Are You Culturally Competent?
Remembering Hassan by B. La Verne Wilkin (Binnie)
Maybe, he gravitated toward me because I was the only other person of color in the class. He was tall and handsome with light brown skin the color of the lightest pecan shells and just as smooth. His jet black hair matched eyes of the same color.
"Hello," he said simply.
"Hi," I answered. "I am Binnie."
"No, B-i-n-n-i-e, Binnie."
"Oh, I got it, Beenee," he said with his lovely accent.
"Nice to meet you, I've got to run. I don't want to miss my bus. See you tomorrow."
"Wait, I will come…"
Many years ago, my friendship with Hassan had begun, while I was studying at a School of Library Science in the Northeast section of the United States. Later, I learned that special arrangements had been made for Hassan to come to this country and study for his library science degree, I learned later. He was focused on contributing to the development of libraries in his home country, Pakistan.
While watching television, he learned about the separateness of African Americans from mainstream society. He often asked surprising questions, for example, "Does she represent the American standard of beauty?" Being close friends was the extent of our relationship. American styles of intimacy and "courting" were hard for Hassan to fathom. Touching between us was hugs, probably initiated by me, and a couple of kisses on the cheek. However, one day I asked Hassan how to say, "I love you," in his native tongue, Urdu. He told me there was no direct translation, but taught me to say, "Main tum se Mohabbat Karta hu", I do love with you.
Fast forward twenty to twenty-five years, when my husband and I arrived in Washington, DC by train and waited outside for our turn as the line of cabs picked up passengers. When the driver heard that our destination in South East DC, the historic African American community, he was NOT pleased. Agitation showed in his face and demeanor. Sitting in the back seat, I noticed that the identification license, cab drivers are required to post, indicated that he the phrase remembered after all those years, "Main tum se Mohabbat Karta hu," his face lit up and a grin spread from ear to ear.
I said, "I used to have a Pakistani boyfriend who taught me to say "I love you" in Urdu. As I repeated the phrase remembered after all those years, "Main tum se Mohabbat Karta hu," his face lit up and a grin spread from ear to ear. The driver, then, began to ask us questions and we chatted about our backgrounds and more. When we arrived at my aunt's house, the driver jumped out of the car, grabbed our bags and carried them up the steep steps to my aunt's door. After we gave him a substantial tip, he shook our hands and left smiling. Because of one meaningful cultural connection, that man's preconceived notions of a negative trip to Southeast DC had become a pleasant encounter for all of us. I never found out what happened to Hassan. We grew apart, but he learned that people of color from other countries need not always live the lives of restriction and separation designated for African Americans. I hope Hassan accomplished his dreams and lived to a ripe old age as I have. MAIN TUM SE MOHABBAT KARTA HU.