Yesterday morning, we woke up to the most snow my child has ever seen. Nearly record-breaking, we went from brown earth to mountains of white in one glorious day. We suited up as best as we could and went out to play, the novelty still strong, the snow tasting cold and sharp, our hands stinging, our noses red.
The husband, as a part of our caretaking duties, shoveled and snowplowed and chip chip chipped away at ice for hours and hours. Our neighbors sat on the stoop and gave him advice, lent him ear muffs, shook their heads in sympathy. I engaged in a flurry of domestic activity, baking and cooking and organizing and crafting, taking frequent breaks to gaze out at the snow in rapture. We took more walks outside, happy for the first 15 minutes, then dissolving into shivers (me) and tears (the child). Our Oregon bones do not know what to do with this ten-degrees business.
We looked around at the white piled high, on trees and historic houses and run-down low-income apartments alike, and we thought: where are we?
Yesterday afternoon I met a friend at her auntie’s shop in a nearby Somali mall. The husband drove like a little old lady a mile or two through many grand-looking homes, covered in snow with Christmas wreaths on their doors. We came to the street where cars were parked almost on top of each other, people laughing and spilling into the street, shops selling mobile phones and bracelets and dresses and head scarves. The husband went to the coffee shop and drank orange fanta and ate sambusa, watching the soccer game on TV. The child and I wandered the stalls (hundreds, it seemed, all selling the same items, crammed in one next to each other in a meandering, indoor strip mall). We found my friend, and we sat in her stall on folding chairs, chatting about life and the world for an hour.
I drank chai with so much sugar my teeth hurt; the child sucked on a grape-flavored juice box. We talked about Somalia, English class, Norway, wealth inequality, where the desire for justice comes from. We sat, huddled together in the tiny stall, surrounded by blankets and skirts and tea sets and henna dye, a small heater blasting on us. And then we got down to business and I got most of my Christmas shopping done, with my new friend.
We eventually left the maze, warm and smelling faintly of sandalwood and ginger, heading out into the winter world outside. And we blinked, shielding our eyes from the glare, seeing the skyscrapers of downtown rising high just a mile away. As we trudged back to our car, walking through 16 inches of snow, I felt giddy, I felt confused. Where are we, again?
I can’t believe we live here, I told my husband.
He looked at me, looked at our surroundings.
I know, he said.
And he smiled.