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  • Writer's pictureJackie Habib

On Community

On Friday, I had a haircut appointment in Hartford. On the way home, I decided to stop by a Middle Eastern restaurant in the Springfield area to grab takeout. When I walked in, someone was ordering takeout over the phone. I perused the menu while they wrapped up with the customer. I ordered a chicken tawouk wrap, a spinach pie, and a za'atar pie. He said it would take a while, I said it was fine.

As I began to walk away, he asked, "Are you Arab?" "Yes, I'm Egyptian," I replied. "I thought so. Only Arabs say 'za'atar' like that," he said. I agreed and sat down, catching up on emails and social media posts. At some point, another employee walked in and they talked amongst themselves for a bit. He then loudly exclaimed, "Nawarti eldenya!" which literally translates to, "You light up the world." It made me smile. I instantly thought of this clip from comedian Mohammed "Mo" Amer where he talks about Arabic curse words and how they are far more reaching than English ones. We don't just say, "We're glad you stopped by!" We go far beyond that.

While I waited for my order to be ready, I couldn't help but notice how great it felt; to be around others like me and to be seen for who I am. I never noticed how much of an impact community had on me in the past, because at every point in my life up to my move to Western Massachusetts, I was around family, friends, classmates, and colleagues from all walks of life. Even though I grew up in Eastern Los Angeles, where the majority of folks are Asian or Latino and Arabs are scarce, I always felt this sense of community. I suppose you don't realize something you've had your whole life is missing until it's no longer there.

Lately, I have felt this more deeply; the aching for community, to be surrounded by others like me. When I was in Boston last month, I stopped by an Egyptian restaurant in Somerville called Koshari Mama. The restaurant was empty (I went at a strange time; 3:30 p.m. on a weekday) and I spent most of the time talking with Minna, the owner's niece. We talked about how Egyptian food is different from other Arab food (our falafel is THE BEST!), about language, and about work. It was so easy to talk to her; so easy to connect with a virtual stranger.

I felt nourished as you do after eating a satisfying meal or drinking water to quench a thirst. I thought, "Maybe I'm not in the right place." I drove home from Springfield, thinking about that. I got on Zillow and looked up houses in the Springfield area. I'm not moving tomorrow, or anytime soon, but I'm thinking about it; the seed has been planted.

I visited Boston twice in March. First to see the fabulous JMW Turner exhibit at the MFA and second to see Sparks at the Shubert Theater. Both trips were also soul-nourishing. I spent several hours in galleries with fellow art lovers and got to watch my favorite band perform. While I do not miss being a social butterfly, constantly out and about and busy, I feel like recent experiences have reminded me of something I miss, something I yearn for – community.


"The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members."

– Coretta Scott King

“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go and not be questioned.”

– Maya Angelou


Photo by Jackie Habib

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