short excerpts...other writings...upon occasion or as prompted...
The tiger in the water? A representation of my life -- spirit and environment!


Monday, January 18, 2010

Mohammed, the Street Vendor

Mohammed was a street vendor on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, D.C. He was clearly a Middle Easterner from his speech, but his limited English did not prevent him from doing a booming business. Rather, his smile and good nature brought him return business all the time, and there was often a line, which he served patiently, efficiently, and pleasantly.

Mohammed not only served his customers, but he also served as a friend to his customers. The reason I learned Mohammed's name was because once a customer was relating to him some personal issues, to which Mohammed was responding with sympathy. I thought that they must be friends or at least acquaintances, and so I waited patiently for the conversation to conclude. At the point of conclusion, I was quite surprised to hear the customer ask Mohammed his name.

Most street vendors do not have names. Well, obviously, they have names, but their customers do not know their names. However, many people seemed to know Mohammed's name.

Mohammed's philosophy was announced to the world on two small stickers pasted on his lunch wagon. The first says: "Have faith, for it is the will of Allah." The second says, "Faith has two parts: patience and gratitude." He clearly patterned his behavior after those stickers.

One day I stopped to buy a hot dog, a $1 purchase -- not much in the grand scheme of things. However, one would have thought I had spent ten or twenty that amount. He patiently made sure that he had the order exactly the way I wanted it, smiled, thanked me for stopping by, and wished me a pleasant day. Something about his smile made me (and obviously others) understand that he really meant all those pleasant words.

Most street vendors in the United States do not have block-long lines. The exception was that vendor on Massachusetts Avenue. I would stop to buy even if I was not hungry. I would not stop for food as much as I stopped for the warm personal interaction. That is why I think the many people in front of me in line also stopped.

One evening on the way home (later than usual), I noticed that Mohammed was closing his stand. There was no one else there, but I stopped, anyway, and bought a drink. We started talking, and I learned that he was from Alexandria, Egypt, the father of two young girls, devoutly religious, and a really nice person. He taught me several Arabic expressions, including "insha Allah" (God willing) and "Allah maak" (God be with you). The next morning, he taught me more. (Little did I realize at the time that I would be able to use these expressions when I landed in Jordan a few years later.) I did not learn a lot of expressions back then because I was an infrequent visitor to Washington. Still, Mohammed always remembered me.

One evening on the way home I bought a drink of a type that I do not usually buy. I had a dollar in my hand, but the drink was more than that. I asked Mohammed how much the drink cost. He saw the dollar, smiled, and said "For you, one dollar only." Mohammed seemed like such a friend that I knew I would miss him if he were not there.

That day did come, the day that I would not see Mohammed. On one visit as I was saying goodbye to Mohammed, he told me that he might not be there when I returned. Through diligent work for several years, he had managed to save enough money to buy a home for his family in Alexandria and was returning there to raise his girls not as an absentee father but as one grateful for every day that he would be able to be with them.

Mohammed clearly understood human motivation. He got what he wanted by handing his customers what they needed. No, not food, but plain old human caring. And both he and they went on to have a good day!


Excerpted and adapted from a collection of vignettes, copyright 2003.


  1. Great customers service is always a wonderful experience.

  2. Indeed, it is. Too bad it is so rare that one can write about the "exceptions."

  3. This is so incredible, ... a lesson that anyone who is in customer service should read.

  4. That's why I wrote it. I, too, found Mohammed and his approach incredible. He was in DC in the '90s, yet I still remember him!

  5. Beautiful. I have been self employed for 30 years and my referral customers always tell me their friends told them "He is the nicest, most peaceful person you'll ever meet...and by the way he does good work." I'm glad I'm "exceptional" and sad that I'm not.

  6. I like the "and by the way he does good work" part. It made me smile! Glad you liked the post. I think about Mohammed once in a while and am so happy for him that he was able to achieve the American dream -- in Alexandria.


About Me

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I am the mother of 4 birth children (plus 3 others who lived with us) and grandmother of 2, all of them exceptional children. Married for 42 years, I grew up in Maine, live in California, and work in many places in education, linguistics, and program management. In my spare time, I rescue and tame feral cats and have the scars to prove it. A long-time ignorantly blissful atheist converted by a theophanic experience to Catholicism, I am now a joyful catechist. Oh, I also authored a dozen books, two under my pen name of Mahlou (Blest Atheist and A Believer-in-Waiting's First Encounters with God).

My Other Blogs

100th Lamb. This is my main blog, the one I keep most updated.

The Clan of Mahlou
. This is background information about various members of the extended Mahlou family. It is very much a work still in progress. Soon I will begin posting excerpts from a new book I am writing, Raising God's Rainbow Makers.

Modern Mysticism. This blog discusses the mystical in our pragmatic, practical, realistic, and rational 21st century world and is to those who spend some or much of their time in an irrational/mystical relationship with God. If such things do not strain your credulity, you are welcome to follow the blog and participate in it.

Recommended Reading List

Because I am blog inept, I don't quite know how to get a reading list to stay at the end of the page and not disappear from sight. Therefore, I entered it as my first post. I suppose that is not all that bad because readers started commenting about the books, even suggesting additional readings. So, you can participate with others in my reading list by clicking here.
I do post additional books as I read them and find them to be meaningful to me, and therefore, hopefully, meaningful to you. One advantage of all the plane traveling I do is that I acquire reading time that I might not otherwise take.