Today, as you may have noticed if you went on the internet at all, is the 10-year anniversary of 9/11. I have written before of what it was like to experience that as an American living in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. I also remember a student at the university in 2002 referring to the “accidents” of 9/11. That made me angry, until I learned that he was simply transliterating Arabic, and that’s how they refer to wrongs done and sins committed. (Which would make for an awfully interesting side-trail…) Also, this week I read a fascinating book called In the Land of Invisible Women I got it from the library and it was great. I want to own it. It’s a memoir by a British-Pakistani secularized Muslim doctor who lives in Saudi Arabia for 2 years. Her description of experiencing 9/11 in Saudi had my jaw literally dropping open, while on public transportation. (Which got me a few looks but not many) I experienced nothing like that in Mauritania or Morocco.
Today, President Obama said to do what we normally would do. I sort of listened, sort of didn’t. While it’s true that many of days include visiting Iraqi friends, normal days do not include henna parties. This one did. It had nothing to do with the date—in fact as far as I know, I was the only one who noticed. We planned this party weeks ago, and today was simply the first day that all of us were free. And yet, I thought, were it not for this date’s horrible events, my Iraqi friends would not be in my country, and I would not have met the others. (Aside: I’m not at all trying to belittle my Iraqi friends’ journeys, which involve terrors and bombs and insurrections and loss of children, in some cases, and of husbands in others. I was just thinking of the way things have turned out)
So we all showed up at Mona’s about 3—Leslie and I from America, W and Mona from Iraq, Bea from Lebanon and Sophie from Egypt. Head coverings came off, and low-cut, form-fitting clothing covered in sequins and dangling gold “coins” appeared. Arab pop music blared from the stereo. Ilsa disappeared with Mona’s daughters into the bedroom where they danced for a while before joining us for hennas.
We decorated each other’s arms, legs, and necklines. We talked and ate and spent time together, beginning new friendships and deepening existing ones. Tonight my hands are beautiful but they stink slightly, as henna does. Mona scattered glitter liberally after each application, and my clothes are full of it but my arms twinkle in the light of the computer screen as I type.
It wasn’t a bad way at all to remember the day’s tragedy, meant to divide but instead, in some weird way, uniting us with people with whom we share neither language nor culture nor religion.