I’m sitting on a park bench in the shade with a new friend, A, while our kids play on the play structure. (Yes, I know my kids are 16, but they are good sports and join her younger kids on swings and slides with rare abandon) We have just shown them Portland’s Rose Garden. It’s blazing hot. Not far away, our husbands chat, and other young parents gather their broods and assorted diaper bags, sippy cups, stuffed animals, and bags of snacks. A watches one group, consisting of one man and two women with assorted offspring, and leans over to me. “In our religion a man is permitted to have four wives–four at the same time!” she whispers. “Don’t tell Donn!”
Um, he already knew that, I assure her, but I can’t stop from laughing. If i was going to worry, it would have been in Mauritania, where the women were flinging themselves at him because of his golden American passport. I tell her it’s illegal here, but I’m not sure how much she understands.
I’m driving the 3 kids to some event, I forget which one. Elliot and Ilsa are in the back seat and Elliot is acting like a big brother, poking and teasing and annoying. I needn’t worry though–Ilsa gives as good as she gets.
Elliot: “You’re cute when you’re mad.”
Ilsa: “I’m about to get adorable!”
A wants a bike. “It’s okay?” she asks me. “I see here women riding bikes.” Yes of course, I assure her. It’s America–you’re free to do what you want. I don’t add that, here in Portland, you can ride a bike naked, or ride one while wearing a Darth Vader costume and playing bagpipes. I feel that might just be too much information.
She says when she was a little girl, she asked for a bike but her father told her girls don’t ride bikes. “I learned to ride my brother’s bikes,” she says, but she hasn’t ridden in years. “You’ll fall down,” I warn her, but she’s not fazed. “I will be bloody-faced and black-eyed,” she agrees proudly. I’m looking for a bike for her; I really want to support her in this.
I get a text from M. “Bought a coffee maker at garage sale. Can you teach me how to use it?” This amuses me. M makes the best Turkish coffee. I really don’t want her to start making American coffee. I hope she only makes it in the morning, before her classes at the local community college.
Every day, more bombs go off in Baghdad. Everyone says the situation is horrible, spiraling downward once again to a sectarian civil war. Neither side is right; both commit atrocities, although of course my friends tend to side one way or the other while agreeing it’s all horrible. “Before, we lived in harmony–Sunna, Shi’a, Christian–side by side,” I have been told many times by different people.
I ask about families. Sometimes the news is not good. One man’s uncle was gunned down on the street. Another’s nephew was badly injured in a car bomb while at a cafe. Another bomb, another friend’s nephew, aged about 6, was far enough away not to be hurt, but watched as the body of another small boy landed near him. “He doesn’t talk anymore, just sits on his mother’s lap,” his aunt told me.
In my backyard, tomatoes ripen, and the zucchini (why did I plant it when I’m the only one who likes it, ask my children) sends forth glorious orange blossoms, a promise of harvest. In the front, the roses are overblown and need trimming back. The neighbour’s grape vines spill over the fence, and every Iraqi woman who visits my house asks if she can take some leaves to make dolma with.
A friend has a new baby, gorgeous and plump for a newborn, with deep blue eyes really alert. She stares at me. The parents try out names on us. “Sukeina,” says the dad. No they will call her Zucchini, we say. “Horah.” No. Nonononono. No, we say. They name her Rahma which means Mercy, a beautiful name for a beautiful child.