Our student knew that if she said or did anything it would escalate, not to mention the fact that she no longer felt safe as she waited. She said she couldn’t believe it. She was born in the U.S. This has been her only home. She is an excellent student. She felt totally alone and not safe. But she had to wait for her taxi.
I told her that what that woman said was wrong and she shouldn’t have to hear things like that. And I said that I hoped she knew she was safe at Trinity. She went on to say that Homework Help is her second home. She knows she is safe at Trinity.
I really didn’t know what else to say. I would like to have said that I wish I would have been there so that I could have said something. But I didn’t say that. I wasn’t ready to make a promise I might not be able to keep.
Original journal entry date: 2/6/17
©Jane Buckley-Farlee All rights reserved.
Coffee, Tea or ?????
Sometimes there just isn’t enough time to pull together the three pots of Somali Tea and Coffee (see posts 1/16/19 and 1/30/19 Coffee and Tea 1 and 2). This past Friday was one of those times.
Friday morning I heard about the shooting in New Zealand, two mosques, fifty people killed during Friday prayers. My heart broke. Should I try to organize a Coffee and Tea? Post on FaceBook? Write something somewhere? Nothing? I couldn’t decide so I called Wali at ICSA/Dar Al-Hijrah to see what he thought. We decided not to try to get the Coffee and Tea together. On a whim I said I’d try to be there at the end of prayers, around 1:30 to greet people. He said he’d tell the imam so that he could announce it.
I texted a few people I thought might be interested and available. At about 1:15 I began to walk the two blocks to Dar Al-Hijrah.
I am off-the-chart introvert. An introvert’s two worst nightmares, or at least mine, are walking into a room full of people I probably don’t know and standing somewhere with the purpose of greeting people I may not know, alone. On my way to Dar Al-Hijrah I wondered what in the world I was doing. Would anyone else show up? Would people coming out of prayers be concerned or grateful? What if I was the only one? What if I didn’t recognize anyone? What if no one recognized me? And, I’d have to do all of the greeting myself. That is not something I would categorize as fun.
At the same time, I was fairly sure it was a good thing to do. I knew Muslims everywhere were very sad and feeling unsafe and unwelcome.. But still, the thought kept running through my head – what was I doing?
As a general rule I am not comfortable greeting people with Aselam Alekum (“God’s peace to you,” in Arabic.) Even though I have been assured many times that people would appreciate it, somehow it just feels presumptuous to me. This time I thought I’d go for it. I would be brave. After all, I was already putting myself out there. So, I greeted the first person a saw, an elderly woman who looked kind enough, “Aselam alekum.” She looked at me and asked, “Are you Islam?” “No, I’m not.” Then you should say, “hi.” She was kind and respectful. And that was that. So much for trying!
Eventually Joe came and Larry soon joined us. The worshipers began coming out and we greeted them all. If they weren’t smiling when they came out the doors, they were after we greeted them.
“Hi.” “Peace to you.” We’re glad you’re here.”
“Thank you so much.” “This is so good.” “There are good people in the world.” Once in awhile the only communication was a grateful smile.
Some stayed to talk a bit. We shook hands; some of the men even shook mine. A few hugs were shared. Several people even came back to thank us. One young man, in particular, came back to thank us (I was the only one left by this time) telling me this was proof that there are still good people in the world. He asked for a selfie he could share with others to let them know that there are good people. I took a selfie, too. One of the few I have ever taken. This seemed to be a worthy reason for one.
There was no coffee or tea on this day. There weren’t a lot of people gathered to greet worshippers. But, there were enough. On my way back to Trinity I knew why we had been there. I knew something seemingly small and simple can have had a big meaning. I knew at least a few of the Muslims in Cedar-Riverside knew they were welcome and valued. I was quite sure we had done something that brought God’s kingdom just a bit closer. Right in Little Mogadishu.
And I knew we would do it again, sometime.
I have my selfie with the young man. I’d love to use it for this post. But I didn’t think to ask his permission at the moment. This seems like a time when it is especially important to have his permission. Perhaps another time.
Original Journal entry date: 3/18/19
©Jane Buckley-Farlee All Rights reserved.
Tutoring Math to N, a student from Somalia new to America
The math problem was: A baseball player averages one hit in every three at-bats. If the player bats 480 times during a season, how many hits can the player be expected to get?
That sounds easy enough. I was worried when I heard I’d be helping with math – it has never been my strong suit. But when I saw it was ratios we were working with I figured we could muddle our way through. After all, this particular type of math was still using the 1 is to 5 as 2 is to ‘n’. It even had tables to fill out 1 = 2
I can do this stuff! I was ready. N was ready. 1 is to 3 as ‘n’ is to 480. No problem. The first wrinkle – this is a story problem about baseball. When you are new to this country you naturally ask “what is baseball?” Well, it’s a game where one player hits a ball with a bat and this (pointing to the problem) player, every 3 times he tries to hit the ball he hits it once. What’s a bat? It’s a wooden thing, like a big stick, you hit a ball with. What’s an at-bat? That’s each time you try to hit the ball with the bat.
How do you complete a table, how do you even begin a table when you have no idea what it is you are asked to solve a problem about? “Baseball” doesn’t fit in the table, but it is a least one thing N seems to comprehend about this game.
Well, we muddle through, I even pretend to be swinging to hit a ball with a pencil, until I realize how utterly ridiculous that must look to someone who has no idea what it is I am doing. Once we have the table filled in, most of which I just did, she got it right away. She can do the math. But what in the h__l is an at-bat? It isn’t anything.
Next math problem. On a basketball team, the ratio of players less than six feet tall to players six feet or taller is 2 to 5. If 10 players on the team are six feet or taller, how many players are less than six feet tall?
Basketball – now we are getting somewhere. Even the newest Somali arrivals know what basketball is and so does N. Yeah, a word we can start with!
But, alas, what is a “six feet or taller? What is a less than six feet tall? After trying to explain this we end up with 2 are short for every 5 who are taller. The way the sentence is written is hardly clear. In the table N wants to include six somehow. Six is to what as 5 is to what? Six isn’t any number in the ratio, but N is zeroed in on six. Once again, I fill in the table. Once the numbers are in place N does the math. She gets this stuff but……
Problem #3. Last year during league bowling, Jeremy averaged one strike for every five frames he bowled. If he bowled 84 strikes last season, how many frames did he bowl?
N begins. How many leagues were there, she wants to know? Well, there weren’t any, a league is the same as year. (Oh really?) How many Jeremy’s were there? Well, Jeremy is a boy’s name. Oh. Ok, do you know what bowling is? No. It’s a game where you roll a ball down a long narrow lane, no, ‘’hall,’ and you try to knock down 10 pins, things at the end of it. Oh. So, every 5 times Jeremy tries to hit the things down with the ball he gets one strike. You mean like in baseball where after three of them you can’t try to hit the ball any more? Well, no, that’s…..that’s……that’s something entirely different. Oh.
Once again, as soon as the table is laid out she does the math. And it’s right. But I’m getting nervous. Those who are real teachers at Trinity would strongly object to the fact that I am preparing and filling in the tables. They would say, “How can she learn if she doesn’t do it on her own? Well, I just don’t know.
Problem #4. In a 72-hole golf tournament, Patricia scored under par every 2 out of 9 holes. For the tournament, how many times did Patricia score under par?
Of course, N had no idea what golf is. How in the world do you explain par when the person doesn’t even know what a golf course is, what a golf club is, what a tournament is? At least now N is able to trust(?) me when I tell her what to write in the table. And once again, she does the math in her head and it is correct.
Problem #5 In a gymnastics meet, a gymnast earned a perfect score of ten from one out of every four judges. If there were eight judges altogether at the meet, how many perfect scores did the gymnast earn? Can you see where this is going? 10 is to ? as ? is to what?
Well, 10 really has nothing to do with the problem. Oh. We have to think about the number of judges and the number of perfect scores. Oh. Why is ten a perfect score? I don’t really know…It doesn’t really matter because they changed that this year….oh, wait, no, that was figure skating. Trust me, it doesn’t matter. This time we do somehow get the table figured out faster and her math is again correct.
Next problem. On a football team, 7 out of every 9 players weigh 190 pounds or more. If 42 players weigh more than 190 pounds, how many players are on the team?
It’s 5:30. Time to close up. Whew. N thanks me over and over. We each go home. It was a great way to spend 1 1/2 hours.
Original journal entry date: 3.22.06
©Jane Buckley-Farlee All rights reserved
Ash Wednesday is two days away as I write. It is the beginning of the Christian liturgical season of Lent. Lent includes the forty days, not counting Sundays, before Easter and is a time for repentance, almsgiving and prayer, all practices with the intent of coming closer to God.
And it all begins with Ash Wednesday. Some consider it to be the most honest day on the Christian calendar. An explanation I overheard one day explained it as well as anyone could.
It took place during Trinity’s Homework Help program. Neighborhood kids come with their homework, get paired with a tutor, and work on the homework for the day. A lot of homework does get done, but as this story tells, a lot more than homework happens.
This was on a Wednesday afternoon that happened to be Ash Wednesday. Our space was quite full and some of the students and tutors were working on the floor in the hallway outside my office. I admit I often eavesdrop on conversations in the hallway. This is one that is worth reflecting on.
In 2016 Trinity and Augsburg shared one intern. The Intern would split their time between the two locations. In two such busy sites time management was definitely one of the big challenges. This particular year, Jacie was our Intern. It was her conversation with the students in the hallway that I overheard.
Jacie had attended Chapel at Augsburg earlier that morning and had received a cross of ashes on her forehead. By the time she came to Trinity in the mid-afternoon the ashes were forgotten. They were still there, though, on her forehead and the students were quick to notice.
Student: Jacie, what’s that plus sign on your forehead?
From there the conversation went on. Jacie did a great job answering their questions. She explained that the day was Ash Wednesday. That it is the beginning of Lent, a season very similar to their season of Ramadan. That fasting and charity and prayer were common practices during Lent, just in Ramadan. But that was not what the students wanted to know.
“Is it a tattoo?” “Is it permanent?” “Where are the ashes from?” “Did it hurt?”
After thoughtful answers Jacie added that the ashes remind us that we are sinful and that we will all die. One student responded, “Well, duh!” After a bit more processing one girl asked, “Can you get those on Amazon?”
I never heard the answer to that one, but I’m quite sure you can. Judy (who had overheard this conversation with me) and I were privileged that day to hear that conversation. More than homework gets done, indeed.
But, really, how do you explain any of that? To someone of the same faith or kids whose faith is in many ways quite different?
It’s not the theology of it all that matters. It’s not the accuracy of the explanations or the goal of “winning one over to our side” that is important. It is about a safe place where such honest questions can be asked that matters, where an Intern can take the time to be truly present, where understanding grows just a little bit once again.
This holy work that we find ourselves in the midst of is about coming together in hallways, and mosques and parking lots, over Somali tea and coffee and pancakes simply to be together and get to know each other better.
And it’s a great way to start Lent.
Original journal entry date: 3/4/19
©Jane Buckley-Farlee All rights reserved.
At less than 4'11'' a pastor and the congregation she serves practice radical hospitality in a primarily Muslim neighborhood.