My washing machine was broken last week, and Ibrahim came to fix it.
Ibrahim – I’ve changed his name – was the second guy on the job. The first changed the valves and made me buy new hoses, but that wasn’t the problem. After the first guy came back a second time, he pronounced me “good to go,” even though the thing was still broken. He refused to wait around to let the cycle run a bit so he could correctly diagnose the problem.
But Ibrahim took the time, and figured out the problem was the timer, not the valves. A week later he returned with a new timer, and installed it. And then we had to wait through part of the cycle to make sure the washer was working. And so we got to talking.
Ibrahim, a clean shaven young man with ruddy brown skin, jet black hair and wearing clothes a little nicer than you’d expect the repairman to be wearing, told me he had come to this country from Pakistan about three years ago. He spoke English, but, as he still does, with a pretty thick accent and a penchant for reordering words and using some of them incorrectly. He can be a little hard to understand, but mostly you get what he’s saying.
When he arrived here in the Washington area, he told me, he was completely alone and didn’t know which bus was headed north and which headed south. He had no college education, his knowledge limited to whatever it is they teach you in high school in Pakistan. He didn’t have much money.
First he tried one menial job, I forget exactly what it was. He said they were paying in $210 a week as a “trainee.” Dead end. Then he picked up a job at Walmart, stacking shelves. That didn’t seem to have much of a future for him either.
Finally, networking through the immigrant community, he spoke to someone who was making a decent living fixing appliances. He was able to hook up with the owner of an appliance repair company, who told him he could train at his place of business while taking classes at night to get an appliance repair certificate. All told, Ibrahim said, he was working seven days a week and taking classes weekdays from 6-9 pm after working from 8 am until 5 pm.
After a year, he got a certificate, and with that a position with the company as a repairman. Married now with a baby girl, he and his family are already living a comfortable life, he said. Meanwhile, he’s sending money home to support his retired parents, siblings and even a nephew or two. He recently gave his nephew $6,000 so he could attend graduate school in Europe.
I noted to him all the social welfare programs that he avoided, mentioning things like Food Stamps – at which point he interrupted me.
“If I take Food Stamps, then I am like a beggar!”
Really? Would any America say such a thing? Imagine saying that in polite society.
But that’s the attitude that ensured that Ibrahim, without any of the benefits of being raised in this country, came here and within three years had found what President Obama likes to call “a better bargain” for himself. Even while Republicans are “holding the middle class hostage,” as Obama likes to say, Ibrahim found his way into it.
And, somehow, he did it without Obama’s help. And me, I pay Ibrahim not with my taxes, but with my own hard earned money for his excellent work.
The washing machine is running great. I thanked Ibrahim and even tipped him. I was glad to do it, and he accepted the money. Which surprised me, because the first time he was here, he had refused my offer of a tip. But then I realized, the washing machine at that point wasn’t fixed yet.