Her name means smile. And boy does she have a good one! I met her once before, months ago, on the playground around the corner and we stumbled along in French. I’ve since tried to ring her door bell a few times but we haven’t managed to find each other. Until two weeks ago.
She was at the park by the kids’ school. I recognized her underneath her hijab and we began at once just where we left off. By the sometimes miracle of six months, our babies were actually old enough to play without our ever-intervention. So we chatted along in French in the sunshine, with the line of Presidio trees rising along our shoulders to the left, the city blinking bright below us on the right.
I noticed a woman watching us and edging closer. I turned to her and smiled. She stepped over. Our French had reached her ears and she came to sit by us. As it would turn out she just moved from Paris six months ago. She introduced us to her darling baby and confessed to knowing no one, a couple French families, she said, but no Americans. We exchanged numbers and promised to have coffee.
I was going to walk back and invited Ibtissam to walk with me. She went one step further and invited us into her apartment for a full Moroccan tea.
Like any hostess she apologized for the mess and hastily moved toys aside. Her two daughters played with my three kids. And we talked happily while she set out cookies in beautiful little crystal dishes. She showed me how to scoop the mint and tea into a pot, how to steep it and how much sugar to add. We had a feast of peanuts and pistachios, beautiful butter cookies dipped in chocolate, and little gold rimmed glasses of sweet hot Moroccan mint tea. When those were finished off (by many little fingers besides our own) she got out two beautiful flat disks of homemade bread and olives in oil for dipping.
We ate and talked well into the dinner hour and as it was getting dim we tore ourselves away. We had talked about the similarities between Lent and Ramadan. We had shared about our faiths. We had talked about the loneliness of motherhood. And we had shared what makes us ourselves outside of these domestic spheres. “This,” she said, spreading her hands, “Sitting like this with friends. This is what I love.”
I am thankful for the gift of language that has enabled me to get to know one of these beautiful mothers. And I am thankful for this experience that has forever changed how I see the women underneath the hijab.