With only a single sentence, “Hospitality” by Shahnaz Habib evokes the human want of company, to share part of their story so that they don’t feel like they have to live “invisible.” While it may seem like a clumsy advert for Djibouti Travel (pronounced Ja-Booty), the piece swaps out formalized diction for a much more “real” conversation that clearly depicts the slow to sudden outpour of an immigrant’s story that characterizes how people in America understand that their life as an immigrant is the best course to follow, but they still have a longing sense of familiarity back at their place of origin.
The beginning of the piece itself makes the reader feel like they just joined in on a conversation with the protagonist just starting his story, because instead of starting with a capitalized start of a sentence, the piece starts with a mysterious “is” that might not give much of indication of how the protagonist started his dialogue, but does justify the sudden delve into the story of the “tired young woman,” which he helps out by getting her “shakshuka,” which isn’t on the menu, but is what the woman wanted to eat. However, the woman is never addressed with a name. Neither is the protagonist, but then again, referring to oneself in the third person doesn’t really add value to the current situation. The significance of this is that the protagonist uses his act of kindness “like a saint” as an excuse to tell his life story to this woman that he gave a discount “fierce bubbling shakshuka” to. This is Habib’s attempt to convey the loneliness that the protagonist has felt, and uses the rather drab and empty setting to characterize how the social life of this rather excluded-from-society protagonist is.
Using his home country as an intro, the main character starts off with the good times/Djibouti 101, from his reasoning behind owning a Yemeni restaurant since he can “walk the walk” to how Djibouti is like the “Kasmir of Africa.” Keep in mind that the woman has not said anything more after asking where the main character was from. This fact has a slight implication that the woman’s backstory is essentially insignificant, and since it’s implied that this woman is a native born and bred American, the piece might be emphasizing the notion that the untold stories of immigrants take prevalence over those naturally born here. After all, this is a country of immigrants, but hypocritically, not many immigrant stories are told, and this piece seems to be challenging that notion. To clarify, while a rags to riches story from an American Born and Bred (ABB) might be considered “amazing” and clearly motivational, an immigrant who moves and achieves the same thing is almost looked down upon, almost as if they had some cheat move from their country of origin when the truth is that an immigrant often has a harder road to success in America.
But even if an immigrant is successful here, there is still a longing for home, because no matter where an immigrant, they will face some form of opposition except for their home, and the protagonist really hits on that with “live in every corner as if you were invisible” when referring to his time in Paris, and “eyes glistening” when talking about his home country. But the protagonist wouldn’t be travelling the world, owning a restaurant in Brooklyn if Djibouti was as good as he made it sound. He understands that he is here, owning a Yemeni Restaurant because Djibouti isn’t that great of a place to live. But there’s nothing that says he can’t try to convey his sense of Djibouti’s familiarity and sense of home to someone who might not understand what that is.