Most people, including myself, have a tendency to view life as a linear trajectory. If someone goes to a good college and then to law school, they’ll probably become a lawyer and eventually a partner until they some day retire or decide to teach law. The track is already laid.
Life, however – and yes I’m stating the obvious – is not linear, despite our simplistic assumptions. We know this but we often forget it until those unique, very human moments when we are reminded of the admirable adaptability, creativity, and ingenuity of the human spirit. These moments are often short and sweet, brief, or even fleeting reminders – the Harvard MBA grad who became a 4th grade math teacher, the girl who passed the New York Bar and then ran off to Broadway, etc. At first, it may be hard to remember such moments with such people. Yet, they’re everywhere you look and everywhere you don’t.
I like gyros (and no, this is not a digression) so I go to this place called the Kabob House on P Street NW, near Dupont Circle during lunch breaks. It’s a pretty basic canteen with stereotypical travel photography from Afghanistan to Saudi Arabia – including the woman from the cover of National Geographic. I don’t know Afghan food so I can’t say to what degree the kabobs can be considered authentic. In fact, my first impression was to ask myself, is this for real? I am not familiar at all with Afghan culture or gastronomy and, frankly, I figured that filling in the massive, shameful black hole of ignorance that I have regarding that part of the world would be a lot… well… less simple. Consequently, all I know about the food at the Kabob House is that the gyros are cheap and better than anywhere else in DC and the bread is superb. The portions are huge if you get something other than a sandwich. Is the food in any way an Afghan experience? I have no idea but it’s so good, I don’t really care.
The owner is jovial, jolly even. He has a thick accent and always has some Bollywood-type music playing on the big-screen TV. When I first encountered him, I had to ask myself if this was actually happening – he was just so happy and I was not used to having someone in the food business at a canteen during lunch being in such a great mood. Every time I go there, he’s in a great mood. I go there a lot and now he calls me “friend”, which is what he calls anyone he recognizes who has been there before. He greats his real friends (not me) with a kiss on the cheek and a shake of both hands, a barrage of questions – most likely variations on the theme of “how are you?”
This is it, I thought. This is the part that is Afghan, recalling my friend’s explanations of the emphasis on hospitality in Afghan culture. Well, then, is the food? Again, I have no clue, but at this point it was undeniable that there was some other cultural influence defining the experience there – Washingtonians are just simply not that nice every day. They also don’t all speak Dari and will only shake with both hands if you’ve endorsed their campaign.
I’ve been going there for a while now but, despite the warm and welcoming atmosphere, I didn’t learn his name until one day when I was leaving the restaurant and noticed that, near the door, hung on the wall were some small, square pictures of him covered in what looked like lists of short phrases written in lavish Nasta’līq. CD covers?
My Persian not being the best (I can only say من قد کوتاه هستم meaning “I’m short”), I could only manage to sound out the writing on the main photo with his face on it – Najib. His name must be Najib. No way… was the Kabob guy an Afghan singer?
After a minute consulting the internet about the Kabob House, I found this brief article about him from the business’s website and got his full name – Najib Sidiqi. I immediately googled him and found his music videos. I then found his Facebook fan page, his myspace, and his Youtube channel. My favorite video is definitely Aresoo/Arozo.
I think I now know why my “friend” at the Kabob House is so jolly. He has music in his heart and he is surrounded by delicious food – who wouldn’t be? Also – he’s a singer with music videos turned multiple restaurant owner with kabobs – how cool is that? Talk about a non-linear, creative, and diverse, yet cohesive trajectory. I think that’s just awesome.
Every time I need a reminder that change is okay and I can do whatever I want with my life and be happy, I will go sate myself on a gyro and say hello to my “friend”.