During the school year I see the Arabic women in my neighborhood walking their children to school, talking to each other in a language that, unlike Spanish, is completely unfamiliar to me. One of the ladies wears a headscarf every day, always a vibrant print and a rich-looking fabric. While the rest of the morning moms (myself included) are decked out in sweats, hiding behind dark glasses, and carrying our morning Starbucks, these women wear heels and pressed slacks. One of the moms is a Lebanese lady who lives up the street from me – her husband is a professional gambler – and I’ve often wondered if they’ve thought about a nickname for their son, Osama. “It’s a very common name in that part of the world,” the mother explained when we met them.
David and I both worried about our son playing at their house. When we first met them, September 11th wasn’t that far in the past, and even for an open-minded gal like myself, I was having a tough time with, “Mom, Osama wants to know if I can play at his house.”
“As long as he doesn’t come home shouting ‘Death to the infidels!’, I think we’re okay,” I told my husband.
They frequently vacation in Lebanon over the summer, and I haven’t seen them in weeks.
An Iranian dentist lives next door to us, a quiet man who travels a great deal and who just married a much younger woman. His family fled Iran when the Shah was overthrown. A few years ago, he took a trip back to his homeland. “There were people with guns everywhere,” he told us when he got back. I got the impression he was both shocked and disappointed by what he saw.
Two years ago when my son started kindergarten, I met a Palestinian lady. She and I were about the same age, and we walked the same way to drop off and pick up our kids. She didn’t speak much English, and I don’t speak any Arabic, but we managed to talk about housework, husbands, and kids. I’m sure we looked like we were playing charades half the time. “You know Palestine?” she asked me once.
“Yes, I do. Do you ever get to go home?” I asked her. I figured if my dentist friend could go to Iran, anything was possible.
“I would like. But it’s hard to go there,” she said, shrugging and sighing, giving me the hands-up signal that meant “I can’t explain it in this language.” I wished she spoke better English, because I wanted to hear what had happened to her, why she was in the United States, and how she and her husband and daughter came to Las Vegas.
One day we were waiting outside the kindergarten gates when a Jewish woman joined the group. I knew she was from Israel and taught pre-school at a synagogue – one of many details I had absorbed about the other parents as we waited by the gate each day. Somehow she and the Palestinian lady started talking, which I watched in open amazement. “Do you speak Arabic?” the Palestinian lady asked her.
“No. Only Hebrew.”
“You are from Israel? I am from Palestine.”
“They’re kind of the same place now.”
They both smiled and stepped away from each other, and I wondered if the Palestinian lady wanted to punch the Jewish lady in the nose. If she did, she didn’t show it. Interestingly, not only does my neighborhood seem to have a large number of Arabs and Persians, we also have a large population of Jewish people. Every Saturday I see families walking to temple. Mezuzh scrolls adorn doors all over my neighborhood.
As I watch the Middle East erupting on television each night, these are the people I think about.