Editor’s Note: We’ve asked Nicole Watts, Executive Director of Hopeprint, to write guest articles for us on a monthly basis. All of her posts are organized under the “Hopeprint” Category. You can learn about her organization and read more of her writing at hopeprint.org.
The turning of the year found me in the heart of Ethiopia’s Somali Region, an area that is almost entirely inhabited by the Somali people. The years of their presence in the capital city and other towns have born out in street after street lined with little shops making for the quintessential African market. Fresh fruit and vegetables sprawl out across woven mats. Scarves drape down walls in all kinds of colors, matched by the head coverings adorning all of the women in the semi-crowded streets.
Several of our meals included delicious cuisines of Somali food. I couldn’t help but feel like I was flashed back to African International Restaurant and my friend Muyheidin on N. Salina Street. [Some say when you go to the real deal, you can’t go back to the States version. I must say, Muyheidin, your food is legit! And the decor looked pretty similar too (smile).]
After the sun set, we took our third trek in for the fresh delivery of camel meat. (Wait until morning and it will be gone.) The grinning butcher talked with meat and blood covered hands, expressing the goodness of the camel hump that we ought to try. The streets were crawling with a different energy in the darkness of the night, but surprisingly not the kind you would expect. Rather, their was a gleeful spirit of laughter and enjoyment of life. Young people greeted one another across the road, shops were bustling, and the daytime swarms of begging children had died down a bit.
After spending a week in the former home of many of our new Americans, I felt a renewed sense of vision towards this blooming project for Syracuse’s Northside business incubator and international village. Within 72 hours of my plane landing back in town, I sat in a meeting with some of the key players of this vision and plan, and was filled with an even greater excitement than before.
Our New American population is bursting with entrepreneurial potential and filled with a longing for the sense of community and life that a gathering space which sells practical and necessary things can bring. While we tend to celebrate the find-everything-here-supermarket, the richness of the small markets with known owners and specialties is lost.
The clock is ticking and steps are moving towards the re-birth of such community spaces in our own city, re-branded and re-worked to highlight the ethnic treasures and diversity that now reside in our streets… I can hardly wait.