With a sad heart, I’ve realized Mohammed closed his account. Our conversations are over and I have this vague, incomplete feeling like something is now missing from my life.
I first met Mohammed in a Google Plus Hangout. With 10 people, our group video chat room was full. Most of us were Americans and Mohammed’s video was muted. He wasn’t talking, nor was he joining in the text chat on the side of the room. After an hour or two, I’d forgotten he was even “in” the room. As a non-Muslim American, I’ll admit there’s a lot of bias, suspicion and general doubt that involves reading about or interacting with anyone named Mohammed that lives anywhere in the Middle East.
I’m not sure how or why we managed to get to this topic, but I mentioned an article I’d read about a teenage boy in Saudi Arabia who’s father had 4 wives. He’d done an “Ask me anything” thread and I was absolutely fascinated at this glimpse into a completely foreign life. With the introduction of this topic Mohammed came alive, first in the text chat, next by speaking and finally, by coming on camera and fully debating with us. We learned he was from the Gaza Strip and Palestinian. A product of a harsh, war torn life he was nonetheless very respectful of us, listened and debated in the true spirit of a real dialogue.
I. Was. Fascinated.
I love people. I find them intriguing. My main thrill with Google Plus Hangouts is the ability to connect with so many diverse, interesting people. They all have a story to tell, hopes, dreams, fears, worries, families and friends, pains and troubles. I have so many interesting “pen pals” and “conversation partners” from around the world. I love listening to them and finding out what makes them tick. I like having my own view of the world challenged, I absolutely love it when someone presents an opposing view point and persuades me to their point of view.
Mohammed and I kept talking. He didn’t work Fridays and I found myself looking forward to my next Thursday night. As the evening drew late for me, the sun would be rising for him. We’ve spent long hours debating politics, religion, families, society. I saw the peace he found in his religion. It truly gave him what he wanted and needed from life and I can appreciate that about him. He lived in a mosque. In his late 20’s he and his brother were building a house and it needed to be finished before he could begin looking for a wife. The only women he interacted with were his family members, but he talked to his mother every day and had a deep respect for her. You could see it in his eyes, the healthy respect he had for all his female relatives. He told me I reminded him of his favorite sister – she too had green eyes and he said I even looked like her.
He was intrigued by American culture. His only real information was what he saw in movies and he had no real concept of the average, daily American life. At first, he felt that we had no values. As we talked, he began to see that we did have a value system, it was just rooted in a very different core value. Everything in his life came back to submitting to the will of Allah. Everything was about obedience – from how you lived, to where you worked, to what you ate and when you slept. I still cannot fathom an entire lifestyle built on this core value. As an American, I value independence. I’ve been taught from an early age to find my own way, educate myself and make decisions based on my own thought process.
We come from opposite ends of the world, opposite ends of culture, opposite ends of religion. And yet, we had so very much in common. We both have families we love, we’ve both been misunderstood, we both just get through each day the best way we know how. He told me stories of childhood in a strict Muslim community, from having trouble staying up late for the last prayer of the day to time spent with his sisters. I learned about his pride in his community, the things he ate and his surprise at our perceptions of where he lived. He learned all about us too. Our frustrations at how deeply our government has let us down, how much many of us don’t support war in the Middle East (although we do support our troops!), how grounded I am as a Mom and how connected my family is to each other – that we also have family values here.
He never said good bye. I don’t know why he’s closed his account. Perhaps his house is finished and this chapter of life is over. Or maybe these conversations with a foreign woman were taboo. I’ll never really know, but my friend Mohammed, I shall miss you.