Leaves bounce in the wind. The setting sun burns the sky. Cheerleaders rub pompoms in long sleeves.
Up the hill, at the Roosevelt High School flagpole, Ahmed Musa unfolds a folding table. His little sister, 6-year-old Rita, is lugging a cooler. Ahmed pulls fluorescent yellow and orange and red sacs out of the ice.
He puts up a sign.
Three girls in sweatshirts and flannel hand Ahmed dollar bills and poke straws through the plastic. The drink is a flood of sugar, sticky and catatonic sweet. But business is slow on Community Night on Oct. 6, when families gather for a parade the night before the Roughriders’ homecoming football game.
“I wish it was hotter,” says Ahmed, 24.
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His little brothers made the mix the night before, swirling water, lemons, cane sugar, sweetener, mangoes and strawberries in jugs. The Musa siblings have been tinkering with the recipe since April, when they launched in front of Platinum Kutz on University Avenue during the Drake Relays.
The Musas sold their juice all over town on weekends this summer, at Black Art Mecca, the Downtown Farmers Market and 4th & Court Hy-Vee.
“I love to see this entrepreneurship!” exclaims a Roosevelt official.
“It’s all her,” Ahmed calls back, pointing to his sister.
Rita, who loves the Minions and Buffalo Wild Wings as well as rapper Lil Durk, is the face of the company. Business is sweet. Ahmed doesn’t want to be cute.
“I want to be a mogul,” he says.
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Ahmed’s parents, Adel Musa and Adely Boula, arrived in the United States as Sudanese refugees in November 2000, on a day so cold that flight attendants told them to wait on the plane while staff brought thick coats and a blanket found for Ahmed.
Adel cleaned a hospital, laid tiles and drove a trailer truck. Adely cleaned hotel rooms, made furniture and worked in the hospitality industry. They lived in a downtown apartment until Adel’s sweat capital brought the family a Habitat for Humanity home just north of Evelyn K. Davis Park.
They sent money to a family in South Sudan. Adel watched as his son followed him and gave away his little basketballs to neighborhood kids. When he was older, on a visit to South Sudan, Ahmed would return to his grandparents’ house in socks. He had given his shoes to a local boy.
At home, Ahmed gave shoes to homeless people and enrolled in a social entrepreneurship course at Simpson College in hopes of starting a business with a philanthropic arm.
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He has visions for Musa’s lemonade. He wants to build brand awareness, add flavors, bottle the juice, buy a trailer, sell at RAGBRAI and rent a booth at the Iowa State Fair.
At the Community Night, the sun continues to set and the school facade glows orange. Parents watch the parade, rubbing their goosebumps. Ahmed may have to go out of business by spring.
But he gets an idea. People like hot chocolate. He googles a recipe.
“It’s not that hard to make,” he says.
Soccer players march by with their hands in their pockets.
“As a substitute, we use almond milk, for example,” says Ahmed.
A girl in the debating club calls for applause. A group drapes Mexican flags over their shoulders.
“It will be cool,” says Ahmed. “Yes we will see.”
Tyler Jett covers jobs and the economy for the Des Moines Register. He prefers the mango lemonade.
Our Des Moines is a weekly feature about an interesting person, place or event on the Des Moines subway, the kind of gems that make central Iowa special. Do you have an idea for this series? Contact [email protected]