I attended a Ramadan dinner last Wednesday night. I’d never been to one before and I was surprised and pleased to be invited. It was a woman-only party and was the first time I’d seen the women I already knew without their headscarves. Seeing their hair seemed almost as strange as seeing them in their hijabs had once seemed to me! But the biggest revelation to me was how normal the whole thing seemed.
Oh, I’m not used to eating on the floor (they had a table but it wasn’t large enough for all of us) or to the food (which was mostly Libyan). But it seemed natural to sit around chatting with these women even though our mother tongues and cultures are so different. Thankfully their English was very good since my Arabic is still limited to “Hello,” “How are you?,” “I’m fine,” and “Good-bye.”
My hostess introduced me to her two sisters (out of six), her mother who was visiting for a month, her friend from Saudi Arabia and her two nieces, aged 2 years and 3 months. A lot of our time was spent making over the baby and trying to coax the two-year-old out of the bedroom; she was shy around strangers (me). An Arabic movie was playing on a laptop, but no one paid it any attention. Later on they showed me a video of a Libyan wedding complete with traditional songs and dances. And right before we ate, three of the women performed their prayers while I sat quietly watching and listening. It was a moving experience.
After the dinner which was delicious and plentiful (I could hardly wait to unbuckle my belt when I got into the car to go home!), two more guests showed up for dessert and coffee with their little ones in tow as well. The baby was handed around and the toddler fell asleep on the couch. It was explained to me that children are the objects of much affection and attention in their culture and that they can’t get used to the American tendency to draw back when they fuss over American children. I admit that I had hesitated at first when a baby was summarily handed to me–because it’s not something that is done so matter-of-factly in American culture. But I soon warmed up to the atmosphere and was playing with the baby as much as anyone. I even got her to coo at me.
The party was still going on when I left at 11:30. I would have stayed longer but I wasn’t sure if it was polite to stay too long (or leave too early!). As I drove through the neighborhood, I passed people returning from or walking to the mosque which was just down the road from my hostess’ apartment. I wondered if they thought it was odd to see me there. But I didn’t care. Because I had been made to feel perfectly at home.