Sunday, May 20, 2007

new friends

I have struck up a friendship with the mom of one of Joe-Henry's school mates. This boy is one of the first kids to have approached Joe-Henry at the park one day last spring, soon after we arrived here in this small town. We knew no one, save my family, and we really missed our friends with kids. So did Joe-Henry. But this little boy with a megawatt smile and fun-loving ways, won my slow-to-warm boy over. We were so excited when we found out he was in Joe-Henry's kindergartten class.

His name is Mubarik and he and his mom and dad moved here two years ago from Ghana. His mom spoke broken English, but was trying to learn, and has attended English classes while Mubarik is in school. We've had them over a few times for playdates, even though at first I was afraid to call because I was afraid I'd mispronounce her name.

The first time I had them over, she thanked me as she left, saying that people she'd known since she first arrived never invited them over. It was the first time she'd been to anyone's home but her own. "I think you love me", she said as she gave me a warm but tentative hug.

As we get to know each other, she reveals more. Her husband works 7 days a week driving a cab. She doesn't drive. She likes to garden and cook and makes a peanut stew that she has promised to make at my house sometime. She likes Joe-Henry because he's nice to Mubarik. Sometimes at the park, kids won't play with him because of the color of his skin.

Two weeks ago she told me someone had called Child and Family services when they first arrived because her son was playing across the street at a park without her. She could see him out the window of her house. She was so scared that now she doesn't let him out of her sight. She didn't speak English well at first, but could understand what they were saying. They would take her son if it happened again. It's different in Ghana.

That day she seemed nervous about something as the boys played. Even though there are gaps in our conversation due to language differences, it's never because we don't want to talk. We just need a rest. But this time it was different. I could tell that she was weighing something.

Last week we met at the park. She brought a cooler filled with drinks and a bag of crackers. The boys played with another little boy. He was Hispanic and didn't speak English, but he was wearing an awesome Spiderman costume. Spiderman needs no language. They had a blast. She and I sat at the table, smiling at our boys when she finally blurted out: "We are Muslim". She looked down at the handkerchief she was holding, smoothing and straightening it, folding it into small squares only to spread it out again, smoothing and straightening again. "Were you afraid to tell me that?" I asked. She was. She's afraid to wear her scarf here in this small town. "Some people don't like Muslim people here". I told her I liked her very much and was so grateful for her friendship. We talked about the differences in our beliefs. None of them seem insurmountable. We both believe in kindness. We agreed that there are people of every religion who seem too eager to use their beliefs to opress others. And we're both good moms. We both like to cook and our sons drive us crazy at times. Well, mine does. Mubarik seems to mind his mom better than Joe-Henry minds me. She makes me feel less lonely here. Her warmth and kindness have made me feel less lonely here. She has made me feel at home in this town. Finally.

Coming back from the store yesterday, I heard this song. It's from a new cd I got for Mother's Day. I had to play it again because I needed to hear these lyrics one more time.

"We won't be afraid to be alive anymore
And we'll grow kindness in our hearts for all the strangers among us
Till there are no strangers anymore"

"No Bad News"
From the new Patty Griffin cd, "Children Running Through"


Donna said...

Oooh, you rock so very much!!! Being a new friend like that is the very best of human nature, regardless of nationality, skin color, religion or dietary preference! ;0p How neat for her to find a friend, how cool of you to be one! Funny how it doesn't get in the way for the kids too.

anniemcq said...

Donna, thank you for your comment, but I feel sort of embarrassed. She is the one who has made me feel so lucky to have her as a friend. I hope this post doesn't come across as sanctimonious, and I really hope I'm not portraying myself as some kind of liberal saint. I just feel so grateful to have another mom friend, and I think it's so interesting that it took my move from the melting pot in LA to this small town to make a friend from another country. I think she and I both struggle with feeling like we belong here.
And you're right about the kids. If we can stay out of their way, this world might turn out okay.

suttonhoo said...

oh dear friend -- you make me cry every time.

beautiful story. what a beautiful new friendship.

anniemcq said...

Thanks D. Although I didn't mean to make you cry!

Anonymous said...

Oh. wow. Wow. I just want to have you both over for coffee and a playdate - is it really that unusual where you live for a little Muslim boy with darker skin to be around? I ask not judgementally, because certainly that was the case in Rhode Island, but in wonderment - I didn't think the Pacific Northwest was that "white". I love that Bailey's 2 best friends from 1st grade are Indian and an African/French mix (his Dad is from France, mom is from somewhere in Africa, not sure which country).

My heart aches for that woman for having CPS called on her! How scary. You guys are lucky to have each other! They sound wonderful. :)

anniemcq said...

Tracey - it's pretty interesting here. Right across the river in Portland, it's a much bigger city, but Vancouver, while it is growing by leaps and bounds because it is, at it's heart, a wonderful town, is still suffering from growing pains. I grew up on the east side of the state, and there was one African American family the entire time I lived there. Surprisingly, though, it is kind of a little melting pot here. One of Joe-Henry's best friends at school is Hindu, one of a set of twin boys. There are a lot of Hispanics, a lot of Russians, a lot of Asians, and not as many people of color. Luckily, Mubarik has had a great time in school, making lots of friends, and everyone there who knows him doesn't notice the color of his skin anymore. He's a beautiful little boy. He never stops smiling. And if you were to invite us all over for a playdate, I guarantee, fun would be had! I wish it could be.... Thanks, friend.

Donna said...

No need for embarrasment--I caught your tone entirely as you meant it. Kind of a greatful feeling to have stumbled on the situation, no? I would pretty much be friends with a purple, three-headed alien mom if she understood why it rankles me so when my 7-year-old refuses to blow his nose!

Here in the white-bread-basket of the country, diversity can be hard to come by, especially in a little town like ours. But, there are probably as many non-pasty kids at our grade school as there were at my grade school 30 years ago in a bigger town--and definitely more Latinos. And our second graders take the cake for diversity--one girl with diabetes, one boy with dwarfism, and one boy who has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair and a walker! And to our students (and hopefully their parents) they are all NORMAL!!!!!

Lolabola said...

oh it's so great to find someone to confide in! It's so great to be confided in!

anniemcq said...

Donna, I loved your comment, it was right on the money. And Lola, you're right - sharing confidences is such an honor.

Kimberly said...

Ooh Annie I'm so glad you found a friend and through Joe Henry no less. What great lessons our children teach us. I am not surprised by your reaction. I wouldn't have expected anything less from you. You are so down to earth and open to life and what it has to offer in people, places and things. This I've learned about you in the short time I've lurked around and outed myself as a devout fan. I hug myself at knowing such a wonderful woman all the way across the country and again thanks to Tracey for connecting us.