Reaching Out

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I’ve been trying since the election to become more involved and active in my community; as it turns out, the county in which I live actually went blue this time – something I in no way expected to happen. It made me realize that I’ve never been in touch with what goes on in the area where I live at all, and that perhaps I should change that a bit. Especially since it appears there are more like-minded people in my community than I realized. Duh.

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I’ve attended a few meetings of a local progressive outreach group that got started the day after the election, and through that group on Facebook I came across an event that was scheduled for December 2nd in my area. There is quite a large Muslim community in this area, and a nearby neighborhood has been home to a mosque for many years. A woman on Facebook who lives in the area had been hearing concern from her Muslim neighbors about harassment and anti-Muslim sentiment on the increase since the election, and she wanted to do something about it, so she put together a day of celebration wherein members of the community would go there and hand out flowers as a gesture of solidarity with them. It sounded like a nice gesture and something both Doug and I could believe in, so we signed up to attend.

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The whole thing was arranged with the Imam of the mosque in advance, so they knew we would be there. Friday is a big day of prayers for the Muslim community, so we got there before the service started and set up. Unfortunately, the weather was cold, windy, and gloomy, so at least the rain held off, but the poor weather hurt attendance and there were only about 10 of us who showed up. The woman who organized the event had still gotten a local Trader Joe’s to donate over 400 roses, though, so even though we were small in number, we had a ton of flowers to hand out.

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Doug and I were the first to arrive, and as soon as we unloaded our car one of the police officers who is there every week to direct traffic came over; it was clear he had been expecting us and knew about the little event that had been coordinated, because he thanked us immediately and said he was really happy we were doing it. Up until that moment, Doug and I were nervous – we’d never been in or near a mosque and the idea of just standing out there on their property and shoving roses in people’s faces could have been seen as weird and annoying just as easily as it could have been seen as something great, but the officer not only put us at ease and made us feel welcome, he made it clear that the gesture was both needed and appreciated. Cops get a bad rap, and I admit to being biased against them myself, but the officers I met on this day were a good reminder for me that the majority of them do their jobs because they care about the communities in which they work and live. It was clear as the crowds started to arrive that they knew all of these people and took the time to talk to them and treat them kindly. So, a good reminder for me to be less judgmental.

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This officer had a warm greeting for that guy; I could tell by their bear hug that they knew each other well

I volunteered to take pictures, and as usual I was so flustered and rushed when we got to the mosque that I forgot to really check my camera for decent settings and just started shooting, so the results were not that great. The crappy weather didn’t help, either. Once the event  was over, people were clamoring for the photos right away, so I did something I never do and just loaded them all straight out of the camera into my computer and into the Facebook event group so people could see them; nobody cared that they were crap but I did, of course. Anyway, I haven’t had time to process many of them at all so for the most part, the ones you see here are crappy originals. Sorryboutit.

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Here’s one I did have to time to process; isn’t this woman gorgeous? And the kid’s expression is adorable!

The Imam came out to greet us right away, and also thanked us for what we were doing. Soon people started to arrive for afternoon prayers – Friday was chosen because it is the most important day of the week as far as attendance – and we had been told there could be as many as 700 people there at that time. Although the Imam and the police officers knew what we were doing, it turned out no one else did, and I figured out right away that I needed to not only hand people a flower but to tell them why I was doing it. “We’re from the community and we just want to let you know that we support you and are glad you are here,” or some variation of that, was what we started saying as people passed by on their way inside. Most people were really pleased and we received a lot of hugs and warm wishes. Some people, both men and women, struck up conversations with us and asked questions, and we even exchanged emails and Facebook identities with each other to stay in touch. So many people expressed their desire to do more outreach with each other, and to learn to understand each other, and overall people were very open with us and spoke freely about their concerns and their hopes for the future. For the most part, I was running around taking pictures, but I still got to join in a lot of hugs and handshakes and conversations, and it was a really enjoyable afternoon overall.

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As you can tell from the photos, a few of the participants brought their kids along (who were thrilled because they got to skip school to attend, LOL) and the woman who organized things (her name is Ligi, by the way) got permission for them to draw on their basketball court with sidewalk chalk. And let me tell you – those kids went to town on it. They drew, and drew, and drew, and it was all very sweet.

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They even turned one of those basketball court circles into a globe, and then drew stick people circling it holding hands. I missed taking a photo of it, though. 

Ligi had mentioned this next part might happen, but I’d sort of decided I wasn’t going to do it – then at the time I went along with it because everyone else did. They invited us all inside for the prayers, and obviously I’d never been in a mosque before, much less for prayers. Even though everyone was beyond welcoming and nice, and even said it was totally fine for me to take pictures while the prayers were going on, I still felt like I was intruding, but that’s just a me thing and had nothing to do with the people there. In fact, once I got inside I realized that it wasn’t terribly formal – well, except for the fact that the men and women were in separate rooms. We had to take our shoes off, of course, and although most of the women were kneeling on the floor, some of the women guided us to the several rows of chairs that were also set up and told us we could sit if we preferred. They also did not make us cover up our hair, which I was concerned about at first since I didn’t have any way to cover mine, but they truly did not seem bothered by it, and in fact said that they have visitors all the time and not to worry. I still was uncomfortable taking photos, though, and didn’t do so – I’ve always felt weird inside a place of worship where I’m not familiar, so I get really paranoid and quiet.

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One of the men in this collage is my husband – can you guess which one? 😉

After the service was over, the Imam asked Ligi to say a few words, and she said some lovely things about unity, and loving one another in spite of differences, and overcoming hate. And then so many people came and hugged us and thanked us, and there were even tears in some people’s eyes (oh no, not mine, of course) and as we left the mosque they came chasing us down with food! And not just a little snack, either – a huge amount of biryani per person; I literally  had enough for both lunch and dinner in my styrofoam platter. And, cookies! And, candles. And more conversations and warmth and sharing. It was, in a word, delightful. And so worth the time.

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Ligi had also contacted local news stations, and as it turned out one of our local channels showed up and did a segment about it for the nightly news. I got a nice download of it, so to close this post up I’ll share it here (I’m not in it, because pictures):

Apparently, once this video was posted to the news Facebook page, a lot of really nasty comments were generated about it. That started its own conversation in the original event page, with several people talking about how ugly some people were being about the event; I found myself not even wanting to focus on the ugly comments or give them attention, so I stayed out of that for the most part. I think at this point, having been on the internet and been the target of some pretty nasty comments in my day, that shit just doesn’t register much with me anymore, and in this case I didn’t want to give it any focus at all. But I get why others felt the need to express their unhappiness about them, and that it proves how much there is still is to overcome. It just seems to me that when it comes to any news site, especially, the comments are full of such nastiness and ignorance I don’t even give it my attention anymore. People who get hateful in the comments of news articles are, to me, the lowest of the trolls, so I don’t like to get down there in the muck with them.

14 thoughts on “Reaching Out

  1. Cynthia. This post actually gave me a lump in my throat and misty eyes. You truly are blessed to be in such a welcoming and open-minded community. If not for the horrific results of this unfair election, there is hope that groups will come together. I loved this post so much! #Trumpisnotmypresident #jamaistrump #i’mstillwithher

    • I am, and i did not even know there any other progressives in this area. Texas in general is not known for it’s liberalism, LOL. Neither is Houston for that matter. But a local chapter of Pantsuit Nation is having a meeting today and over 60 people have signed up to attend – for my area, that is HUGE! We are going to hold this administration accountable.

      • We had an incident in Phoenix while we were in New Orleans. A restaurant we love that is called Middle Eastern Bakery & Deli and owned by a Lebanese Christian man who is very loved in the community was vandalized twice–and people think they were hate crimes. People set up a gofundme and poured into the restaurant to show support. We plan to go this weekend.

  2. A beautiful action is the perfect way to describe your Friday. I am sure that it will not be forgotten for a long time. If I lived anywhere near Houston I would have joined you. Thank you for posting this.

    • Lots of people are talking about doing similar things – like even that one guy in Dallas just holding up a sign. It really did feel good to just do something positive again!

  3. What a lovely idea.
    I read a nice article about UK lorry drivers setting up a Gofundme page for the Polish truck driver who was killed in the German market attack they raised the £30,000 in a matter of hours. There are more good tolerant people.

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