That brings me to a question…or rather a retelling of some things that I am hearing a lot in NYC. This morning, I stopped by the local bodega to get a drink and some lunch. Around here, I've adopted the custom of calling every shop keeper "boss." My mom asked me why I did this and suggested that it was pejorative. They usually call me "brother." I decided that I needed to start asking names. I asked the bodega guy who was making my sandwich what his name was. He said his name is Ali. I asked if he had ever seen the Disney movie, Aladdin, and I started singing "It is he, fabulous he, the famous Ali, Ali Ababwa."
He laughed and said he had never heard of it. I asked if he had kids, that they had probably seen it or would like it. He said he had kids, but they weren't here. I asked what he meant. He explained that his kids are home with his wife in Yemen. I asked if he skypes with them or flies home to see them often. Ali said he was just happy to work his 16 hours a day to make sure that they get food, education and a good job. He doesn't talk to them or see them.
This saddened me. I know how important my nieces and nephews are to me and my family. I can't imagine their parents never seeing or talking to them. Some of this is cultural, I'm sure, but I can't help but imagine how painful this would be for me or my family. For Ali, it seems like it is just the way things are. I have heard similar stories from many people living in my neighborhood. There are so many people working here in the city, and in the U.S. who just are trying to make enough money for their family to survive, be it here or abroad.
I pondered that as I walked across the street to buy dessert from the new coffee shop that I'm trying to support on my block. Kim, the owner, asked about David and if we had set a date. She suggested keeping the wedding here in NYC, but we are really hoping to get married in Rochester, NY. Kim asked if I knew of any apartments opening up in the neighborhood. The only one she was interested in has been assigned to a broker. For those of you who aren't familiar with this model, that means that a real estate agent is the only person who can rent the apartment. Not only do you have to pay a first month's rent and a security deposit, but also the equivalent of a month's rent in a broker's fee. That means that the average one bedroom in Brooklyn will cost you $5,400 just in first months rent. You don't get the broker fee back, so it's a sunk cost. This city sure is expensive. I lucked out when I rented my place in that the landlord paid the broker fee.
My muffins tasted even better today, although I won't put as much ground clove spice in next time.
Hug your loved ones today, because not everyone gets to hug theirs every day when they are working so hard to survive.