Granola, Cigarettes, Ali, and Advent

Maitham.jpg

Advent.Season of waiting.Season of distraction.

Season of my eldest daughter’s birthday party.As I’m writing our house is full of girls.It’s been a true all-night—giggly, at moments slightly shrieky, and always shockingly happy—girl fest.They keep blasting Bono, maybe to make sure I don’t feel lonely.But I’m not.

We granola workers have worked hard this Advent, so I decided to reward myself Thursday with a visit to Starbucks with Maitham, one of the refugees.I figured I’d interview him, and share part of his story with you (along with a reminder that right now—meaning today and tomorrow—is the time to order granola if you want it to arrive before Christmas).There.Got that out of the way.But it’s important.What’s a Christmas without Holly Jolly Ginger.

Anyway, I recorded about an hour of conversation just because I have an iphone and ican.This morning I started listening, thinking I’d jog my memory for a few minutes and put together a short blog.

Next thing I knew, the hour had slipped by.I’d listened to the whole interview, without putting a single note on paper.Which should tell you what a compelling storyteller Maitham is—despite his limited English; sometimes because of his limited English! (Are you out there, Ira Glass?Maybe it’s time to run a few stories on refugees.)Not to mention his hope, his gratefulness, his laughter, his self-reflections, and his openness.

I asked Maitham all kinds of things ranging from getting shot in Iraq, to escaping to Syria and the troubles and family members still there, to his ill-fated attempt to request asylum in Sweden, to how he feels becoming an American and the hopes he has for his new life in Rhode Island.

But all this will have to wait.If I’m going to send out a blog, it has to go now, so I’ll simply transcribe part of our conversation about cigarettes along with a few explanatory comments.This conversation started with cholesterol.Apparently Maitham’s doctor has introduced him to this particular American worry. I tried to offer a little advice:

Keith:Eat a lot of granola, that’s good for your cholesterol.The almonds, the walnuts, pecans.Nuts are good for your cholesterol.

[This was meant as a joke—though it’s true.We did laugh.]

Maitham:Ah.

Keith: And also if you exercise.

M:Yes, teacher, I need to walk, but it’s cold, teacher.

[I don’t particularly love being called “teacher,” but it was my position when I started this company. I wonder if it’s stuck primarily because my name is hard for English learners to pronounce.I’ve given up on trying to stop it. I explained that there are two types of cholesterol. I did seem to take an instructional tone.]

K: You can go up and down the stairs at Amos house.Carry things up and down.

M: Yes, that’s what I’m doing.And I got the machine, you know. Don’t you carry it anymore.I will do it.

[Our sealing machine weighs about 60 pounds. This is coming from a guy with a gunshot wound.I don’t think lifting that machine is easy for him.I had just found out that a bullet went through his chest and broke 3 ribs, which in turn damaged his liver.Miraculously—this is Maitham’s word choice—the lung was spared.Maitham is a Christian and not shy about thanking Jesus for his life.]

K: Or you could stop smoking.

M: You know, teacher, I tried. From what happened with my daughter, when we just come back from the hospital.

[Maitham’s second daughter was born just last month with the major vessels to the heart transposed.Miriam had heart-surgery in Boston.She is now home, and doing just fine.Another miracle.Miriam would not be alive if Maitham had not fled Iraq.]

M:I tried to smoke only a little bit, teacher. Outside, and in the car, every 3 hours.Yeah.I do what I can do.I do my best.Sometimes when I try.I wake in the morning.I say, “I’m not going to smoke.”Until 12 o’clock, until one o’clock, I feel nervous.I feel I need to punch something.It’s addiction.That’s the problem, teacher.I mean, I want to see the guy who created the cigarette. I want to punch him teacher.Maybe I will say thank you.I don’t know.Maybe I tell him thank you, maybe I’m going to punch him.

[We had a good laugh about this irony.It’s amazing.Successful humor across cultural and language barriers is not easy.]

Have you heard about Ali?He was Mohammed’s cousin.The Shi’a people, they love Ali.That’s the Shi’a people.They love this guy.So he said, “If the illness and sickness was a guy.I will kill him?”You know what that mean?

K:You tell me.

M: He mean, he hate the illness for everybody.I love that saying.So that guy who created the bad things in the world, maybe you need to kill him.Tell him, “Why do you do this—the people they got--” But for the guy who created the cigarette, for me I don’t know. Maybe I’m going to kick him.Maybe I’m going to say thank you.”

You know what I feel sometimes?If I don’t smoke, if I try to stop completely… when I wake up in the morning I feel my body is like maybe somebody give me an anesthetic.I don’t feel my body.I just want to smoke.Then I feel wake up. I feel happy.

When we went to Sweden.We went illegally.We went to Asmir—a city in Turkey.From Asmir with a small ship to one of the Greek islands, and from this island, to Athens. Nine hours.When we tried to get the fake passports and we get in the airport, they catch us.So we go to the jail for 4 days.Teacher, I didn’t care about anything.The government there, they know the Iraqi people they just run away from the bad situation. So they be very nice to us.When he close the—what is it? [gesturing]

K: Handcuffs

M: Yes.He asks me, does it hurt?If I say yes, he will open it a little bit.Look how they are nice with us.But we go to the jail for 4 days.Two days in the jail in airport.

K: What?They have a jail in the airport?

M: Yes.Somebody come.He says, “follow me.” All of us from Iraq.He get all the fake passports.And we follow him to jail.Yeah it was very funny.And the problem wasn’t the jail—there was no smoking in the airport.That was my crazy days.After two days we went to the court.They closed us in the truck.I got a cigarette from a guy. I don’t even know where he’s from.I was very nervous and I was fighting with Zaid [Maitham's brother who also works for us]. I was saying, we’re not going to go on.We’ll go back to Iraq.But when the man gave me a cigarette, I was like. I got courage now.I was smiling.

For now, this will have to be our advent granola blog. If you hurry, there is still time to order granola and have it arrive before Christmas. Otherwise—maybe this is even better—you can still order a granola-of-the month subscription to start in January.You will improve someone's health and happiness and we will thank you for buying the granola that allows us to provide work for people like Maitham.

We wish you blessings. And courage. May “that guy” who created illness and trouble and “bad things” in the world (maybe even cigarettes) be destroyed. And may you have joy and peace.

Keith & Geoff