Yesterday I left work to find that my car had died. Unfortunately, I know nothing about cars. Those moments in a teenager’s life when he’s supposed to learn what makes cars go, I was busy figuring out what made computers go. So you can probably imagine my panic when I got in my car last night, turned the key, and heard the engine grind, but never engage.
To make matters worse, I had an appointment on the other end of town in a mere hour. My co-workers had left work already, my family was unreachable by phone, and well … let’s face it, I was stuck.
Luckily, my job offers some unique connections. I work as the Marketing Coordinator for the MicroEnterprise Department at the International Rescue Committee in San Diego. In simpler terms, I help San Diego-based refugees market their small businesses. I work with all types of refugee entrepreneurs: Food vendors, handicraft artists, childcare providers, and (thankfully) some highly-skilled mobile mechanics.
So last night, while my engine was grinding in the parking lot, I knew to call Hamadi Machiwa, a microenterprise client and probably the most brilliant mechanic I’ve ever met. He answers his phone and tells me he’s just down the street and he’ll meet me in a few minutes. Within ten minutes, he’s arrived. Within fifteen, he’s found the problem. I told you, the guy is brilliant. Unfortunately, the auto parts store is closed. He tells me we’ll have to wait until tomorrow to get the part. “But I’m only working a half day tomorrow,” he works full time at a mechanic shop during the week. “So I’ll come back with the part tomorrow afternoon and fix it.” I’m relieved. Hamadi’s got everything under control and I don’t even have to pretend like I know what I’m doing under the hood of my car. Of course, I still have to be across town in an hour, and now I have no transportation…
Did I mention we also work with some wonderful taxi and limo drivers?
My next call is to Shakur Elmi, one of the refugee business owners at All Nations Cab, a local taxi company, and a co-owner of his most recent entrepreneurial endeavor, Black Horse Limos.* Shakur shows up to my office parking lot within 15 minutes in a sleek black town-car with tinted windows. He’s dressed in in a suit and tie, and with a huge grin on his face he says “Tonight, I’m the International Rescue Committee, because I’m rescuing you.”
He gets me to my appointment with time to spare, and is back in an hour and a half to take me home.
Working as a service provider can lead to some interesting self-identity conundrums. Some days, no matter how much you try to avoid it, you can fall into the trap of thinking what you do is one-sided. I help refugees market their small businesses. But that’s not the whole story.
The truth is, I help refugees who, in turn, help you and help me. It’s a cycle, because we all need each other sometime.
So, yes – I can offer some assistance to refugees when it comes to marketing plans, business logos, and website setup. But there are a thousand other things I need on a daily basis that are given to me by immigrants and refugees – people who have sacrificed everything to be here. And at the end of the day, I’m really glad Hamadi and Shakur are here to rescue me when I need it.
Quick sidenote: Yesterday I asked Hamadi why he was only working a half day today, and he replied: “Tomorrow is the anniversary of the day I came to United States,” (7 years ago today) “so I don’t work on that day.
Except for you, of course.”
*To schedule your own ride with Black Horse Limos, contact Shakur at (858) 610-8229
**The views represented here are my own, and do not necessarily represent the views of the International Rescue Committee.