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"