Habib-Probateis when she walks into your restaurant, a tired young woman in fading clothes, because it is the only one that is still open past midnight on Atlantic Avenue and orders the cheapest thing on the menu and then she starts scrambling to put together three dollars for a falafel sandwich from the dimes and quarters in her wallet, and she asks about the shakshuka, do you make it only for breakfast, and you sense that this is what she would really like on this weary night, and you tell her, you want the shakshuka? no problem, and she says no, no, I was just asking, but you tell her it’s okay, you don’t mind, and you wave away the rest of the money though the shakshuka is not the cheapest thing on the menu and then like a priest, you bring out warm grilled bread and a fierce bubbling shakshuka, a blessing on this cold Brooklyn night, and you watch her eat and at first both of you are polite but soon you cannot resist, where are you from, yes, I thought so, India or Pakistan, somewhere in that direction, and you tell her you are from Djibouti and you can see from her expression though it hasn’t changed that she does not have the vaguest idea where it is but doesn’t want to offend you by asking, so without missing a beat you tell her that Djibouti is across the Red Sea from Yemen, that you have often taken that ten-minute boat to Yemen to go shopping and that is why you are here serving Yemeni food in a Yemeni restaurant in Brooklyn though you are from another country, but you really aren’t because you can walk their walk, talk their talk, but you really are because you are also African, and Somalia and Ethiopia and Eritrea flank you protectively, a little too protectively, you see, Djibouti, you tell her, is like the Kashmir of north Africa, but it is okay, you don’t mind, it’s all good and now you pour her and you a cup of mint tea and sit at her table and she drops a word into the conversation that you seize with impatience, your eyes glistening in the glare of the harsh overhead light, and the word is colonialism and now you do not have enough time to tell her everything, you tell her about studying in Paris and you imitate the cop with the frozen voice at the corner of every street asking you for your ID, how you learnt, early and automatically, to go all over the world and live in every corner as if you were invisible but to return to Djibouti where nobody worries you, Djibouti where Africa meets the Arab world, how one day you will go back to Djibouti which sailors many centuries ago called the Land of Welcoming, and you tell her, you must come to my country, you must come someday, it is a beautiful country with beautiful people, and that is hospitality.


Shahnaz Habib is a writer, teacher, and editor based in Brooklyn, New York. Her fiction and essays have been published or are forthcoming in Elsewhere, the Harvard Divinity Bulletin, the Caravan, Afar, and the Random House anthology Twentysomething Essays by Twentysomething Writers. Shahnaz is the founding editor of Laundry, a literary magazine about fashion, and was awarded a New York Foundation for Arts Fellowship in Nonfiction (2015).

Artwork by Jeff Kallet