Return to Islamic Memories

Long, long ago, I lived in Dearborn, Michigan, the area with the highest concentration of Arabs in North America. Dearborn is 70% Lebanese on the East side of the city of 90,000, and 90% Yemeni in the SE corner, bordered by the Ford plant, an industrial area, and a vast graveyard. Thus no one cares what the Yemeni do there, and they live in their own reality, with the women wearing veils showing only their eyes, and the men gathering in the coffee houses, and the call to prayer going out over the mosque loudspeaker four times a day.

This past weekend, I had a chance to visit those places I lived in, back before the world changed on September 11th, and I stopped at the remnants of my people group along the way.

I grew up in a Jesus People commune, where we shared everything in common, living as one rather than as individuals, committed to living in the style of the Early Church of Acts. Jesus People Milwaukee broke up in different directions, and we became Jesus People Europe. Another group moved to Florida and various places, eventually settling in Chicago, becoming Jesus People USA, or JPUSA. When our community finally ended, JPUSA was the sole remnant of my culture and people group left. Yet I've not been there since I was a child.

JPUSA is located in downtown Chicago, where they have been working in inner city ministry for decades. When I visited, sadly, most of those I knew (who babysat me) weren't around at the time, but I did get to see the tour of JPUSA's facility, and spend time with my good friend and fellow feminist, Jon Trott. They've renovated an old and infamous hotel, and planted a beautiful prayer garden, outside of the worship hall.

Then, on to Dearborn, Michigan. The journey took much longer than we expected, due to Chicago traffic, so we got in very late, and went for the first hotel we could find- a rather dingy affair, though with humorous coke machines. At two in the morning I was on Priceline searching for better rooms.

My first in-class teaching experience was there, for half a year, teaching biology and learning the ropes on the job on how to manage a class, at St. Alphonsus High School- now sadly no longer a high school. This is the adjoining church.

I took the kids on a short field trip to nearby Hemlock Park, to learn how to observe life in situ, observing plants and animals in a local park. The goal was to find as many samples of life as possible, and observe all their features in detail.

Hemlock Park was where my church, alwahat alinjilliyah, used to meet as well, in a community center shed in the park. While we were there, a baby bird floundered to the ground, and hopped up to my feet, confused or curious, asking, "Are you my momma?"

After visiting the church and field trip site, we found my old friend Douglass, and had great Arabic food at Siraj- and rose water ice cream!

This is seriously an ice cream that should be available all over the country. It is clearly the finest ice cream there is. Rose water is a common ingredient in Middle Eastern cuisine. I discovered it in the book, The Day of Ahmad's Secret, which I bought at the annual Arab-American Festival in Dearborn, when I was a children's librarian at the African-American Cornerstone Schools in Detroit. Part of his secret (which I won't reveal so as not to
give away the end) is found on the way past the rose-water seller. After I taught all the 2nd and 3rd graders to write their names in Arabic, I then treated them to rose water ice cream, bought at the ice cream parlor, Shatilla. And surprise! Shatila is still here in Dearborn, at a new fancy location, and beautiful, beautiful rose water ice cream.

There is only one place in the world where America is North of Canada, so while in Dearborn, we took a trip down South to Canada, going through Detroit down to Windsor. There we found...Canadian leaves!

There is a wealth of others sights in Canada, of course. My towing company. Free Legal Aid for the Nuthouse. The remnants of the once mighty American economy (GM), as seen from the safety of Canada.

I knew there was this great Irish pub in Windsor, where you could get ostrich burger. We looked and looked, only to be told that the locals knew of this restaurant- and it was closed. We settled for an Italian place with fancy coffees. Since I don't agree that coffee should ever be drunk, I asked if they could gussy up some tea for me- and wallah- Fancy Vanilla Tea!

For a delightful moment, I was in two countries at once! (I am very confused about my allegiances.)

Upon returning to the States, we stopped by at the Arab Museum in Dearborn. There was some semblance of this before I left in '01, but they had poured millions into a new location, and it showed. Though the majority of the museum (on the second floor) is merely models showing Arab American immigration, there is some small collection of artifacts and interesting history. I enjoyed mostly the main floor, with it's segmentation of Arab history. I went immediately over to the writing and calligraphy section, but stoped by the ancient medical texts as well.

On the second floor was the immigrant diaramas, and the planned Khalil Khalil Gibran exhibit, perhaps the greatest modern Arab poet, writer of the The Prophet, with one of his paintings on loan to the museum. When I visited Lebanon, I made a point of stopping at Gibran's gravesite below the last stand of cedars in the Middle East, above Qadisha Gorge where the Maronite patriarchs are buried. While Gibran's poetry is beautiful, I wanted most to go to the site to see his favorite tapestry hanging above his grave. It's a 400-year-old picture of Jesus, on the cross- smiling. I took a picture, which sadly didn't come out, and I've never been able to find the picture online over the years since.

But perhaps the finest part of the museum is when you enter, and look up. There, above you, is exquisitely crafted Arabesque art, equaled only in one other place in town.

On another evening, we made our way down to the South End, Dix, to where the Yemeni are, and I visited my old home, with its holes in the wall and plagues of insects and the mail being delivered insha'allah, when God willed it. (See pink door.) There were some cool pictures and video of that sweetest sound on Earth, the mosque athan, the call to prayer. I was able to pick up some new Yemeni clothing (thobe) and the sweet bread, and I had the wonderful national dish of salta, a hot spicy soup, at the local restaurant.

Afterwards we adjourned to a hookah bar, where I got my first taste of hookah after far too long, a delightful mint and rose blend. (Yes, I do love my roses.) Then I rushed over to the local Tobaccy and got blackberry and rose tobacco to go with the new hookah I'd picked up the day before (at the same superstore where I bought my brother a sword so long ago- to this day his favorite present ever from me).

Our last stop was at the grand mosque of Dearborn. When I left, they had just bought the property, on Alter Road, where there are five other churches. Now it is built. To the left you can see an image of one of those churches, a Greek Orthodox. All told, there is a Catholic, two Orthodox, an Arabic Protestant, and a high church and low church Protestant church along this road, next to the mosque. I'm just saying, block parties must be very interesting there.

The interior is incredibly beautiful, with calligraphy to rival anything in the Middle East (and incidentally the Arab-American Museum in Dearborn), all in praise of God, and Mohammed, and Ali. You could tell it was a Shi'i mosque because of the focus of Ali as an equal to Mohammed, in the placement of the calligraphy icons. But the rules were a bit Byzantine (yes, I know) for being allowed to publish interior photographs, so you'll just have to be satisfied with the beauty of the exterior.

And then. And then. On the way back, just after I had lamented that there were no Del Tacos in the Midwest, which are frankly far superior to Taco Bell in terms of authenticity, there, in Jainesville, we saw the sign...for Del Taco. We stopped, and got some very good, very authentic tacos. The take-away from this? (Yes, that's right.) Visit Jainesville just for their Taco Bell. If they don't get enough business, they'll close. If they do, they'll open up two new branches next year in Madison!


Krissi said…
Did you know that Portland is higher in latitude on the globe than Toronto? Living here on the eastern side taught me how low Canada dips over here. Crazy.

Popular Posts