She took him to Grace's apartment to eat dinner with the Congolese family. All his life Hassan had given alms to the poor, but from a distance. The four-year-old crawled all over him. The children called him Baba, Arabic for father. He watched their mother, Paula, serve fried fish, warning her children with a glare that no one was to eat a bite of it until Hassan and Luma had eaten all that they could, and then slap the hand of a child who reached for it. He watched them suck the bones when their turn came.
His eyes welled as he left the apartment. They had nothing, and they'd given him all. He turned to his daughter and hugged her. "I don't know how you do this," he said. "I can't do it. I'm really proud of you."
Luma didn't say a word. She couldn't. Maybe, she realized, each of them had underestimated the other.
When Hassan returned the following year, his daughter introduced him to Baby Luma, as Mama Louise's little girl had come to be known, the toddler she loved to bring to her home and dance with to Livin' La Vida Loca. "This is the African Luma," she told her father.
He smiled. "I don't know how many Lumas there are going to be before you are through," he said.
Back in Jordan his walls and computer screen filled with pictures of Luma and the Fugees. "I was expecting much more from her," said Hassan, "and she turned out to be much more than I expected. How many Jordanians have been on the front page of The New York Times? Hussein, our old king. Abdullah, our new one. And Luma.
"What she's doing compensates for what I've lost. Not totally ... but it's the way God wants. He willed that I not see my daughter, but that she would change the lives of many children. Who knows? Maybe one day one of my grandchildren will be president of the United States."
He'S IN! One of my kids got in!" Huh? Who? What? It was Luma, speed-dialing her bewildered friends again last year. Shamsoun—a Sudanese boy who'd seen legs and arms severed when government planes bombed his village, who'd seen his father run for his life each time troops swarmed their mountain, who'd escaped to America only to lose his mother and two siblings in a car wreck en route to a Sudanese reunion in Tennessee—had just gotten a scholarship to play soccer at Pfeiffer University, outside Charlotte: Luma's first Fugee in a four-year college.
She'd gotten America wrong when she imagined it as a kid back in Jordan. It wasn't like the shiny steel rods that came out of her father's mill. It was like the piles of iron ore that went in, malleable enough so that if you really wanted to, if you had the heat, you could take a scoop of it and begin shaping it into what you wanted it to be. "It's not Utopia like it seemed in the movies and TV shows I'd seen growing up," she says. "But it's the only place in the world where this could happen. So many people here have stepped forward to help. I couldn't do this in any other country."
She put on her ball cap. She climbed back into the driver's seat on that bus. You know, the one you missed the other day. That's O.K., because it'll come by again. It's America, that bus, just as colorful and loud and mixed up, always pulling away and coming back, giving us another chance to really see it ... and jump on.