“Do you like jazz?” Amina asks me one day during women’s hours at the gym. I know Amina because she’s in my Advanced Conversation class at Oasis. She is kind and easy to talk to; once when our car was in the shop she gave me a ride home after class. Her car was one of the nicest I’d ever been in.
I do like jazz, I tell her. “There’s a jazz concert tonight at the CCF,” she tells me. “Would you like to go? I can pick you up at a little before 9.”
The Centre Culturel Français—the French Cultural Center—is located on the grounds of the French Embassy. Here your children can take ballet or karate classes, watch French movies, borrow French books. There are concerts and theater shows, and a small art gallery.
We go to the concert and we both enjoy it. The jazz quartet is lively and obviously enjoy themselves. It’s the drummer’s first concert in Africa, the saxophonist tells the audience. Amina has brought a camera, and afterwards has her picture taken with 2 of the band members, for a good memory. “Quelle gloire!” jokes one. (What glory!)
Afterwards, we sit in the small garden café and sip cokes and talk. I find out that she was married at 18 to her cousin, a man she did not know beforehand. “It is forbidden in our religion—a girl is supposed to be able to say no,” she says. “But in our culture they say, ‘What does she know?’ We do not marry for love.” She blinks, hard. “We have many problems, my husband and me,” she tells me. She is hungry to hear of how Donn and I met, how we fell in love.
She and her husband have a small daughter. They live in a desert town once considered part of Western Sahara but now considered part of Morocco. “I have no friends there,” she tells me. “My…how do you say it? Husband’s sister?…is jealous of me. If I go to the dentist she tells everyone I am pregnant. Why would she do that?” Surrounded by petty gossip and jealousies, unable to really talk to a husband who is often traveling, she sits in the cool garden and mourns her fate. “I was only a teenager, so young, I knew nothing before we were married.” She has enjoyed her 3 months with her family in Nouakchott but her days are numbered—she must return just after Christmas. “Please, could you come visit me there?” she begs. The words spill out of her. I imagine that it is not easy to talk of her problems to her family; she is desperate for a confidante. Throughout the conversation, she blinks back tears.
It is nearly midnight; we leave our bottles on the table and walk back out to her beautiful new car. We drive home; she drops me off.
I return to my family; to my husband of 16 years whom I did marry for love and who still loves me, even more now than he did back in 1990 when we promised each other to be together forever. I return to my 3 sleeping children; Elliot with his wild curls and mischievous brown eyes, his love of medieval times and his sense of humour; Ilsa with long golden brown hair, artistic and creative, always with her nose in a book and a funny turn of phrase; Abel with his strawberry-blonde surfer’s shaggy hair, his tender deep blue eyes, his sweetness that always seeks to build others up, his bizarre sense of humour that keeps him acting out Looney Tunes and Calvin and Hobbes.
I feel so rich that I am almost embarrassed with it. Tears sting my eyes.
It’s easy at this time of year to feel discontent. I’ve been struggling with that myself; looking at pictures online of Christmas decorations in beautiful modern houses, snow outside. This year instead of our normal tiny sort-of-pine charlie-brown-style tree, I want a big one—not even fresh, just a big artificial one so we can hang all our ornaments. But that night I see clearly; trees and tinsel, snow and trimmings are so infinitesimal as to not even be worthy to be called the frosting on the cake.
I am so rich that all the world should envy me.