Every night I leave my cube and go to the basement garage where my bicycle is parked. There are special doors I have to go through to get to the garage. Only one person can enter or exit at a time.
Every night, a little after 5pm, I see the same girl running from her car to the door. There are windows. One of us ends up waiting for the other to go through the door first. It has become such a routine, that we've taken to saying hello to each other. She is a cleaning lady coming in for her evening shift. I am a cube rat trying to get home to my wife. We smile and pass each other. Every night.
Her accent tells me that she's from Africa. I'm not sure where in Africa, of course, but that's not all I've noticed. Every night she is running - literally running - from her car to the doors. And it's never before 5 that I see her. Always six or seven minutes after 5.
These few details of my new friend have gotten me very curious as to what her story is. I don't believe I will ever hear it, so I decided to write one for her. Meet Adimu (ah-DEE-moo):
Adimu, which means unique in Swahili, is 22 years old. She comes from a country in east Africa, I think Ethiopia. She grew up going to school at a Catholic mission where she learned English and got a high school education. Her parents didn't have much money, but the priest was very helpful in finding resources for them and their community.
Adimu has two older brothers, an older sister and a younger sister. They have always been very close. Literally and figuratively. They grew up in a two room hut. Mom and Dad got the second room. They all went to school together. They did everything together. Not only the siblings, but the entire community.
There was so much love among the neighbors. When one family was hurting, the people came together to mourn with them. When another family was rejoicing, the community was there to party. A little different than the lifestyle we attain to in America. Not better or worse, just different.
When high school was over, the mission got a grant to send some kids to America for a college education. A few colleges across America were giving scholarships to help these kids get through school and have a little extra for living expenses while here. There was a raffle to see who would be able to go. There was only enough money to send five kids from the village, so all of the eligible students put their names in the drawing.
As Adimu brought herself to the table to submit her name, her mind was fluttering with fears and excitement. She wanted to go to make a way for herself and perhaps bring her family if she worked hard enough after school. She wanted to stay because the thought of leaving her siblings and community was too much to bear. In the end, she submitted her name because it was the only hope of building a better life for her family.
Her older brothers were too old to put their names in. Her older sister had already put in her slip of paper. Her younger sister was still in high school.
And then came the dreaded wait. Adimu joined her family in the audience and waited until the priest came out to address the crowd. He made a speech about how blessed the community was to have this opportunity to send a few of their kids to college. Adimu didn't hear a word of it. Her stomach was in knots. She didn't know what she hoped for. Any outcome would be treacherous. Any outcome would be exactly what she wanted. She just had to wait and let the fates decide.
Adimu was the second name called. Everyone started cheering. Her family was hugging her. Every eye was damp with tears. She felt ecstatic. She felt like someone had punched her in the stomach. She couldn't talk. She just cried and hugged her mom. "What's going to happen to me?" she thought.
She prayed that her sister would be called, too, so that she wouldn't be alone, but that didn't happen. After the last person was called, people stuck around to congratulate her and tell her how much they would miss her. She just smiled and nodded. No words came to her mind. Pictures were taken and slowly people filtered out.
A month later, Adimu and four others from her village were boarding the plane for America. Some were going to New York, one to California and one to Kansas. Adimu was placed in Minnesota. The little she had read about Minnesota was that there was something called snow, which was supposed to be very cold, and that everyone was Lutheran.
She had the toughest time with the cold part. The Lutherans didn't seem to make themselves known. School was difficult. She had to work to keep herself fed and send some money back home for her family. Everything was so expensive that she had to pick up another job while studying full time.
She quit sleeping so she could keep eating. The grant money covered most of rent, but not all of it. Transportation and groceries were extra. She worked at the university library, where she could study, and an overnight job cleaning big buildings downtown. There are three sections to a day: school for 8 hours, work for 8 hours and sleep for 8 hours. Adimu had to fudge the numbers a little bit to make ends meet. School kept its 8 hours, but work demanded at least 12. That left about 4 for sleep. Amidu has kept plugging along and this May it will all pay off with a shiny new degree from the University of Minnesota.
She hasn't seen her family in almost 4 years, but they talk constantly. They are saving some money so her mom can come for the graduation ceremony.
Adimu is planning on staying in the States for now to pay off the little bit of debt that has accumulated and get some experience in her field. She's thinking about grad school, but wants to spend some time with her family before pursuing another degree.
For now she will continue to rush into work immediately after finishing at the library. Her manager is very forgiving, even though she shows up 7 minutes late every day.