Dad, Taxi Drivers, And The Fourth of July

At this time I wish to recall a most uplifting series of conversations with taxi drivers while spending a 10-day vacation in Washington DC. Throughout my life, I saw dad (Royce Humphrey) always strike up a conversation with those he met whether it was at a mall, restaurant, or service station. Like him, I too have much the same attitude when it comes to talking with others as it provides insight into the world around me and seems like a polite way to proceed through life.

So, while in our nation’s Capital I did my own small survey of the roughly dozen taxicab drivers who took us to places around the city.  I always started by asking how their day or night was going and then proceeded to ask how long they had been living in the D.C. area.  From there I asked where they grew up.

I was heartened that each of the men driving cabs was chatty and open about their life and experiences in this nation.   From Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Morocco, Sudan, and Sierra Leone each had strong feelings and all, but one, had language skills that made it easy to convey them.  The vast majority were of the Islamic faith and, were as proud to talk about it as anyone would be about their religion.  One soft-spoken man from Ethiopia seemed so humble and sincere about his life and outlook that upon leaving the cab I turned and offered the Islamic greeting of “peace be upon you”.

All the men had come to this country to make a better way in life.  Most had been here for about 15 years, a couple arrived only about 7 years ago.  Some had traveled with family and others came alone.  A man who came from India to get an education started his own restaurant.  An Ethiopian driver was surprised we knew of some foods from his native land such as Injera and Doro Wat.   We told him that in Madison we live close to a restaurant that makes these foods.  He smiled and told us that in his land Dor Wat is reserved for special days as it takes lots of ingredients and time to make.

Each of the drivers had made a bold choice of leaving the place of their birth to seek a better life.  It required in each case learning a new language, culture, currency, and adapting to the weather.  It meant at times, as with the driver from India, leaving every member of his family behind and seeking something different.  It is a phenomenal undertaking to make such a journey.

And they work hard.  They are not slackers.  Most lived in Maryland where rental properties were more affordable.   One driver spoke of the rent increases over the past decade where his two-bedroom apartment now costs over $2,000 per month.   Other drivers told of their small children.  In one case a driver wanted his son to learn his native language at home while also speaking English at school.   My husband, James, as a professor of languages, heartily agreed and offered some tips on how to make that process work.

I saw America at its best during the rides past the city sites I so love while conversing with truly inspiring and uplifting reasons why this nation is special.

As dad well knew a person can learn a lot when you take the time to talk to others.

Girls Education, Globally, Is Important As “A Book Is A Greater Threat To Extremism”

There was no way to not look, again and again, at the photo in the newspaper. It begged to be seen, and not forgotten.

Schoolgirls sit inside a classroom with bouquets of flowers on empty desks as a tribute to those killed in the brutal May 8 bombing of the Syed Al-Shahda girls school, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, May 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

It is a moment caught by a photojournalist we should ponder.

We have read about Afghanistan as a national headline maker since the dreadful attacks on 9/11, and the behavior of the Taliban with international news since they established themselves with such behavior as the explosion of the Bamiyan Buddhas. With the coming withdrawal of the American forces from that central Asian nation the concern deepens about what follows for the people who call it home. More to the point of this post, what about the girls who are trapped in a nation that defines the need for modernity?

The desire of parents and locals to have security is, of course, logical. I am not suggesting we stay with a military presence for a longer period, but the girls must not be forgotten, as they are the ones who too often carry the brunt of the madness.

On Sunday in the mostly Shiite neighborhood of Dasht-e-Barchi, parents of scores of young girls killed in a brutal May 8 bombing demonstrated to demand the government provide them with greater security. They said 90 people were killed, most of them students of Syed Al-Shahda girls school, in the bombings outside the school. No one took responsibility but the IS affiliate has declared war on the country’s minority Shiites.

This week in one of those must-reads Nicholas Kristof wrote about the powerful lesson these girls show the world.

In some hideous way, perhaps it was rational for fundamentalists to blow up the school, because girls’ education poses an existential threat to extremism. That’s why the Pakistani Taliban shot Malala Yousafzai in the head. It’s why the Afghan Taliban threw acid in girls’ faces.

In the long run, a girl with a book is a greater threat to extremism than a drone overhead.

“The way to long-term change is education,” said Sakena Yacoobi, a hero of mine who has devoted her life to educating her fellow Afghans. “A nation is not built on temporary jobs and mining rights, contractors and political favors. A nation is built on culture and shared history, shared reality and community well-being. We pass these down with education.”

Since 9/11, we Americans have sought to defeat terrorism and extremism with the military toolbox. As we pull our forces out of Kabul and Kandahar, this is a moment to reflect on the limits of military power and the reasons to invest in more cost-effective tools to change the world, like schooling.

Though Kristof has a belief the Taliban can be lulled into allowing for educating girls my reading of the Taliban, with the past decades as a map, shows that if there is that hope it remains mostly elusive. And that is a sad statement to make as history also shows that there is no reason whatsoever that religion and modernization must always be at loggerheads.

Today The New York Times mined down deeper into this issue and the article should register with us.

Taliban control notwithstanding, every month the districts’ teachers trudge to Sheberghan, the provincial capital, to collect their salaries, one of many anomalies in a country that is already under de facto control of two governments. Better to have to pay the teachers than close the schools. The city, dusty but bustling, is still in the hands of the central government, but like other provincial capitals it is an isolated island; the Taliban rule the roads, coming and going.

The provincial government still employs school chiefs for the captured districts. But local education officials must watch, helplessly, as Islamist insurgents front-load a heavy dose of religion into the curriculum, slash history instruction and keep the girls out.

The Taliban’s policy on education for girls can vary, slightly. Local commanders make the decisions, reflecting the decentralization of a movement scholars like Antonio Giustozzi have described as a “network of networks.” Human Rights Watch noted in a report last year that though the Taliban commanders often permit schooling for girls up to age 12, it is unusual for them to allow it for older girls. Though in some areas, “pressure from communities has persuaded commanders to allow greater access to education for girls,” the report said.

But not many. 

Where does this leave the world community as we watch regression toward the dark days of the Taliban regime as our forces deploy back home? What happens to female education when the Taliban, again, will likely ban any kind of education for girls and young women?

I offer the clue to the future from Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, the head of the Taliban office in Qatar. “We are not against female education or work. But we have Islamic norms. This is still not the West.”

That sums up where we are. And it needs to concern the world community.

The Hajj In Time Of Pandemic

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Credit…Saudi Ministry Of Media, via Reuters

I have always been drawn to better understand the hajj.  Over my lifetime of watching the event occur, talking with people who have undertaken the mission and spoken about the completeness they feel as a result leaves me awed.  I find the history of Islam intriguing, and especially how it impacts the Middle East and nearby regions politically.  The more I learn has deepened my respect for the faith as it is practiced by the majority.

This year there are changes for the pilgrims due to the pandemic.

In any other year, Muslims undertaking the hajj, the annual pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca that observant Muslims are obligated to perform at least once, would drink from a holy well. They would kiss the Kaaba’s sacred black stone as they thronged the Grand Mosque. Before they left Mecca, they would collect pebbles to ritually stone the devil.

During the virus edition of the hajj that begins on Wednesday, the black stone is off limits. Authorities in Saudi Arabia are issuing bottled water from the Zamzam well instead of letting pilgrims drink from cups at the source. Also in the pilgrim packages: sterilized pebbles to hurl at the devil, personal prayer rugs and other items intended to prevent an outbreak from marring the hajj.

But the chief public health measure the Saudi government has taken is to limit attendance, shrinking one of the world’s most famous crowds to a select few. About 2.5 million Muslims from around the world performed the hajj last year; this year, Saudi Arabia said it would allow just 1,000 pilgrims, all of them from within the kingdom, though it has not released the final number.

Across the Middle East, celebrations for Eid al-Adha, the festival of sacrifice that marks the end of the hajj this weekend, will likewise be paler this year.

In Oman and Bahrain, where the unchecked spread of the virus among low-paid foreign laborers living in crowded conditions has contributed to two of the world’s worst outbreaks, officials have urged residents to forgo the large celebrations that usually mark Eid, and Oman has reinstituted a domestic travel ban and curfew. In Egypt, new cases have fallen as the country resumes normal life, but a live broadcast will replace communal Eid prayers.

In the United Arab Emirates, where it is common for residents to buy sheep or other livestock to sacrifice and donate during Eid, the authorities were encouraging people to use apps to reduce crowding at slaughterhouses and markets.

Anti-Muslim Bigotry Again To Make Headlines From Trump White House

There is no end to the use of anti-Muslim bigotry by the Trump White House.  The latest attempt to play to the angry white men in America is underway with the administration’s intention to dramatically expand its much-litigated travel ban to additional countries.  And would anyone be shocked that the expansion would be aimed at Muslim nations?

This week a person I was in high school with posted on Facebook a most racist screed about a Somalian woman who was elected to a local office in Lewiston, Maine.   That he was ranting from central Wisconsin about a topic he knew nothing about, and in the foulest way, is proof that there are many weak-minded Trump supporters who eat up anything that is anti-Muslim.

It needs to be noted that Safiya Khalid, won her race with 70% of the vote.  Clearly, those closer to the facts, than a racist many states away, knew they should not allow for the internet trolls to sway an election.

But that post is important to consider as news breaks about the renewed efforts at the White House to again attack those of the Muslim faith.  News reports have alerted the nation that the White House document being circulated has the countries that would be affected blacked out.  It is being reported through sources that seven nations–the majority of them Muslim–are on the list.

This takes me back to the base of the Trump supporters for which this wretchedness is created.  Such as the FB post I mentioned.

It was, after all the angry under-educated white male who elected Trump.  They refuse to better themselves or take classes or make their lives richer.  Instead, they are bitter that folks from places around the globe can come here, learn a new language, take classes and start new businesses and create new jobs and become successful.  I can name many who have succeeded that way in the 30-plus years I have lived in Madison.

Meanwhile, Trump voters continue to whine about public restrooms and why coal is not King anymore and they then wonder why the rest of the nation laughs.

That Trump’s White House caters to the most low-brow in our nation, with racist and xenophobic policy ideas, is not only unconscionable but also one of the leading reasons we will kick the current occupant of the White House out in 2020.

Letter From Home “Education And Hope” 1/1/20

A few days prior to Christmas I was in a grocery store line to check out items needed for a gathering of friends to be held at our home.  The store is a place I stop a couple times a week and over the years I have come to know many of the employees through chats and laughter.  I did not, however, recognize the woman who was working my checkout line.

I have a habit of striking up conversations with folks I encounter in retail as I do not want them to feel under-appreciated.  Everyone is always in a hurry in our world, and it seems that we too often forget to acknowledge the people who are directly in front of us.  So I make it a point to talk to people who I interact with in stores and try to thank them by using their name on their tag.   But the new face in the grocery store line had a name I knew I was not going to be able to pronounce on the first try.  Or third try.

She had her hair covered and so I assumed she might be of the Islamic faith.  She told me her name was based from her religion.  Raised in Ghana she was new to Madison and wondered how she might adapt to winter.  With spring temps that we experienced in December, I alerted her to the mercurial nature of our weather.

But it was when she spoke about taking classes at our local technical school, and then transferring to UW-Madison, that I am sure my smile broadened.  Over and over I either talk with or read about immigrants who come to this country and seek out ways to improve their lives.  In this country, immigrants need to deal with new language skills, currency, culture, and in the case of this young woman, cold weather and certainly snow.   Added to that is the desire to strive for education and learning and personal growth.

There is so much to admire and be proud of when hearing such stories.  They confirm what I heard in taxi cab rides around Washington, DC two years ago when I would strike up conversations with immigrant drivers.

I was heartened that each of the men driving cabs was chatty and open about their life and experiences in this nation.   From Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Morocco, Sudan, and Sierra Leone each had strong feelings and all but one had language skills that made it easy to convey them.  The vast majority were of the Islamic faith and needless to say, were as proud to talk about it as anyone would be about their religion.  One soft-spoken man from Ethiopia seemed so humble and sincere about his life and outlook that upon leaving the cab I turned and offered the Islamic greeting of “peace be upon you”.

All the men had come to this country to make a better way in life.  Most had been here for about 15 years, a couple arrived only about 7 years ago.  Some had traveled with family and others came alone.  A man who came from India to get an education started his own restaurant.  An Ethiopian driver was surprised we knew of some foods from his native land such as Injera and Doro Wat.   We told him that in Madison we live close to a restaurant that makes these foods.  He smiled and told us that in his land Dor Wat is reserved for special days as it takes lots of ingredients and time to make.

Each of the drivers had made a bold choice of leaving the place of their birth to seek a better life.  It meant at times, as with the driver from India, leaving every member of his family behind and seeking something different.  It is a phenomenal undertaking to make such a journey.

And they work hard.  They are not slackers.  Most lived in Maryland where rental properties were more affordable.   One driver spoke of the rent increases over the past decade where his two-bedroom apartment now costs over $2,000 per month.   Other drivers told of their small children.  In one case a driver wanted his son to learn his native language at home while also speaking English at school.   James, as a professor of languages,  heartily agreed and offered some tips on how to make that process work.

Painting every person of the Islamic faith with one brush, as Donald Trump continues to do, was met with resentment and hurt.  “That is not American,” is how one man expressed it from his front seat.  And he is correct.

The desire to come to America and the thirst for education is a real and most uplifting combination.  We should applaud that and welcome it.

And that is exactly what I did upon hearing the woman at the grocery store. She expressed how many in Madison have been so welcoming and encouraging.   I told her many folks in the Midwest are big-hearted, want to see more diversity, and are not in alignment with what too often makes for dreadful headlines.

These types of moments and conversations are what truly makes me happy.  They can almost make me forget what I am doing.  As I got to the car I realized that I had not taken all my bagged groceries.  Walking back to get them I took stock of how important such conversations are in the chaotic times we find ourselves.

I am hoping for many more such simple conversations and interactions in the year ahead.

And so it goes.

Congresswoman lhan Omar Needs Support

Congresswoman lhan Omar’s ‘outlandish’ comments pale by comparison to many of her white male counterparts, such as Congressman Steve King.  They especially pale by comparison with Donald Trump.  Yet she is on the hot seat, again and again.

We need to ask the question as to why there is so much emphasis on her?  We might surmise it is due to her being a woman of color who wears a hijab? Undoubtedly these all lead to her receiving more attention from the press, and negative reactions from conservative groups, and needless to say the alt right.

For those of us who think about politics and common-sense it is clear a double standard is at play when it comes to this freshman Democrat.  As a liberal I don’t have to agree with all of her comments–but I think she got it mostly correct about Israel’s government– but I absolutely expect some level of support from all of her peers in the Democratic caucus.

Let us be mindful that Omar never said anything negative about Jews themselves. She merely accused Israel-supporting lobbying firms of having undue influence in U.S. politics.  She nailed the Israeli government for being exactly what they are.

What the lack of support for Omar underscores is that Muslims are still open for ridicule and bigotry.  We still seem willing to allow for shades of bigotry within the party when it comes to Muslims, and that is a shame.

Newspaper Front Pages From New Zealand And Australia After White Supremacist Massacre

Front pages of newspapers from New Zealand and Australia following White Nationalist attack on faithful Muslims.

Faces You Need To See Of Those Who Were Murdered By White Nationalist In Christ Church

Today was a very harsh one for the world.  A White Nationalist created a bloodbath in Christ Church where 49 Muslims were shot to death.  The words of hate, bigotry, fear, and xenophobia from the likes of Donald Trump--who was mentioned with praise by the shooter–along with other White Nationalists must own the headlines.   Several of the victims reach out tonight in photos with a short narrative that we must not forget.

Daoud Nabi, 71, was the first of the 49 Christ Church victims to be identified. He stood at the door, ready to pray, and welcomed the terrorist inside, “come in brother” were his last words. The grandfather died trying to save someone else from a bullet.

“The Hero” was known as Naeem Rashid. He was one of the 49 murdered at Christ Church. After he witnessed his son Taha shot and killed, and men and women slain around him, he lunged at the terrorist with his bare hands.  He was courageous until the very end – and died a Hero.

The youngest in the Christ Church murders was Muca Abdi who was only 3 years old. He was one of 49 Muslims killed in the massacre. He had his whole life ahead of him. Remember him like this, smiling wide, with his brother Abdi.