Dinner to bridge Summit County, African communities | VailDaily.com

Dinner to bridge Summit County, African communities

Reid Williams/Summit County Correspondent
Last December, volunteers from Lord of the Mountains Lutheran Church organized the collection of food baskets for Mauritanian refugees living in Summit County. Organizers from the church will host a potluck dinner Sunday at the Silverthorne Pavilion in honor of the county's West African community.

SUMMIT COUNTY – Oumar Niang works at the 7-Eleven in Silverthorne. His managers tell him to take his mandatory 15-minute break, get something to eat. He tries to explain that he’s fasting, but they don’t quite understand. Maybe soon they will.

Niang, in addition to working at the convenience store and gas station, works for the Lutheran church as a liaison to Summit County’s West African community. A native of Mauritania, Niang, like many refugees and asylum-seekers from the embattled region, crossed an ocean and a country to arrive in the Rocky Mountains. By estimates of volunteers at Dillon’s Lord of the Mountains Lutheran Church, Niang is one of about 120 Mauritanians living in Summit County.

This season is the holiest of the year for Niang and his expatriate peers – not because they are skiers revering new-fallen snow, but because they are Muslim. Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, ended Tuesday. Throughout the month, followers of Islam fast during daylight hours; they eat small meals after sundown and spend their time visiting with friends and family.

On Nov. 16, Niang and other West Africans expanded that circle of friends by joining with the rest of the county in a potluck dinner.

“We brought African foods, so people can try that,” said Niang, who moved to Silverthorne 19 months ago after three years in Columbus, Ohio. “We have a lot to tell – a lot about Africa. And there was a speaker, too.”

The speaker was Denver resident Mohamad A. Jodeh. A native of Egypt, Jodeh ran a delicatessen in Denver for 20 years and now travels the world as an “ambassador of peace” and serves on many interfaith advisory boards.

Jodeh said his visit served two purposes. First, he hoped to address the Summit County community on the common nature of Islam, Judaism and Christianity and “extend the hand of friendship.”

“Whether we are Muslim, Christian or Jew, we are worshiping the same God, just in different traditions,” Jodeh said. “I think it’s important we all recognize this.”

Jodeh said he also planned to meet with members of the African community to discuss their needs and to see what assistance organizations he works with can provide.

The primary need of the Muslim African community in Summit County is a place of worship. Having no mosque in which to pray six times a day, Muslims have to get creative and employers have to be accommodating.

“We haven’t been able to solve that issue – yet,” said Jim Gulley, who works with Lord of the Mountains’ West African Community Care Team.

For the past year, the team has worked with West African immigrants, helping them settle and adjust to life in the mountains. At the end of Ramadan last year, the group provided food baskets to families. The team has provided legal assistance to Africans: Many have asylum status and are seeking permanent residency in the United States, as well as the means to bring their families here. The team also has sponsored picnics, furniture distribution and English classes.

“We hear negative things about Islam, but (the West Africans) should not be labeled just because some terrorists were Islamic,” Gulley said. “We thought (the potluck) would be a good opportunity for West Africans and people of this community to get together on a social basis. People see them working at City Market and other places, but this will be a chance to get to know them personally.”

Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 237, or rwilliams@summitdaily.com.

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