Gentle Humor

I don't offend some of the people most of the time

Category: Gifts

Askar’s Story, Part 1

Let me tell you about Askar. He’s this senior high school student I’ve been volunteer tutoring for a couple of years.

Askar came from Somalia, a war-torn country in Africa, three years ago and did not know English. The first year I tutored him he was a happy-go-lucky kid who smiled a lot, joined the track team, and was learning quickly. He made good grades in spite of barely understanding English because he worked so hard. Sometimes it was painful to work with him – I had to keep asking him to repeat his questions in order to understand what he was saying. He could not read one sentence of homework instructions without having to ask what two or three words meant.

In December 2009 Askar had to leave our tutoring session early because he said he had a job interview. He was a senior, so it wasn’t unusual that he’d want a part-time job. I asked what kind of work and he told me that it was on an assembly line working 5 days a week from 3-11 I pried and found out that his parents had split up and he had been living with his older brother, but the brother was moving and Askar had to find his own place. “I have to have rent money,” he said.

I knew he could not finish his senior year and work this job, which was located way out by the airport, so I begged him not to take that job. I mentioned to the librarian that he needed work, and perhaps she put the word out. As luck would have it, he got a job as a janitor right at the high school working from 4-9 Monday through Friday, which was a perfect set-up.

He had too much luck, however, because he had also applied at OHSU hospital and was hired there as well, working from 3:30 to 11 on Saturday and Sunday in the transportation department moving wheelchair and stretcher patients.

I advised him not to take both jobs, but he didn’t know which to turn down, and he wanted the money. He managed okay the first couple of weeks, then he became exhausted. He’d come to tutoring and lay his head on the table to and rest. “I am so tired, SuzyAnne,” he’s say. That’s how my name sounds with a Somalian accent. He complained of headaches and of his grades falling. He had found an apartment, but it was across town, which meant a long bus ride to school and after work.

I kept saying, “You are young, you can do this. Just don’t quit school.” It became apparent after the first month that he wasn’t gong to be able to manage it all. He didn’t have enough time to work, go to school, study and sleep, much else shop for and prepare food or hang out with his friends. Since he had to work, and he had to sleep at least a few hours, school moved down on his priority list.

I wondered what I could do to help him. I thought about giving him money so he could quit one of the jobs, but somehow this didn’t seem right. I prayed about it and racked my brain and finally decided that the best thing I could give him was time. One night when he got off work I showed up at the bus stop and asked him if he wanted a ride. He was surprised and hesitant, but accepted, and I drove him home. I told him, “I am supposed to do something for Lent, and I’ve decided I will drive you home from work and that will be something good I can do.”

He is Muslim and understood the concept of sacrificing for your religion, and so even though it was awkward for both of us, I continued to pick him up after work, and he accepted the rides. It usually took him an hour or more to get home on the bus, plus the waiting and walking time. I could have him home in 15 minutes or so. “You can use that extra time for sleep or studying or sleep,” I said.

Sometimes he would be so tired it would break my heart. I’d tell him a funny story or talk about the Trailblazers or ask him about work at OHSU to try and get his energy back up. “Oh, SuzyAnne,” he’d say. “The people are so fat. It took three of us to push the man’s stretcher. Three of us! He was so big and everyone there is so big! Why do they eat so much?” These stories, though tragic, made us laugh at 11:30 on those dark rainy nights, and I looked forward to hearing them.

I would ask him about the Muslim religion and was fascinated with the customs. “If you touch a girl in my country before you are married, even just on the arm, her father could come and shoot you in the head and no one would do anything to him because of the Muslim law.”

Once I brought my dog in the car, and she jumped over in his lap. He raised his hands in the air. “You’re not a dog person, I see.” “No, not really,” he said, waiting for her to get off his lap before he put his hands down. A few days later he told me that dogs were considered unclean. “if you touch a dog, you have to wash your hands seven times,” he said.

“Don’t people have them for pets?” I asked. “No, not one person,” he answered. “There is not one dog in the town I came from. Not even on the street. People have cats for pets, but not dogs.”

I will continue Askar’s story tomorrow.

Valentine’s Day Shopping Tips

Valentine’s Day is coming up on Sunday. This is a head’s up to men who might want to know about the perfect gift.

The perfect gift is any gift at all. Don’t show up empty handed, even if you think the whole holiday is just the card and candy shops trying to make an extra buck. You can be assured, despite her protests, that your sweetheart will appreciate any effort you might put forth to show her she’s dear to you.

You can show her (or him) what a special person (s)he is by taking a second to think about what (s)he’d really like. This will actually take more than a second, because a second’s worth of thought is only going to motivate you to buy the standard gifts: flowers and/or chocolate.

This is what my husband always gets me, and I act nice about it but these are the wrong gifts. Flowers must be maintained. Yes, they look very pretty, but they need to have their water changed and ends cut off or they won’t last more than a couple of days. If you send them to her workplace she’ll get to have her friends ooooo and ahhhh over them, so that may be something she’d like. I work from home so it doesn’t do me much good. If she’s not a plant person, though, flowers  may not be the best gift. Ditto for a live plant – which is a curse on any occasion. If you aren’t a plant person, you’re going to kill it. If you are, you’re going to have to water it and nurture it for years to come, and worse still; you’ll have to find a place for it. If you and I become friends, do not give me a live plant. I’ll take cut flowers any day, but I’d rather have something that will last, like diamonds.

Chocolates can be a nice gift, except for me. I’m Catholic and usually give up sweets for Lent. Lent happens a week or two after Valentines Day, so in any given year I’m either gorging myself on a giant box of chocolates to dispose of them, or letting them sit until after Lent. They call my name the entire time, even in my sleep. This is cruel. If you’re on a diet you’re not going to want the temptation, either. Think about this before you buy.

Nice gifts, in my book, are things that I can wear or physically enjoy. That’s why jewelry is cool – but don’t get me the expensive stuff, because I don’t wear it. If your sweetie does, then that’s a good choice. If she’s like me, go look in her closet and see what color clothes she has the most of – if it’s black, get her some nicely crafted black earrings at a little boutique. Look in her jewelry box and see if she likes big hanging earrings or small posts. I don’t know why this is so hard for guys. I never wear posts but I seem to always get them for a gift from my husband. If I say anything, his feelings get hurt. It’s a no-win situation unless you do a little snooping around. Notice if she wears big necklaces or small, dainty ones. Gold or silver? Beads or jewels? This is not rocket science.

If you’re buying for a guy, give him golf balls or a ticket to a basketball game – but only if HE likes these sports – not if you’re trying to get him interested in a sport you like. I get ticked when my husband gives me a gift that’s got HIS best interests at heart, not mine.

If your darling likes bubble bath, go that route. If she disdains scents, or only uses a certain line of products, then get her something she can use.

Take a few minutes, do your research, be thoughtful, and you’ll be rewarded on Valentines Day with less nagging. You may even get your heart’s desire, and if you’re a guy, I know exactly what that means to you.

Copyright © 2017 by Suzanne Olsen