A Rewarding Award Weekend
November 05, 2008
In Dallas to accept MidWeek‘s award from the American Cancer Society, I was reminded of how much Texas and Hawaii share in common.
Yes, there are obvious differences - Texas being the largest state by far in the “Lower 48” and Hawaii being one of the smallest states in land area. But beyond that, there are remarkable similarities.
For starters, Hawaii and Texas are the only two of our 50 states that were once independent nations.
No two other states can boast lively, homegrown music industries that write and sing about the glories and legends of their home states, both relying heavily on steel guitar.
And both states have local cuisines unique to them, each derived from rich multi-ethnic traditions, including smoked meats - we like teriyaki, they prefer thick, vinegar-based red-brown sauces.
And as in Hawaii, I was greeted each day with a rainbow of ethnic hues, something I’ve come to prefer (over monochrome faces) during 29 years in these Islands. The Dallas-Fort Worth “metroplex” is home to nearly 7 million people hailing from every corner of the world. The primary ethnic groups are Caucasians, Mexicans and African Americans, but as my taxi driver last Monday said en route to the DFW airport, “Dallas is like New York City - any kind of people you want, you can find here.” He is a native of Congo, but after 20 years in Dallas is a true Texan - knowledgeable and passionate about the Dallas Cowboys and University of Texas Longhorns football teams.
The bellman at the Crowne Plaza Dallas Market Center hotel who’d helped load my bags was from Bulgaria.
The cabbie who upon my arrival several days earlier drove me from the airport to the hotel, Abbas, was from Sudan.
He turned out to be one of two Muslims with whom I enjoyed very interesting conversations, both personal and theological, deep in the heart of the Bible Belt. (Confession: Before taking up the pen, as an undergrad I minored in theology and later spent two semesters in a seminary.)
The second was Shubar, an Iraq native, who was a shuttle van driver employed by the hotel. A Shia Muslim from Basra in southern Iraq, he’d fled the country as a teenager with his brother.
“Many people in my family were killed by Saddam,” he said. “My brother and I were told that if we stayed one more night, we would be dead.”
They ended up in a refugee camp in Saudi Arabia, before Shubar found his way to Dallas a decade ago.
Although he would like to be home in Iraq, he is busy working on the American dream. Stylishly dressed in slacks, dress shirt and necktie, Shubar drives the hotel shuttle van from 2 to 10 p.m., answering his cell phone with a hip, “Hey, what’s happening, man?” Then he goes to work as an overnight delivery driver for a bakery. In his free time, he buys old cars, fixes them up and sells them.
Four years ago, after the Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein’s capture, he and his brother returned to Iraq for the first time since they fled.
“It was wonderful,” Shubar says. “Every day for three months it was like a party. Everyone wanted to cook dinner for us. I had to ask my mother, ‘Where should we go today?’”
While there, he met an attractive young woman, and they were married.
“She is a good Muslim, so of course she was a virgin,” Shubar said. “But on our wedding night, we made a baby.”
That child, a girl, is now 3. His son is 1. He showed me photos, and they are both beautiful little cherubs. “They are my heart,” he said.
When he learned my mother was at that moment in a hospital and not doing well, he offered to pray to Allah for her, and later reported that he had. “The Koran teaches,” he said, tapping his chest above his heart, “that God is above all, and second below God is your mother. You must never say anything bad or angry to your mother.”
The last time I saw Shubar we embraced, and he gave me a string of Muslim prayer beads, a cherished gift.
So when, back home again, I heard on the TV news another ignoramus say she could not vote for Barack Obama because he “might be a Muslim,” I had to say (this election season has me talking to the TV way more than usual): “He’s not, he was baptized a Christian, as an adult, but so freakin’ what if he were Muslim?”
The Muslims I have known, including Shubar, have been among the most decent people I’ve met. (They in fact remind me of my Mormon friends in their upright morality, dedication to family and charity in helping less fortunate members of their community.)
Yes, as both Shubar and the cabbie Abbas said, there are Muslims who take Allah’s name in vain by killing in his name. “They are wrong,” Abbas said, fingering the Koran he keeps on his dashboard. “They do not please God.”
I was certainly pleased, and blessed, to meet Abbas and especially Shubar.
As for that award - for a MidWeek cover story about seven women who beat breast cancer, written by Alice Keesing with photographs by Nathalie Walker - it was gratifying to hear fellow award winners from the Dallas Morning News, Daily Oklahoman, Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and others rave about our story and cover photo (copies of the the newspaper winners were posted on a big bulletin board at the awards luncheon.) In fact, I was told that in the weekly newspaper category, judges gave MidWeek‘s story scores of 10, except one who rated it a 9. A Cancer Society official told me, “There were a lot of good entries in the weekly category, but you were so far in front there was no second place.” (See Hot Shots on page 20 for a photo from the awards luncheon. In addition to print media, awards also were given to radio and TV reporters.)
In accepting the award, I commented that the response to our story came from women with breast cancer as well as their families, who called and e-mailed that the story gave them renewed hope, and in my experience there may be no more powerful ally in fighting cancer than hope.
I hadn’t planned on saying this, but in closing - and being so proud to be among so many good journalists - another thought hit me:
“I’m looking forward to this election being done as much as anything because I’m so tired of hearing the media criticized. If anyone says anything negative to you about the media ...” - and here I paused and pointed to the bulletin board covered with well-crafted and inspirational stories about courage, human resiliency, faith and hope - “... tell them this is what we do.”
I noticed then another award winner in the audience, a woman who twice beat breast cancer, applauding with tears in her eyes.
And not to get all preachy on you, but ... That pro-rail “Eddie Would Ride” bumper sticker is an absolute sacrilege. It’s dishonest, and dishonors the life and memory of Eddie Aikau.
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