"If I would go to Bank of America and tell them I wanted to send money to Somalia, they cannot do it. Before Al Barakaat came along, I tried to send money from Bank of America to Kenya. The first time, they charged me $30, and when the money got there, they charged me another $30, so I got to send $40 out of $100. And my family was still suffering from not getting any money. And I cannot send it from Bank of America to Somalia, because there is no bank system there."
Yousef has a wife and two children in America and supports three brothers, one half-brother, two sisters, and an aunt in Somalia -- a burden that keeps him behind the wheel of his cab 80 hours per week. "It's very tough on me, but I have to do it." Many of the thousands of Somalis who live in San Diego support family members in their native land. Besides cab drivers and shopkeepers, another popular Somali profession is high-tech assembly for companies like Sony and Qualcomm.
While he is upset by the hate crimes committed against himself and his fellow Muslims, Yousef also understands where it comes from. "They are feeling the pain of what happened in New York and Washington. But so do we. We feel the same pain and even more. There were also Muslims who were victims at the World Trade Center. A terrorist can be anyone. Before September 11, the saddest day in America was when this McVeigh guy killed all those people. We have to get together with every faith, educate ourselves, help each other, and watch our backs!"
The suspicion of Muslims has brought many changes to Yousef's life and his family's. His airport fares have dropped dramatically. His wife, a vocational student at adult school, has dropped out. "I don't blame her. I've encouraged her to stay home. I believe it will blow over. I can see that even now it is getting better."
One thing that is not yet better is the way Yousef struggles to live as a Muslim. Between the bucket seats in the front of his cab is a rolled-up prayer rug. "Before this happened, I would pull over anywhere at prayer time and pray. I cannot do that anymore. I must fear for my life. I am not afraid that most people will want to kill me for praying, but some fanatic who is angry will do some bad thing to me. So now I wait to find a safe place to do my praying. We have to pray on time, and sometimes I go late so I can be safe. People in America are very respectful -- maybe not the younger generation -- when worshipping in their churches, temples, and mosques. But one thing we have here in America is freedom of religion, and you can believe whatever you want to, and you cannot be touched. People will respect you for your religion. Of course, that is not there now, since September 11, but it will come back. We will get over this and we can be one again."
Yousef is less hopeful when discussing America's image in the Islamic world. "Most Muslim countries dislike America because of Israel and the Palestinians. If I travel with my American passport to Arabian countries, I might get respect from the official governments, but I don't dare show the community my passports. They would say, 'Throw this away! You have betrayed your country!' They've been fighting in Israel a long time. If America would do something to help both sides, I think we can have peace in the world. But America seems to be one-sided and that is terrible. Palestinians are fighting with stones while Israel is fighting with machine guns. I hope we will do something about it as Americans."