by Alex Mold
Jamal Asaidi, 45, came from Ibb, Yemen to the United States 20 years ago in 1992 to seek his fortune in America. He is working at Hero City, a bodega in the Bronx owned by a cousin.
He came to the US, leaving his wife and three children aged 3, 5, and 9 in Yemen.
A high school graduate, he liked mathematics but could not continue to college because of pressures to earn a living.
Compared to life in America, he said Yemen remains a massive culture shock, lacking roads and electricity. Although public school is available for his kids in Yemen, he has his kids enrolled in private school so they can hopefully succeed.
One reasons Jamal wanted to move to America was because of his ideas of freedom that he did not find in Yemen. Jamal describes freedom as something that everyone should have. The freedom of each person he feels ends when the freedom of the next person begins, because that would prevent one person from experiencing freedom.
In pursuit of a better life for his family, he came to Brooklyn and worked for a year and a half years at a convenience store with one other worker who split 24-hour shifts. Jamal would work 24-hours straight at a convenience store before the other worker took over for him and Jamal could return home to sleep and relax for the day. Jamal did not like this saying this is not a way to live. Now he likes to go to sleep before 9pm because he likes to feel well rested so he can stay healthy and would not repeat this experience at his age.
He then moved to Virginia where he has mostly lived for the last 18 years in his house. He liked Virginia for its quiet , its natural beauty and its prices compared with New York City. He continues to send money back to his family in Yemen. By 2002, after ten years of working in Virginia, he made enough money to afford a flight back to Yemen to see his family and since then makes a flight every one and a half to two years back home. He likes to make this trip back to his family because he can see his hometown. Jamal feels that visiting his hometown, and thinks other people should visit their hometown, allows him to reconnect the “home where his head first dropped (town of birth).”
As Jamal lives in Virginia, his cousin and only family in America, Ahmad, asked him to help out at his store called Hero City located near Fordham University in the Bronx. Temporarily Ahmad is visiting his family in Yemen and needs Jamal to keep the store open. For his job, he works from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 6:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays behind the counter, since he is family, and also restocks the store on Sundays. He is usually exhausted when he comes back from his job and does not go out into the city often but sometimes hang out with his friends.
He does not complain about his lot in life for a number of reasons. The first reason is he has constantly worked towards having a better life by trying to make each year better than the last. He feels his work he does, although tiring, is worth it because all of the efforts of his labor goes towards his kids. He rationalizes this desire to give his kids a better life than he could have and that is his goal as a father. Second he feels people are too prone to passing on the negative in life while not doing enough to pass of positive feelings and stories. He knows “every house has a bathroom” meaning every group of people has a bad person in it, but when discussing a house, bathrooms are not the room used to entertain guests. In order to entertain people and hopefully help people, he feels people should stop transferring the bad and instead focus on the good hence why he does not complain.
For anyone who wants to learn how to greet someone in Arabic from Yemen, Jamal taught me to say Ahlan. Ahlan has two meanings –a welcome to my home, and a second to call someone part of one’s family, meaning the person is giving welcome to the person as if they were their own family. These two definitions are simultaneously stated when someone greets with ahlan.