How do you think America’s relationship with the Muslim world will change under the presidency of Barack Obama?
OK, who should I pick on next? I looked around the crowded café area at all the people that were sitting, drinking their coffee. Conversation was being made, caffeine was being consumed, reports written, books read, lives changed. I was doing my first Journalistic Inquiry assignment; we had to formulate a provocative question about President Obama and ask 5 random people for answers. Preferably people that we didn’t know, which was the hard part. I finished with a young-ish man who said “pretty cool” a lot. I was leaving his table, shaking his hand and avoiding looks from his quickly approaching girlfriend.
Quick, someone that looks friendly. My eyes landed on a middle-aged woman with a grey hat and a host of magazines (many with Mr. President’s face, sleek and confident, on the cover) accompanying her at the table. I did my usual, “Hi, can I sit down for a minute?” She hurried to move her bag and indicated that I could sit. As I started to introduce myself, she shook her head, still reading. I started to think it was a no-go, but then she looked at me and pointed to her ear, smiling at me. She was deaf.
Here was the ultimate test of a wannabe journalist. I could smile and nod and walk away. Or I could work around this particular glitch. I pointed to my notebook and mouthed, “I have a question.” It was like yelling quietly, having to open up your mouth very wide for every vowel, but having no sound escape from it. Extremely frustrating. And then I felt a pang of guilt. She probably had to do this all the time.
She read my question critically, raising her eyebrows and nodding. Without even asking me or indicating anything, she took my pen from my hand and wrote, “I don’t even know yet. Too early. It’s up to fate. Don’t u agree with me?” Her handwriting was loopy, somewhere in between print and cursive. I put on a little frown and nodded slowly, as if saying, “Yeah, pretty much.” She then continued to read through the first man’s answers, correcting my handwriting and pointing at words when she couldn’t make them out. She even added smiley faces.
We continued our conversation in my journalism notebook, stopping sometimes to mouth answers to each other because it was faster than writing them down. She wrote about how she was depressed sometimes and wished she could go back to when she was 30 years old to have “double fun.” She told me about California and how she really hated snow and rain. She asked me what my sign was and guessed my birthday. She asked what I wanted to be when I “grew up,” and if I was from India. She smiled the whole time.
At the end of the page, she asked me, “Are you religious?” I silently yelled, “Muslim.” She nodded and wrote, “Please pray for me to get well and go back to my old self. I’m tired of it since Oct 26.”
As I shook her hand and walked away, I realized I had communicated with her longer than I had talked with anyone who could actually talk to me. Almost a half hour. I had gotten much more than an answer to my question. I had gotten a valuable lesson in Journalism, and Life. And I didn’t even have to give her a fifty thousand dollar tuition check.