Thursday, February 10, 2011

Joseph the Afghani-

Written on Sunday, January 23, 2011 at 2:51pm

Walked up to a house this a.m. looking to inquire about a vehicle for sale. A well dressed man, with peppered gray hair and stone blue eyes greeted me outside. He had a gentle voice, thick with a Middle Eastern accent. After going over the car, he invited me inside. As we walked in, I asked why he sold vehicles from his home (a very nice/large home it was; didn’t fit what you’d think an independent used car dealer would have.) Joseph immediately responded, “I used to own a car dealership but the past couple of years were very rough so I had to close. I lost $500,000 the last year I was open. So now I just do what I can from home. Have to pay the bills somehow!” He smiled; wasn’t ashamed or timid in the least. He apologized for the mess that his 5 kids had made as we walked through the kitchen and dining room back to his home office. As we sat down, I asked him when he came to the U.S. He said, “All the way back in 1981.” Always interested in the stories of immigrants, I began a barrage of questions and he freely answered.

Joseph’s journey began in 1978 (the year I was born.) Afghanistan was in a time of turmoil and war. He was 14 at the time and the men in his town were asking his father to hand Joseph and his 5 brothers over so they could join the local militia. Joseph said that he immediately told his father that he had no interest in fighting; especially since it would be against his own people. His father told him there were only two options: fight or leave the country. Joseph decided to leave and crossed over into Iran. He was alone. Not a soul with him as he risked his life to get out of the war zone. He was in Iran for two years holed up in a room he rented in a crappy hotel. He said that he worked day and night selling cigarettes, fixing birdcages and working labor jobs; anything to survive.  He didn’t see his family at all during that time. Finally, his parents said that they would meet him in Pakistan if he could get there. He was now 16. One brother had made it over to the U.S. already so his parents thought maybe the three of them could go next. But saving money and getting the documents in line wasn’t that easy so they spent a year in Pakistan. Again, Joseph did whatever he could to make money. I couldn’t help but say, “But man, you were only a kid! How’d you do it?” He paused what he was writing and looked up, “What else could I do? You do whatever you need to in order to eat. When I was 14, I was equal to a 25 year old American. I had to hustle with grown men and work alongside them. I just had to do it. It didn’t matter that I was treated poorly and had no one. Nobody cared so I just did what needed to be done.” I must have said wow 50 times in the 20 minutes we were talking. Couldn’t get over his drive and perseverance!

But as he wrapped up his story, telling me that his whole family made it over and now live in the DC metro area, he said, “And that is why I love this country . . . there is nothing like it anywhere! At the worst here, is better than the best where I came from. Hard isn’t hard. Why? Because you’re safe and that is priceless! There is no war. Maybe you can’t pay your bills, like I’m having a hard time doing now, but that is very small problem in the grand scheme.” I just sat there and said meekly, “You’re right bud. I can’t fully comprehended or empathize with what it is you’re saying, as I’ve never come close to experiencing what you have, but I hear you. We are blessed. Life is good.” I stood up, shook his hand and thanked him for taking the time to share with me.  He said that he enjoyed it.

As I drove away, and even now 3 hours later, his words keep ringing in my head. His thankfulness even in the midst of major loss he experienced in the past year was contagious.  Good stuff-
So that was today. That was good. Joseph was his name.

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