I was inspired by last night’s demonstration by Brooklyn’s Yemeni bodega owners and thought I’d share a little about my local guy, Ahmed from New Dubai Mart.
Ahmed and his brother left Yemen more than a decade ago, first working as laborers in Dubai to save up enough money to make the trip to the U.S. Sometime after getting here, they opened New Dubai Mart on my block (and eventually another store, in Crown Heights). They worked twelve hour shifts, Ahmed during the day, his brother at night. They sold what all bodegas sell. Sandwiches and toilet paper, beer and coffee.
They never closed.
One year, during a blizzard, when the governor had declared a state of emergency, I asked Ahmed what they were going to do. He looked at my confused. “We’ll be open,” he said, “My brother lives upstairs. If you need anything, just call. We’ll bring it over.”
That’s how it was.
Later, when my daughter was in the hospital, I told Ahmed what was going on, and he assured me it would all be alright. “We’re praying for her and your wife at the mosque”, he said, and I almost cried.
My parents were down a lot in those days and my dad struck up a friendship of sorts with Ahmed. Shooting the shit about basketball, kids, and life in Dubai.
That’s how he was, he’d talk to anyone.
To my son, he was “Mr. Ahmed”, always ready with a banana and a high five. Ahmed kept an eye out for him, reporting back to me when he’d seen him with our nanny. It calmed me to know that there was always someone on the block making sure things were ok.
But things are changing fast in Brooklyn, and gentrification caught up with Ahmed. His landlord (ironically also Yemeni) doubled his rent and they just couldn’t make a go of it. They still have the crown heights store, but they had to let go of the one on my block.
I was devastated.
When he was closing up his store, in the days before the inauguration, I gave Ahmed my business card, and told him if he needed anything, he could call. He hasn’t and I hope he won’t have to. But he was there for my family, and I’ll be there for his.
Now we go to another Bodega, a little farther away, run by another Yemini family. They don’t know my kids yet, and they haven’t met my parents, but they will.
I’ve given them my card already.