This patch of land

I photographed the 21st annual Taylor Horse Fest Saturday (it’s exactly what it sounds like) and had to appreciate how completely North Dakotan it is to “honor the animal that played such a major part” in the roughly 200-person town’s heritage.

A journalist I respect very much gave me some interesting advice last week: “…keep note of what makes this patch of land different from the rest of the USA.” I’m making it my goal to remember this throughout the rest of my time here.


Ramadan in Dickinson

IMG_0570I haven’t been great about cataloguing my stories so far (I’ve cut most of my articles out of the paper and stuffed them into a plastic envelope thing — real old-fashioned clips!), but I wanted to share this one.

Ramadan started over the weekend, and I used it as a “news peg” for a story about the small Muslim community in Dickinson. I’m not in love with the way my piece turned out — I could have done better, and jeez, that schmaltzy ending — but I love that I got to write it (if only because it was a chance to introduce one of the country’s most WASPy regions to a touch of Islam and a few words of Arabic).

I was expecting to have to work a lot harder to gain access to the community and their prayer service — they would have every right to be remain cautious of a stranger intruding on such a private, personal act, particularly one from the media. And in a town that’s not exactly friendly to ‘outsiders,’ I could understand if they would prefer to stay a little anonymous. Instead, the group was welcoming, eager to talk, eager to share their stories. The imam put in a good word for me, asked that people help out however they could; I had a line of people waiting to speak with me after the prayer service, even if they didn’t know quite who I was or why I was there.

As a mistrusting, often-angry misanthrope, I am always amazed by how open, warm and generous people can be with their time and themselves. Even if the story isn’t a work of art, it’s been one of my favorites from my time here so far to report and be a part of.

This post is already veering into TLDR territory, but the full story is below. You can also read as a PDF here (Forum News Service ‘archives’ all of its stories after five days–which is just bad business sense, in my opinion).


Praying together: Ramadan brings Dickinson’s small Muslim community closer

This weekend Muslims around the world, and in North Dakota, will observe the beginning of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting and reflection.

Every day through July, from sunup to sundown, they will abstain from eating and drinking.

The fast is a way for Muslims to attain piety, strengthen their relationship to Allah — the Arabic word for God — and feel empathy for those less fortunate than them, explained Dr. Ibrahim Ahmed, a pediatrician who serves as the imam, or religious leader, for the Dickinson area’s Muslims.

The U.S. Census doesn’t track religious affiliation, so there are no exact numbers on just how many Muslims live in the state, let alone Dickinson. It’s not a state unfamiliar with Islam; one of the first, if not the first, mosque in the U.S. was built in Ross.

According to a Pew Research poll, less than 1 percent of the population in the Dakotas identified themselves as Muslim. For Dickinson’s small Muslim community, Ramadan is as much a time to grow closer to God as it is to each other.

A place to pray

Just a few months ago, Dr. Muhammad Jamil thought he was one of just three Muslims in Dickinson.

The internal medicine specialist, along with Ahmed, his colleague at St. Joseph’s Medical Clinic, and one other friend, would use Ahmed’s cramped office for daily prayers at work.

“The main thing in Islam, you should pray together,” Jamil said.

He used to travel the 90 miles to Bismarck every Friday to attend special prayer services at the chapel at St. Alexius Medical Center. It had to make do; the closest mosque is in Fargo.

Slowly, though, Jamil, Ahmed and their friend, Sadi Haque, began meeting other Muslims in the area, ones who, like them, had been praying in small groups, unaware of each other.

“Every day, people hear about us,” Ahmed said. He met new members at Walmart, and Muslims started coming from as far away as Williston and Killdeer to pray.

A group began meeting in Ahmed’s basement for Friday prayers. Haque posted a listing on, inviting others to join.

Gradually, Jamil said, they grew.

Since December, Dickinson’s Muslim community has been filling the Armstrong Room in the basement of the Elks Lodge every Friday afternoon to pray, facing the holy city of Mecca, surrounded by dried flower wreaths and paintings of the prairie — not things you would likely find in the mosques in Egypt, Ahmed’s native country, or Pakistan, where Jamil is from.

Others come from Sudan, Ethiopia, Senegal, Bangladesh, the U.S., usually for work.

“Two months ago I heard of the prayer services,” said Mamadou Toure, a native of Senegal who came to Dickinson seven months ago from Missouri, where he taught at a Quranic school.

Before he met Ahmed and Jamil, he said, “I prayed alone.”

A first for many

For many of the community’s members, this will be their first Ramadan in Dickinson.

A lack of understanding among non-Muslims about what the month signifies, or awareness of what it even is, makes fasting difficult.

“It’s very, very hard,” Ahmed said. “No one else is observing or understanding that you’re fasting. Sometimes we have to put extra effort to please God.”

Seydina Sylla, another native of Senegal who initially came to the city in 2011 for work, spent last Ramadan in Atlanta, a city with a sizeable Muslim population where he was able to take time off of work to accommodate his fasting schedule.

“Not like here,” he said. “Islam is not like it is in Atlanta, or other states.”

Sylla said he is asked all the time why he isn’t eating or drinking; his part-time job at Applebee’s makes fasting especially hard.

“If I could, I’d take a break,” he said. “But I just try to ignore it.”

Sylla said he focuses instead on the fasting itself, and what it means to him: it’s “food of your soul,” he said.

“A lot of people don’t know what is hunger,” he said. “If you’re Muslim, rich or poor, you fast anyway. In worship of Allah, you have to do it.”

Ahmed said he hopes one day that Dickinson Muslims will have a place of their own where they can worship Allah: a masjid, or mosque, in a storefront somewhere.

The Elks Lodge has been very welcoming of the prayer service, Ahmed said, but the group has been outgrowing the Armstrong Room.

The group will have to hold iftar, the special meal to break the fast, at a member’s house; Jamil said they’re considering going all the way to Bismarck to celebrate Eid, the end of Ramadan, in July, but he hopes there are enough people here that they can have a celebration in Dickinson.

It’s less important where they pray, though. What matters is that they do it together.


Closer to 30

I am 26 today, June 24.

I’ve been telling people I’m 26 years old since I moved to Dickinson two months ago, rounding up to avoid the confusion of saying, “I’m 25 but I turn 26 soon so by the time you see me next I may be a year older.”

But it hit me last night that saying I’m 26 and actually turning 26 feel very different.

I’m officially closer to 30, for one, as my mom pointed out. I’m in my “late 20’s,” a real old fogey. I sped through the past year without even the possibility of a real boyfriend, all the while reminding myself that my older sister was married before she hit 26, that maybe if I just picked a random bachelor on OK Cupid I could also hit that milestone (and then beat to her the next milestone of “divorced by 26”).

I meant to write this last night but fell asleep on my couch around 9 watching Sherlock on Netflix after a very strenuous day of being hungover (I’ll never learn! I’ll never grow up!), but here is a recap of things I’ve done in the past 25 years and why I might not be screwed for the next 25:

-Didn’t die

-Didn’t kill anyone else, directly or otherwise (I think/hope)

-Made plenty of mistakes that I still feel bad for–interviews that didn’t turn into stories, breaking promises to children, not sending my jiddo letters when I meant to, hurting my parents’ feelings–but tried to learn from them

-Completed 17 years of school

-Was published. On NPR!

-Worked at NPR (things may have peaked)

-Traveled a lot and never lost the desire to travel even more

-Had many pets and volunteered at many animal shelters and got to spend lots of time surrounded by animals

-Met Brandon and a bevy of other amazing individuals

I don’t know what I want out of the next year. Health, love, family, friends, etc., of course. But I want to be somewhere else–physically, for sure, and emotionally–by my 27th birthday. Not married, but maybe with someone (dating is tiring, you guys. And expensive. And degrading.). Employed and at a job I love. Living closer to my sister or Brandon, or in a different country entirely. Free of all debt (HA HA HA HAAAAA I will die with student loans).

Last year I celebrated my birthday traveling from Chicago back to D.C. after visiting for graduation. My friend John danced me into my 25th year at a club in the Belmont neighbhorhood, and almost 24 hours later I was watching the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup at a Cleveland Park bar in D.C. with a neighbor. It was both sweet and sad (perhaps they should invent a word to describe such a feeling–bittersweet?) to spend the day mostly alone, waiting for my lost luggage at the airport, leaving a city I had known so well and returning to one I hardly knew then. Now I would give anything to be in D.C. at that stupid bar. I like to think I’d be surrounded by people I love, the ones I left on the East Coast to come here.

I didn’t have high hopes for today. I made myself a special breakfast, bought myself a special coffee, wore a special outfit to keep my spirits up. Work was long. None of my coworkers remembered my birthday (I didn’t want them to, anyway–makes me feel uncomfortable, for some reason).

But my sister sent me flowers, my jiddo called me and a friend I’ve known since high school emailed me to wish me a happy birthday. I took myself out for a martini–and didn’t get carded, so the bartender didn’t know I was drinking alone on my birthday–and I’m eating too much guacamole and too many Oreos and watching Sherlock series 3 on Netflix. An okay Tuesday overall.

Feeding that damn goat

I’ve been thinking a lot about “The Goat Must Be Fed” since the report came out a few weeks ago. I’m a little more than two months into my first newspaper job and so much of what’s said in the piece resonates with what goes on at the six-day-a-week publication.

We’re a fairly small paper–circulation is just 7,000–and a very small staff: three full-time news reporters, one (and a half) features reporters, one sports reporter, one sports editor, an assistant editor and managing editor. The scale is tipped (heavily, in my opinion) toward advertising and circulation, who round out the rest of the newsroom. It’s a pretty old-school operation, like many of the outlets mentioned in the report. We cover police reports, trials, city council meetings, school board meetings, construction updates, breaking news across a number of counties. It’s “legacy news,” writes the Duke Reporters’ Lab:

With limited resources, the first goal is to fill airtime or newsprint or stock the website. The goat must be fed, and the easiest feed is the diet it’s been fed for years.

We’re tripping over ourselves as it is to keep up with the daily news cycle; as lovely as the idea sounds, none of us can take time away from our regularly schedule programming to experiment with digital tools, restructure how we cover certain beats, or devote much energy to any large-scale digital projects.

Our situation is often frustrating, but it isn’t unique — in fact, we’re in the majority, as half of daily newspapers in the U.S. have a circulation of fewer than 10,000 and an average staff size of fewer than nine people. The paper I work for is probably never going to have its own iPhone app, or a data news tab, or a staff devoted entirely to building new tools for our newsroom. We’re not the Washington Post. We’re not even the Amarillo Globe-News. And that’s okay.

Digital news doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing endeavor. The report ends by listing some free or low-cost tools that smaller newsrooms can incorporate pretty easily into their reporting, if they put some extra energy toward it (it’s a question of resources and of priorities, the report finds). Small papers are not going to be the ones driving traditional news into the digital era, but we shouldn’t be the ones left behind when it goes, either.

St. Joseph’s Health

CHI St. Joseph’s Health held a ‘dusty-shoe tour’ for media today — a sneak peak into their new facility in Dickinson.

A month in

I realized today that I have been at my job exactly one month, and in Dickinson one month and one day (give or take). It seems much longer ago that my apartment was still swamped in boxes; now I look around at my newly-painted bookshelf and photos hanging neatly on the walls and I wonder when, and how, I got settled here.

Not that I’m “here” yet, not by a long shot. I may have gotten my Dickinson Public Library card a week ago, but I still can’t tell you my address off the top of my head. I keep putting off getting a new driver’s license and registering my car here. Most days I still feel like I’m on some kind of working vacation, a fleeting jaunt to a different life that I’ll return from any day now and think, ‘Well, that was certainly an experience.’

A month isn’t much of a milestone — just another menstrual cycle in the grand scheme of things, really* — but I figure a little added reflection at this time can’t hurt. So, here the past month, in numbers. I have:

-been fired zero times

-written 33 articles

-hanged 26 pictures (sorry, neighbors)

-learned four chords on the guitar

-gotten two nosebleeds

-been to one African church service

-roped (what we city folk might call “lasso”) one unsuspecting lectern

-been on two dates, with one guy

-watched six seasons of Sex and the City

-cried just once (setting off one of those nosebleeds)

(UPDATE 5/27/14: Oh! Forgot to include my first/last time speaking at a Kiwanis Club meeting. The whole time I couldn’t process the strange time warp that was occurring.)

I’ve met I don’t know how many new people and made what I hope are at least five new friends, gone out for countless beers (that I had to buy myself! I was under the impression that randy Oil Patch men would be doing all the buying here). and played a dozen or so games of pool, because that is what you do here.

Now for the next month.

*should delete, won’t delete