Tag Archives: hijab

Ibtissam…

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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.

More Friends…

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So, I was at the laundromat doing practically every article of clothing our family of five owns. It needed to be done, yes; however, I was also planning on using it as an unassailable blind to have some mommy time and watch that new movie that came to Netflix that my husband would never ever watch with me in a hundred years. (Dramas maybe, romantic comedies maybe, romantic dramas… never!)

I had the first three loads up on the counter, my iPad was open, and my earbuds were in when I get the unequivocal feeling that I am supposed to be fully present in my environment. I try to reason, then argue down the feeling. But I end up taking my earbuds out and closing the screen.

The instant this is done I hear a young voice and turn to see the four-year-old daughter of my new Muslim friend from the park. And she’s with her father. She recognizes me and we share a few smiles. I’m instantly glad I put off my movie. I haven’t seen my friend in a week or so. I tried to take strawberries over, but the buzzer wasn’t working or she wasn’t in or something.

I have a brief internal debate with myself. What must a man from a culture that requires headdresses think of a woman in shorts being forward enough to introduce herself? But I decide that since he lives here in SF that he would have practiced grace enough in this area to have some for me and my boldness.

So, I go up and introduce myself and chat with his daughter briefly and we shake hands and it’s all well and good and when they leave later he and his daughter call to me and wave goodbye.

And then today, coming back from the laundromat again, me and my enthusiastic Americanism saw a hijabi woman outside my friend’s building and ran across the street to say hi. It is only when I was too close to turn away that I realized it wasn’t her. So, I made another new friend in a different apartment of the same building, directly across from mine.

I am very excited to know these women, these families. And I’m thankful, grumble grumble, for the laundry that takes me down to the street to be present in my neighborhood.  (Is it wrong that I will still buy a washer-dryer as soon as I have space and money for one?)

In Which my French Comes in Handy…

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My New Year’s resolutions tend to be rather random and specific.  A couple of years ago I resolved to replace every plain white pair of underwear in my drawer with a fun pair.  That drawer is now a veritable rainbow.  The year after that I resolved to not wear T-shirts anymore (and I mean the ratty ones) on a daily basis.  They would, henceforth, be relegated exclusively to bedtime wear.  This year I said a simple prayer sometime in early January,

“Lord, by the end of this year I’d like to have a friend who wears a hijab.”

I prayed it a few times over the course of the week.  Motherhood is isolating enough.  Add an urban setting, a language barrier, and such a visible testament to strong religious beliefs and I imagine it must be lonelier still.  I wanted to know these women underneath the scarves with whom I must share so much as a mother in the city.

And wouldn’t you know, today it happened.

I met a mother at the park.  I almost never go to this park anymore. I began asking about her daughter who was playing with my son in the sandbox.

“I’m sorry,” she said, stumbling through her English, “You don’t by any chance speak French?”

“Mais, oui!” I said.

And so began a long conversation with nervous laughter, patience, and a lot of hand movements as we moved between French and English, talked about our husbands, and about Ramadan starting next week and how hard it is to feed the kids and not eat yourself.

Halfway through this conversation in the middle of June I remembered my New Year’s prayer.  Of course, this begs the question, which came first, the prayer or the plan to bring this woman into my life?  Which prepared the way for which?

It turns out she lives directly across the street from me.  We chatted until dinnertime.  She kissed my cheeks and welcomed me into her home.  I welcomed her into mine and asked if she liked tea.  We will see each other again.

I’m so glad for random prayers, new friends, and three kids who were going so crazy this afternoon I had to get off my butt and take them to the park.  God even finds joy in using my crazy kids. What do you know?