Red flags in North Dakota

I’ve never hitchhiked, but I’ve often wondered what it would be Harman_Singh.jpglike, sticking your thumb out at motorists, hoping one of them stops, hoping it isn’t someone who wants to take you home and introduce you to his woodchipper.

That’s a reference, of course, to the movie Fargo, set partly in North Dakota, not far from the small city of Edgeley in LaMoure County, where 16-year-old Harman Singh was an exchange student until May 16, when he apparently tried to make it on his own. He left goodbye notes and hit the road for about a week, before calling his host mother from Fergus Falls, Minn., about 130 miles away. He’s now in custody and will be sent back to India.

LaMoure County Sheriff Bob Fernandes is puzzled how Singh managed to hitchhike to Fergus Falls without authorities hearing about it.

He said it seemed odd that motorists would not report picking up a young man from an Eastern nation.

“I think that would have raised some red flags,” he said. [Link]

Red flags? Of course, it raises some red flags. In fact, I just gave the sheriff a call.

Me: “Sheriff Fernandes, I just spotted some young people who look like they might be from an eastern nation. What do you think I should do? Should I detain them?”

Fernandes: “What are they doing?”

Me: “Well, they’re holed up in a bunker of some sort.”

Fernandes: “A bunker? What are they doing in the bunker?”

Me: “Well, they’re putting stuff on that thing called the Internets. And they keep using the word ‘mutiny.’”

Fernandes: “A mutiny? Here in North Dakota? Geez Louise, what the dickens is going on? First an Eastern kid is running loose and now this!”

20 thoughts on “Red flags in North Dakota

  1. have been on both sides of the thumb. my most interestng episode was wen i picked up this kid. had just graduated from collij and was going x-country hitching rides. he told me the story about his last ride. he’d got on this truck with an aboriginal driving, and two men sitting in the back awful quiet. then the guy stopped at a rest stop for smokes and one of the guys at the back let loose. they’d been locked in the back. THEY were the owners of the truck and THEY had picked up the native dude for the ride. but dude had a big ass knife and he locked them up. dude was a little out of it and was just driving on the highway to wherever. anyway… my hiker pick up was freaked out now and when the native dude came back in and rolled off, the kid jumped off the truck into the ditch by the highway. the native dude yelled but kept going. anyway.. kid called the police and kept going. well. i had to make a turn off the highway into the woods and had to let the kid off. hope he made it ok to vanc.

    three cheers for harman. seems like a good kid. glad it ended well and everyone’s takign it in the right spirit. it is a bit odd though why they insisted on keeping him in lockup.

  2. He was heading north for a Sepia meetup oraganized by our own Suki Dillon.

  3. What a bizarre story – doesn’t say on what basis he’s being sent home: law enforcement? study abroad org’s policy? family decision?

    Sounds from the sheriff’s comment that it was law enforcement’s call:

    “He seems to be a fine young man that just made a mistake, but we can’t take any chances,” the sheriff said. “We just want to get him home to his family” in India.

    In which case, what law is it that’s being enforced?

  4. I guessed that it was for violating the study abroad org’s policies, but it looks like there’s no comment from them on this story. I also noticed one of the ND Mom’s quotes in coverage of this runaway student:

    “He wanted to do and experience everything he could while he was here,” she said. “We gave him every opportunity. We took him to the Mall of America, took him to an indoor water park … We had plans to go to Medora. — Bismarck Tribune

    Medora is in ND too. Maybe he just really wanted to see other cities and states in the U.S. and made a bad decision trying to do that on his own.

  5. For the work that I do, I actually cover MN, ND & SD for my sales territory (I call it the -Otas).

    In MN especially, there are pockets of different minorities due to their hosting refugees from Africa, even in rural places like Rice.

    I’ve been through many, many small towns in MN and been throughout SD & ND, including Bismarck, Rapid City and Sioux Falls. The combined population of the N & S Dakota is about 1.2M with each state having about 600K people – a population level which both states reached early in the 20th century. Since then, there has been internal shifts (ie, as certain cities like Fargo grew), but for the most part, no major spikes. I found this interesting considering how spread out the population is. If you’re ever in Bismarck, take not of their city building up on the hill – it’s the tallest building in the state.

    Every single time I visit (every month or so) I always ask as a lark what people do for fun in ND & SD : fishing, hunting (bow-hunting is big), drinking, bonfires and drinking.

    Except for Natives, and the few African Americans in some places (and in MN real African refugees) I am always for the most part the only minority within a few miles if not hundred miles – have never, ever had any issues with the locals in terms of treatment or weird looks or anything. Security in Sioux Falls did once give me extra attention so that I missed a flight and had to stay the night, but outside of that, the most common question I get asked is – are you Native (American) Indian or ‘Indian’ Indian.

    People are very friendly and in most cases, just very appreciative of anyone taking the time to come and meet with them.

  6. Of course, due the population densities and available opportunities, I do end up spending most of my time (80-90%) in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis & St. Paul – which do have a decent bit of diversity – nothing compared to Chicago of course, but it is not as lily white as rural MN or ND & SD. I always joke that in most meetings, I am often the lone chocolate chip in an oatmeal cookie.

    Not that surprised that he was able to hitch hike for so long – been to Fergus Falls – people wouldn’t be that ‘freaked out’ by an ‘eastern’ looking fellow. Whoever picked him up along his trip should have been more concerned about reporting a lone minor than his ethnicity.

    Assuming they’re keeping him confined not because he is a ‘threat’ to anyone as a foreigner, but more because he is a flight risk. Don’t really think he should be deported. I hate to ask the typical question, but would they deport a European exchange student for the same reason ? It sounds like the host family is pretty understanding. Teenagers do rebellious things sometimes and he seems to have realized his folly.

  7. Oh yeah – and the Mall of America quote is quite amusing – I have been there many times (it’s near the airport and hotel I always stay at) and has a decent sushi place to meet colleagues.

    This is not an impressive nor major cultural institute – it’s just a large mall, not even that massive nor unique anymore compared to other places. Now, the Badlands and Mt. Rushmore would be more interesting places to show a guest. But Mall of America, not exactly a great representation of American culture – they have malls in India now too, and if he came from a wealthy family, it’s not like he’s never had a chance to visit retail outlets grouped together.

    “Every opportunity” equals MallofA and a water park ? Ah well, they probably mean well and are more concerned about their loss of trust. Just like family from villages in India – what you know is what you know – and similarly even in the -Otas people can spend their whole lives in the same town and for some, MallofA is enough of a big city experience.

  8. Don’t really think he should be deported. I hate to ask the typical question, but would they deport a European exchange student for the same reason ?

    Maybe not, but a exchange student from place like Sweden, Norway or even Japan is not like to be the same risk not to return then someone who comes from a place like India. It’s not a PC thing to say but exchange students from some parts of the world a bigger risk not to back when they go to a 1st world country.

    There was a story about him in local Desi paper here last week, that said he had called his sister back in India and was on way to Seattle from where he would go to Vancouver. His sister said that he didn’t want go back to India.

    BISMARCK, N.D. – The host mother of an exchange student from India who vanished from southeastern North Dakota over the weekend says 16-year-old Harman Singh has contacted his sister in India. Collette Mathern says the sister told her not to worry, that Harman is safe. But he did not tell his sister where he is. Mathern said Singh told her in his cell phone message that he loved her and asked for forgiveness. He said he was in Seattle and in a couple of hours planned to head to Canada. Mathern says there is no new information from law enforcement officials searching for him. She says it’s a relief to hear word from Singh’s family that he is safe, but still worrisome that no one knows why he left. Singh was last seen walking away from the Edgeley school Saturday night after returning on a school bus from a track meet in Jamestown. Authorities say he left goodbye notes at the school. His sister says he left, because he doesn’t want to return to India 25 May 2009 by editor

  9. Yes, most of North Dakota and Minnesota is lily white, but I used to live in Fargo and there was a very large desi population. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t raise giant red flags and make really loud alarms go off, silly sheriff.

  10. Ashwini,

    How large ? Are we talking a number of families – non-related and spread out or grouped together ?

    Just curious.

  11. I can’t be certain, since I moved away about 10 years ago when I was about 12. All I remember is that our diwali parties were always packed. I assume the biggest draw to the town was North Dakota State University.

  12. I saw a couple of different census reports that said the Indo-Americans population in North Dakota was around 850 as of 2000. As there been alot of growth since.

  13. Why is he being deported? Is it illegal to hitchhike? Is being an exchange student akin to being under house arrest?

  14. dang. a goodbye note. where was he headed?!! oh to see his sister in canada(what north dakota not fun? ) prolly would’ve been difficult with his immigration status though i think he could’ve easily made it if he didn’t come into contact with authorities and being a minor and all. i’ve hitchiked thru south dakota and all over the U.S-coast to coast. this is before 9/11. hitchiking is not illegal. walking on freeways is. hwy’s you can walk on.i used to have the cops tell me to get off the freeway or they would escort me to the next exit so i can hitch from there. you are actually more exposed when you stand outside waiting for rides. hitchiking introduced me to ppl i would’ve otherwise never met.folks from middle america who wanted to help out, or wanted company on their ride, or were just curious about this stranger on side of the road. much respect to this kid for the guts to take off to see his sister in a foreign land!

  15. plus, i’m sure people thought he was mexican-latino. sitting in a stranger’s car for miles. now that’s a cultural exchange program.

  16. i have hitch hiked before and it is a little scary but it is an adventure. i liked it and i recommend being a boy and kinda strong, if your not you can get taken advantage of