A couple weeks ago a friend asked me why I was asking her a question if I already knew the answer.

The other day I stopped for water and a mid-morning snack at a gasoline station on the descent to the Euphrates. I said hello to Mehmet, the station’s attendant.

“Where are you from?” he asked me.

“California,” I answered. “Have you been there?”

“No,” he said, “the only time I’ve been out of the country was to Iraq in 2003, to work as a driver.”

When I ask rural gasoline station attendants if they’ve been to California, I don’t expect the answer to come back “yes.” But I ask anyway, because I want to hear them tell me themselves. It would be disrespectful to think my assumptions made their words unnecessary.