Note: I had been introduced to Charles Mukhtar through a mutual friend years ago. Then last year around this time, I had the honor of writing this story about his family. I am pleased to share this reflection from him as a guest on my blog today. I hope it makes you smile as it did me.
by Charles G. Mukhtar
When I moved to Fargo 14 years ago, I found it strange to see people smile at each other when they would greet or pass by one another. I didn’t understand the reason behind their smiles. I’d seen people smile at each other before, but not at that rate.
Now let me explain to you why it seemed strange. I grew up in Sudan, where there had been civil unrest and suppression for a long time. Until a few years ago, I didn’t understand why people reacted as they did.
During those years, many lost their loved ones. Sadly, the scars of their losses have left them with no choice but the sorrow of grieving. For that reason, people in my home country held their smiles back until there was a reason to smile or laugh.
For example, they would laugh when a funny joke was told or something funny was happening. Likely, that became common for everybody growing up during that time. To ease the pain, they’d gather in groups to tell jokes and laugh. They’d tease those with jokes they found not funny.
Curious as to why people always smiled at one another, here, one day, I decided to ask someone about it. At Sunmart, now Family Fare, I asked the cashier, “Why do people around here always smile when they meet others?”
She seemed confused why I asked that question. Instead of answering, she hit me with one of her own. “Where are you from?” I told her I was originally from Sudan but had lived in Egypt for a couple of years before landing in Fargo.
Surprised, she wanted to know more about my story and how I ended up in Fargo. I explained to her about my home country and how warm it gets there compared to Fargo. Though she seemed interested to hear more, the line was growing.
Quickly, she explained that when people smile at one another here, they are just being nice to each other. I replied, “Oh, okay so a smile in Fargo means being nice!” She said, “Yes”. “Okay,” I said. “I am going to start smiling now when I meet people.”
Where I grew up, people smile when there is a reason. Being nice, to me was when you help someone with something. Like inviting a friend to lunch and paying their bill. Or helping an older person to cross a busy road.
I took her lesson to heart and started to smile when I would meet people. Today, I get compliments about my big smile. Wearing a smile on your face can uplift someone who might be going through difficulties; it also makes you feel happy.
This short story demonstrates how sometimes, we judge people because they do things a certain way. Perhaps we can challenge ourselves to open up and understand their “why.” If I hadn’t asked the cashier that day, I wouldn’t have known why people always smiled at each other and how enjoyable it is to smile.