By Marguerite Jill Dye
After hiking my favorite section of the Appalachian Trail, I walked along the water’s edge at Kent Pond. Six young men were playing ball on the road, enjoying a sunny day in the fall. After sketching Kent Pond I walked over to them. One was clad in Muslim robes.
I pointed out our loon family, then asked the young men where they’re from. One said, “Do you mean where we live now or where our families came from? My nephews and I are were born in New York but our parents fled Afghanistan during the Russian invasion.”
I shook his hand and said my name, then the young robed man stepped up. “My name is Mohammad. Please excuse me, ma’am, but we can’t shake hands. My brothers and I come from Pakistan.”
Mohammad apologized again.
They asked my religion and I said, “I’m Methodist, just like Hillary Clinton. We believe in demonstrating faith through action. It’s a Protestant, Christian religion.”
The Afghan-American said with a smile, “I love Bernie,” and I said, “Our son does too. He’s 32. How old are you?”
“My name is Ahmid. I’m 23.”
“What do you do?” I asked curiously.
“I majored in computer technology and help banks in IT security.” Mohammad said, “I studied here grades K through five, then for six through twelve, our father sent us back to Pakistan. I didn’t feel like I belonged. I majored in education and math at Queens College. Now I teach grades 7-12. My brothers are studying engineering and medicine, also at New York universities.”
“Are you afraid living here now with such violent acts and terrible words?” I asked the young men, who are neighbors and friends in New York.
“Yes, most people don’t know that violent assaults on Muslims have increased fivefold. Two imams were shot in our area. We are afraid to speak out or stand up, and we’re trying to cope with our fear. I ask my students what they think, but they are not sure,” Mohammad confided.
“We believe all religions have many similarities and that Jesus, Mohammed, and Moses were prophets. All faiths are based in love, not hate. We need to teach love always for we all come from the same human race. I want to teach a more loving way,” Mohammad said with conviction.
Then his engineer brother asked my husband, “Is it safe to drink the tap water? I noticed a metallic, mineral taste and the smell of sulfur.”
Ahmid inquired, “Do you swim in the pond? When do the leaves turn? We climbed Deer Leap. Where else should we hike?”
Just then strangers in a minivan waved and smiled as they passed. “Soon Rutland will welcome 100 Syrian refugees,” I then explained, and they responded in unison, “Really?”
Then Ahmid revealed, “We were afraid to come to Vermont, but people have been so kind we’d like to return for the leaf season.”
We watched the sun sink behind the ridge. Then they headed up Pico to watch the sun set again.
I replayed our cross-cultural conversation, sorry that they had gone. Then I said to my husband as we walked on, “You meet the nicest people at Kent Pond.”
Photo By Emily McColl, art major from Castleton University, used with permissions
“The Syrian Experience as Art” is an exhibit on display at the Castleton University Bank Gallery on Merchants Row in Rutland. It is open Thursday-Saturday, 12-6 p.m., September to January.