Crossing borders and generations on the lake


"We'll come visit you in Duluth! Can we bungee jump there?" My new friends from Jordan, Ahmad Al-Mashaikj, 21, and Mahmoud Msalem, 24, were ready for an adventure.

"Sorry, no bungee jumping," I answered. My mind raced to think of an activity that would suit both an old lady (me) and a couple of energetic civil engineering students from Amman working in Minneapolis for the summer.

"How about kayaking?" I offered. They had never tried this before and the answer was a big "YES."

"Oh boy," I thought. What did I get myself into this time?"

They arrived late Friday afternoon ready to take on Lake Superior. Before leaving my condo, they asked for a few minutes to say their prayers. Muslims take time pray at least five times each day.

I arranged to meet up with a kayak enthusiast, Jim van Druten, who agreed to get me out of this jam and get them started kayaking. Arriving at the Park Point beach, we realized the wind and waves were a bit livelier than we had hoped for, but everyone still thought it was worth a try.

Just before stepping into a kayak, Ahmad said an extra prayer with a nervous grin: "Oh, God, please keep my new $600 iPhone safe!" Upon second thought, he left the new phone on the beach.

It was less than a smooth start with some unplanned flips and dunks in the water. Luckily it was one of those rare evenings when the lake was less than icy cold. Before long, Mahmoud and Ahmad caught the rhythm of the rough water and began to paddle with ease. The fun was underway, their eyes were bright and their smiles stretched from east to west.

"What are some differences between life in Minnesota and Jordan?" Jim asked our friends. By this time we were celebrating our success by munching on nachos and chili at Sir Ben's.

"There is no social life here," Ahmad replied.

"What?" Jim and I said in unison, gesturing to the animated crowd around us listening to live music and enjoying the night out.

"Here you only go out on weekends," Ahmad explained. "In Amman, people go out every night of the week." Jordan is one-third the size of Minnesota but has twice the population.

"What should Minnesotans know about Jordanians?" I asked.

Ahmad considered the question for a moment. "We are not all terrorists. There are one and a half billion Muslims in the world and approximately 10,000 terrorists in various organizations. We don't even consider them to be Muslims.

"On our second day in Minnesota a man followed us for almost 45 minutes, shouting that we were terrorists. It got better after that, but it was a difficult start."

As we wrapped up the evening, I commented about soon turning the age of 60. Their eyes widened. They immediately turned to Jim to ask his age, which is similar to mine. The 20-somethings were astonished.

"In our country, do you know what people your age are doing?" Ahmad asked. "They are sitting on couches!"

At least for one night, two energetic Duluthians kept up with the young'uns and showed them a good time. That felt pretty good. And you can't make me confess that I needed a nap the next day to recover.