Little Muhammad

We went down the street from my son’s house to shop at the new Syrian refugee just-opened corner store.  They sell Middle Eastern food stuff.  I know nothing about Middle Eastern food save for donairs, falafels, hummus and pita.  When we entered, we were greeted by a small, mature-faced young kid.  Muhammad was only 11.  “Can I help you find anything, sir?”

“I know nothing about Syrian food, Muhammad.  Sell me something you think is absolutely Syrian and, of course, absolutely delicious.  I am OK with whatever your favourite thing is.”

“I highly recommend this spice, sir.  On chicken.  You make it into a thick sauce and rub it all over the chicken and then fry it.  It’s the best.  My favourite.”

For the next five minutes or so Muhammad led me around the store giving me his recommendations and, of course, I bought them all.  I will even be making falafel soon.  But far and away, Muhammad promoted and sold the spices.  Muhammad was INTO the spices.  He also sold me a falafel maker and tried to sell me a can of Truffles.   “Sir, I advise you to consider this can of desert truffles.  They are rare.  They are only picked in the desert and this batch are the last truffles picked before the war.  There are no more.  Not now.”

I laughed out loud but declined.  That kind of rare desert truffle seemed way too fantastic and sounded like a used-car salesman talking.  Still, very fun.  This kid was GOOD at selling and even had a ‘story’ for the most expensive item in his store, a can of mushrooms.

*For the record: I looked it up.  Muhammad was telling the straight truth about the truffles.  Seems they are wild-harvested at a certain time and found only in the dessert.  The Syrian war ended that practice and there are no more for sale for the foreseeable future.  I am gonna go back and buy a can.

As we were finishing up, his dad came back into the store.  I complemented him on raising such a smart kid and suggested that he will either become a lawyer, a doctor or the world’s best used car salesman.  Dad smiled sadly and said, “I hope so.”  But, when dad came home, Muhammad went out to play on his bike in the back parking lot.  He couldn’t go too far.  Customers might show up and he was clearly the draw for the store.

I dunno, Bubba, but I like Muhammad.  I might even like the dad.  I am glad they are here….mostly for Muhammad’s sake……and I will taste the chicken before a full five star endorsement.  Can’t be too careful, ya know?

10 thoughts on “Little Muhammad

  1. Diversity is seen by some as a very powerful addition to the fabric of our Canadian mosaic. Canada needs immigrants and the meme that they are taking Canadian jobs is overstated in the opinion of some. We have hundreds of temporary farm labourers in my area filling necessary jobs. In the elderly care homes in Quebec many of the workers were on temporary residence permits. Canada has a need for labourers and immigrants can fill that labour gap. Many small towns in Canada are reinvigorated with the arrival of immigrants and their children. Children pick up English quickly and help to form a bridge to help transition their parents into Canadian society.

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    • The top three cities in the world (Delhi, Tokyo and Shanghai) have more people than does the second largest country (Canada). We have the room. We could use the help. Admittedly, a new refugee is NOT an asset. They have been ‘though the mill’ and need a hand up. But, typically, that hand up is one to two years at most. And immigrants that were not refugees do even better. They are not all that happy being here – seems it takes three generations for a family to ‘settle’ – but they are happier than they were in their own country and by the third generation, they are fully Canadian-ized. I do not think we handle immigrants and refugees quite right, however. They all want to be in Toronto and Vancouver with a few other cities deemed acceptable (Montreal, Edmonton). City, city, city. And yet, they would still happily accept some smaller city/town/village if it was all set up right. But we don’t do that. We should do it right. I also do not think that a bad actor should be tolerated for long. Break a serious law and the sentence is deportation. Pretty damn immediate if possible.

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  2. We had a store like that near us once. The proprietors were from Syria. My husband, children and I shopped there. We never saw any other white folk there, and more generally, few people of Middle Eastern extraction. Prejudices are not confined to white folk. Anyway, the shop didn’t last long despite it being an absolute treasure trove of wondrous things.
    Hope you do go back, Dave. Before you do, check your biases. It may be that the father was a doctor or engineer before fleeing Syria. It is understandable that Syrian refugees want to be near universities, both for their own and their children’s sake.

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    • “Before you do, check your biases. It may be that the father was a doctor or engineer before fleeing Syria. ”

      ++++

      Biases?
      What’s so “biased” about suggesting the kid might eventually become a doctor?

      I managed a building where the cigarette/cigar shop was owned and run by a retired Iranian pilot.
      He flew F-14’s in the Air Force and after fleeing Iran in 1979 with his family …. eventually flew 747’s for Air France.
      He retired to Canada the only way he could….by using the fast track “Investors Immigration Plan” where he bought a Canadian business for $250k or more and hired local staff.
      He was quite happy to relax behind the counter and talk to passers by.
      His English wasnt that great so he never entertained becoming a commercial pilot in Canada.
      Nothing biased about suggesting a kid will go further than the shop owning, (english as a second or third? language) parents.

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  3. I am OK with ‘quits’ but I, too, did not see a bias that needed checking. Perhaps you could explain? I suppose it could be interpreted that I found Muhammad MORE capable than I thought walking in but, to be fair, he was remarkably more mature than his years. I would have said that about any kid who showed such obvious competence. It might be that I inferred that a shop-keepers son was surprisingly more capable ‘than his station’ and that ‘who woulda suspected that?!’ If I did that, it was unintentional. Apologies.
    But I know that refugees come from all walks of life and that a man or family relegated to keeping shop might be way more qualified than that but can’t practice their skills due to our country’s regulations. I do not see a bias there but maybe there was one.
    A twist: my dentist is Vietnamese-Canadian. Born here. Direct descendant from the ‘boat people’ who came in the 70’s. During that time, I was one of two in the country to ‘coordinate’ the refugees private-sponsor settling program. I had Saskatchewan west and Howard had Manitoba east. I helped my doctor’s parents get settled. I subsequently worked with the UNHCR as well as the Canadian Government and got pretty deeply engaged in helping refugees. Do I have a bias? Yes, of course I do. I think the UNHCR has failed in their vision, I think many governments see the UN as just a slush fund for keeping the elite in fancy cars and weapons and I have a concern that no refugees or immigrants get the right help they need. Do I have any personal biases toward different groups? I do not think so. I am a smidge disinclined to hugging black-leather jacketed, middle aged Russian males covered in tattoos but I attribute that to cheap B action movies. I am sure I would be open minded if we met in person. I may also harbour a bit of bias against the Taliban…..we’ll see.

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  4. I recall that you were very enthusiastic about the Syrian family running the store. You showed a positive bias or enthusiasm for them. That is the inclusive message that many Canadians want to send to immigrants/refugees. But not all communities are as accepting of new Canadians as you are. If only more Canadians were as welcoming as you more small immigrant businesses might succeed. The writer hoped that you would return to the Syrian store and patronize it and hope for its continued success. The concept of bias might be perceived with those with various points of possibly as positive, negative or indifferent. The invitation to check one’s bias, to examine one’s bias within the larger context of a community that has a range of biases towards new Canadians. It is a cautionary tale to check one’s biases. Now when you do not want to talk about or discuss an issue you have said, “I don’t want to talk about it!” Someone else who does not to want to peruse an issues might say. ‘’Let’s call it quits.” This might be interpreted as “I do not want to talk any further about what check your bias might mean.” Let’s drop the topic!

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      • You are biased to supporting your friends despite their faux pas. And I appreciate that. More than that, I NEED that. So far, it is only you, Sal and Sid. Well, Wim and Wing, Scott, Tracy, Margy and John, too. And even a few more. I am blessed. Thanks.

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      • Thanks David! That’s what friends are for…to be by your side in the best of times and in the worst of times ;-). I too am blessed with a few real friends….and you don’t need a whole bunch of them, better to have a few real friends then a bunch of superficial friends in my opinion

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