The North End branch of the Halifax Regional Library is a single storey brick building on Gottingen street, sitting between the YMCA and Ahern Manor.
A decade ago I disliked going there. I hated being served at the circulation counter by this sour angry arrogant kid, so much that I refused to be served by him. I would wait for someone else or abandon my borrowing plans. I didn't know his name and didn't want to. He couldn't be bothered looking at the computer screen to know mine.
Now I'm happy at the North Branch. There's a steady intelligent guy wearing a white tupe cap who is often at the Info Desk. He knows everything and steps into the computer room when acrimony breaks out between the teenagers (often loud and rude) and the older geezers like me (mostly silent). Mohammed Amin is a calm referee. He knows most of us by name. He's like the benign sherriff of the branch.
The sour arrogant kid of ten years ago? He's now that sherriff.
We sit at the Info Desk and talk in between the streams of people coming to him for help. Mohammed Nurul Amin was born in Bangladesh 25 years ago. His father (also Mohammed) worked in Bangladeshi embassies and was often gone, so Mohammed lived with his mother Khalada and sister Nasrin with his maternal grandparents in a village in the Comilla District, south of Bhutan, west of Burma. The tabla player Badal Roy comes from Comilla, as does the Comilla Model, an early system of rural development and microfinance. His grandparents are dead now. Mohammed hesitates sadly. "My grandfather was the best man I ever knew," he says quietly, "except for my father."
Bangladesh never had the same need to use English as places like India, so Mohammed arrived in Canada, in 1995, speaking Bangla, Urdu and Hindi, but no English. That was tough.
"My Dad thought it was a good idea for me and my sister to go to school (St. Pat's on Maitland) on the first day by ourselves." Mohammed shakes his head. "Not a word of English. We walked into the principal's office and I just handed him the papers." Mohammed extends two hands palms up. His head bows slightly. "Mr. Tobin took us under his wing, as did kids in the community." Mohammed dressed like a dork. He wore pressed trousers, tailored shirts and leather shoes. "The girls helped me out," he says, laughing. "They taught me to keep my shirt untucked."
It took six months to get an inkling of English. He learned first from cartoons. Mohammed looks sheepish as he reveals Beauty and the Beast as the first movie he saw. "Then it was Aladdin," he says laughing. "And I was hooked on animation."
Mohammed's father thought being at the library would help him learn English. Mohammed began by volunteering with computer users and then was hired. Now he's the youngest Branch Operations Supervisor in the system. He recently received a gold and enamel pin to commemorate his 10 years.
In January Mohammed will be back to school working on a combined masters degree of Business Administration and Library Science. He'll be full time at the library and when his parents go to Bangladesh in February he'll be working for the family business which runs a stall at the Farmer's Market and provides samosas and other foods to places like Pete's Frootique and Just Us Cafe. "My parents are very, very hardworking," he says. "I hope to be that, too."
His parents are very religious and Mohammed gets to mosque when he can. "My sister prays more than I do," he says, "and my parents are very religious." He says he's never had liquor and then clams up, smiling. "Well," he says, "one Christmas, back when Tracey Jones was here at the library there was a party. I was drinking this delicious orange juice and it had a bit of kick to it. Tracey saw me and said, "no, Mohammed!". It had champagne mixed in. That's the only time and it was an honest mistake. An accident is an accident.
"I'm blessed to have the library here," he says. Mohammed and his family could have moved long ago, but have lived in the hood since they arrived in Halifax.
"If I could," Mohammed says, "I'd live here forever."