The World is Mess
Hassan is short, slight, quiet. He says little as he approaches the counter at the soup kitchen. He’s wearing black pants, black hoodie, and a black hat pulled down over his ears. He smiles, almost shyly, as I give him his plate, but does not hold eye contact for long. He takes his food to a table where he sits, alone, and eats his lunch.
I watch Hassan as I finish serving the others. All around him there is boisterous conversation. Many people—especially the younger men—shovel the food back at a frenzied pace. But Hassan eats slowly, deliberately, patiently. He looks around between small bites. He’s in no rush. Unlike the frantic nature of so many of the patron’s behaviour, Hassan’s seems almost tranquil.
The line’s slowed down now so I grab some food and make my way over to his table. I ask him if it’s ok if I join him. Hassan smiles warmly and motions for me to sit. But he says nothing.
I start with the usual questions. What’s your name? Where are you from? Do you have family? Turns out Hassan is roughly my age, but he lives alone. He’s from Somalia, he says. He came here twenty years ago. His English is decent, but halting.
I ask him to tell me about his country. And, for the next fifteen minutes, Hassan gives me a dense, textured, thoughtful history of Somalia, of his own city of Mogadishu, and of the many rival religious/political factions that have led to thirty-plus years of war. He tells me about the many branches of Islam and about when and why and how conflict arose between them. He tells me about the strategic significance of his homeland to foreign interests. He talks about big oil and how this seems to play a role in so much global conflict.
We talk and talk and talk. The conversation takes place at a relaxed pace, with lots of pauses for pondering. We talk about Israel and Palestine and war and peace and God and why the world is the way that it is and how it might ever become something different.
All around us, there are scenes of chaos. A few patrons are so strung out that they can barely get the food from the plate to their mouths. Some are loudly cursing and berating each other. One woman with a thick Irish accent who asked me on a date in the line up has lost consciousness and her head has dropped into her plate. There’s mashed potatoes and gravy everywhere—in her eyes, on her hat, all over her hands. Behind us, a man burps loudly. Beside us a young couple is pawing at each other. Such is the extent of their libidinous exuberance that they nearly fall over right on top of Hassan. But he seems to not even notice.
Eventually, there’s just Hassan and I left in the dining area. The poor Irish woman has been laboriously, and in the face of great protestations, escorted outside by a worker wearing sterilized gloves. The young couple beside us eventually decided to explore their amorous pursuits elsewhere. Everyone else is gone except the staff and a few volunteers from our church cleaning the tables.
Hassan wants to keep talking. I ask him what he thinks about some of the controversy in our country about refugees and “terrorists” and national security. He pauses, before saying. “You know, there is a risk. There really is. Some of these Islamist groups will try anything to get into countries like the USA and Canada. But, you know, the refugees, the refugees need our help.” I ask him how he feels, as a Muslim, about how his religion is perceived as a threat. He smiles. “Well, there are many kinds of Muslims, right? For me, Islam is a religion of peace. We must respect the rights of each person to worship how he wants. But, I don’t know, so many bad things in the world…”
“The world is mess,” he says. “Religion, politics, money, power. It’s never just one thing. It’s all together… The world is mess.”
I nod again. “Yes, it certainly is.”
Hassan looks around the empty dining area, and then back at me. “You know, I believe that Jesus will come—because Muslims do believe in Isa, you know?—and he will lead us to peace. He will fix mess.”
I smile, somewhat incredulously. “Yes,” I say. “I believe the same thing.” I know that Hassan and I understand this in different ways, but as I sit across from him, as we share stories, as we talk and laugh and lament together, I wonder if there are important similarities, too. And if the similarities might just outweigh the differences.
The staff is telling us it’s time to leave. Hassan stands, and we walk over to deposit our dirty dishes at the counter. He extends his hand to me. I take it, and thank him for educating me on his country’s history, on his religious beliefs, on the political machinations of the nations in his region. I think him for a lovely conversation. He smiles, puts his arm on my shoulder, and says, “Yes, and I thank you, too. This is the way it should be. We talk, back and forth. Together. And we each learn some things.”