Ten years ago, Mamoudou Hama traveled from Mali to America for a vacation in New York City. Little did he know he would meet the woman of his dreams and end up spending the rest of his life in a country he only meant to visit.
“I met my wife at the supermarket,” he said. “We were both looking for air condition to cool off for a little in the summertime.”
Hama was initially drawn to New York City because many of his friends back in Africa would come and buy merchandise and return with it for resale. Looking to do the same, Hama set out to the Big Apple in search of bargain deals on watches.
One weekend, Hama decided to make a trip down to Philadelphia. While he didn’t speak much English at first, Hama knew enough to be able to swoon his wife, who is a Philly native. From there, it didn’t take much to convince Hama not to return to Africa.
“If you find a woman here, that makes you want to stay here,” Hama said. “I got a wife here, and she’s my family now.”
Hama also said life back in Africa was challenging. He said he makes twice as much at his current job in Germantown as he did when he worked back at his uncle’s supermarket in Mali, a country in western Africa.
Hama currently works at Gentle Touch car wash on the corner of Wayne Avenue and Rittenhouse Street where he makes $7 an hour plus the occasional tip. He spends 40 hours a week giving $4.67 car washes and seems to keep a pretty positive attitude. Hama said he’s just happy to have the opportunity to live here.
“Sometimes it’s hard, but you know, I get by,” Hama said.
Hama previously did factory work before a friend recommended to him that he work at Gentle Touch. He has been there for the past five years, supporting his wife and her child off of his salary alone.
Even though times can be tough and the economy is bad, Hama said he doesn’t plan on ever permanently returning to his family back in Mali. For now, he said he will stick to just the occasional visit home, which he recently was able to do last May.
When available, Hama will also send money to his family, consisting of mainly farmers who help support his uncle’s supermarket.
“There’s nothing I miss in Africa,” Hama said. “I like it here, and I have a family here now.”
Hattie Cheek and Grace Dickinson are students at Temple University. Philadelphia Neighborhoods, a NewsWorks content partner, is an initiative of the Temple Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab.