Thursday, June 21, 2007

A Tale of Two Woman - A Mini Series, Part VI

Late spring 2000, Claudia’s son graduated from pre-school, which was the most adorable celebration. The whole family turned out for the said event. It was hard to believe her baby boy was growing up so quickly and would be heading off to kindergarten in the fall.

Claudia and her family were in the regular routines of life, working, participating in outdoor activities and all the other activities people endure on a daily basis. Although she and Clint seemed to argue more frequently about money and as Clint’s normal routine he would turn to his mother for consolation, who in turn would share the information with her husband, Clint’s dad. Certainly not a good combination to be including Clint’s parents with his woes because his mother only supported his viewpoints, thus creating a false reality, and generated undo stress on his father who worried about everything. His father would offer the soundest advice he could based on the information that was presented before him, however, Claudia for the most part did not burden his parents with their troubles, but did confide in her family her share of woes. Coupled by a group of outsiders, thrusting their opinions, ideas and thoughts from different perspectives based on one-sided knowledge to these two individuals, resulting in the outsiders getting all worked up over these two people’s problems seemed more likea makeshift circus act to Deanna.

From Deanna’s point of view, she pretty much stayed removed from the situation, as it was certainly Clint and Claudia’s responsibility to work their troubles out. However, her mother would call and share her tainted opinion of Clint’s woes to her, which really steamed Deanna. She couldn’t understand why her brother who had been raised in the same household that she had been raised wasn’t following the teaching of their parents, which were take care of your own problems and not burden others with them. She could care less about Clint and Claudia’s moments of dramatic arguing because she knew they always made up like love birds as if nothing had every happened, but she did get upset seeing her parents so distraught.

During the summer of that same year Deanna had met Shaiboune through an online chat-room where they shortly thereafter began corresponding with one another through email. Through their writings Deanna learned that Shaiboune was Sudanese and a Muslim. “OH MY GOD!”, thought Deanna. Where in the world was Sudan? More importantly……a MUSLIM? Deanna was a little troubled by this news because after all this person seemed incredibly wonderful and yet now she knows he’s a MUSLIM. What to do, what to do? Quickly she remembered she hadn’t divulged any personal information, i.e., complete name, phone number, address, etc, so was momentarily feeling relieved, but still he was a MUSLIM. This revelation resonated with Deanna for a while and she ultimately felt conflicted because even though Shaiboune was a Muslim he was seemed like a really nice guy. So Deanna did the only thing she knew to do, she began secretly researching Islam. She was certain she was going to unearth the truth of Islam as the media had been leading her to believe all these years, but once she was able to unearth this truth she wasn’t sure what her next move would be. Prior to beginning her research she did what she always did and went into prayer seeking God’s guidance, protection and understanding of the exploration she was about to embark on.

Surfing the net with dialup modem was painstakingly slow for Deanna and she was eager to learn the truth of Islam because she and Shaiboune’s relationship was evolving into one of close friends. Due to the slowness of internet connection and her need to know more NOW, she went to the bookstore and purchased an English translation of the Quran.

During the free moments of time from work and sleep she spend countless hours reading and comparing the teachings of the Quran to that of the Bible, and was dumbfounded at the similarities. “How could this be possible”, she thought. Never the less she, until the last page of the Quran had been turned she was determined to find the hidden messages that surely laid within the pages.

In the meanwhile she and Shaiboune exchanged countless emails addressing their thoughts, goals, education, heritage, family backgrounds with the exception of Deanna’s caution to reveal ‘too much’ about herself, for after all her research was not quite complete as of yet.

When the last page had been turned and completely read, the comparative pages of the Bible researched, the hand written notes she had diligently dictated had been re-reviewed she concluded she could not find anything “wrong” with Islam. She felt in a strange twisted way, disappointed because for all these years she had been lead to believe Muslims were “bad”. Bewildered with these thoughts eventually turned to anger for being lied to all these years, and disappointment within herself for believing what she was told at face value. How could she have allowed herself once again to be fooled?

Deanna and Shaiboune began exploring and discussing their religious beliefs with an unbelievable since of openness, which Deanna found to be so refreshing, because she was able to have an actual conversation with someone that wasn’t trying to convince her what to believe.

By late fall they had exchanged telephone numbers and began corresponding through email and telephone conversations which Deanna looked forward too on a regular basis. Deanna was also introduced to some of Shaiboune’s other friends during some of their telephone conversations, of which they all seemed genuinely nice. For New Year’s Eve that year, Shaiboune and his friends had invited Deanna to Chicago to celebrate the New Year’s Eve holiday with them. Feeling a bit adventurous and intrigued to meet these newfound friends, she accepted their invitation. She made all the necessary flight arrangements and hotel reservations, as she did not want to feel “obligated” to these people at all. The Friday before New Year’s Eve at 11:00 p.m. Deanna boarded a Southwest airline flight bound to Chicago. She was both thrilled and terrified about this venture, but knew the thrill out-weighed the terror. Deanna and Shaiboune recognized each other immediately at the airport and enthusiastically greeted one another. From the onset they talked nonstop about anything and everything. It was almost like a family reunion of sorts. When Shaiboune took Deanna to her hotel and made sure she got checked in safely, Deanna was greeted by the concierge of the hotel with a bouquet of flowers and a card from Shaiboune’s friend, Nazar, to Deanna welcoming her to Chicago. So began her New Year’s Eve adventure in Chicago.

The following day after Deanna arose she contacted Shaiboune per his instruction to let him know she was up and about. He wasn’t available so she left a voicemail message and began to explore the city herself nearby the hotel. After grabbing some breakfast and exploring parts of the infamous Magnificent Mile she returned to her hotel and called Shaiboune again. This time he answered and agreed to come get her. They spent the day together exploring the city and talking once again non-stop. It was a delightful winter day in the heart of Chicago with the streets dusted with snow. Later in the evening Shaiboune needed to go to work, so his friend Nazar had agreed to take Deanna to dinner and spend the evening with her. They went to the most wonderful Arabic restaurant where Deanna dined on Arabic food for the first time; she was hooked from the moment the first morsel fell upon her lips. Nazar uncertain as to her likings took it upon himself to order a little of everything. They dined on these exquisite delights for hours late into the evening. They had an immediate connection as if kindred spirits had been reunited after so long, yet a knowing that they had never met prior to this time period. After dinner Nazar drove Deanna around the city and pointed out the major highlights of the city, which all seemed so glamorous at night. They shared coffee and dessert together prior to Nazar returning her to her hotel. They agreed she’d call again the next morning after she awoke and either Shaiboune or he would come get her.

The next day when Deanna arose she received a call from the front desk advising her that she had a delivery. Confused, she made her way to the lobby to find another bouquet of flowers with a card from Nazar thanking her for an enjoyable evening. She smelt the flowers and smiled, thinking to herself that she couldn’t remember when she had been treated so nicely. That day, New Year’s Eve, Nazar picked her up and took her to the John G. Shedd Aquarium where they explored the facility, watched an entertaining animal show, and wondered through the aquarium in a lazy fashion, which was so refreshing and relaxing.

Later in the evening Nazar had to go to work, so Shaiboune who was now off work picked up Deanna and took her to dinner. After dinner they continued to drive around the city until late in the evening. As the hour broached near midnight, Shaiboune pulled the car to the side of the road near the lake front of Chicago, opened the sun-roof to expose the night sky and awaited the fire works show that would begin at the strike of midnight over the waterway. At the stroke of midnight, Shaiboune and Deanna looked at one another, hugged and wished each other all the blessings in the world and for all the successes God would give them in 2001. Deanna felt like pinching herself because she couldn’t believe this was real. It was happening to HER. After the crowds had dispersed from the roadways, Shaiboune returned Deanna to her hotel, and again they agreed for Deanna to call in the morning after she awoke.

The next day Shaiboune picked Deanna up and indicated they were going to go to his and Nazar’s home for him to introduce her to some of their friends per her insistence. Deanna not being educated as to their culture but rather only her own was feeling a little left-out that they hadn’t shown her their home, introduced her to their friends and so forth. Nor did she know what they were experiencing internally due to her insistent request. Nonetheless they conceited to her request and made arrangements accordingly. On the way to their home which was in the suburb of Chicago in a town called Justice, they stopped at an Arabic store which at first Deanna was uncertain of its contents because she couldn’t read Arabic, but soon learned when they entered the establishment; it was a jewelry store. She began to panic, why were they going to a jewelry store? Shaiboune and the owner conversed in Arabic then the owner opened a display case and pulled out a tray of incredibly beautiful rings. Once again Deanna began to panic, what was happening, why were they looking at rings? However, being a girl who loved jewelry she couldn’t help but sneak a peek at the splendidly designed pieces. After much ado Shaiboune and Deanna left the jewelry store and got in the car to proceed to Shaiboune and Nazar’s place, but before leaving Shaiboune pulled a box from his pocket, which Deanna had missed while peering at the gems in the store and handed it to her. She was too shocked and shy to say anything. He told her to open the box and upon doing so she saw the most incredible handcrafted sparkled ring. She looked at Shaiboune and said, “I can’t accept this ring”. He told her that she could because after all in his country in was a symbol of appreciation for one’s friendship. He said he respected and appreciated her friendship dearly. Deanna was speechless, bewildered and uncertain as to what to do at that very moment so she just sat starring at nothing in particular. Shaiboune smiled and reassured her that this was only a gift, a mere token of his respect and appreciation for her friendship. They then proceeded to his home.

Upon arriving at his home, they were greeted by Nazar, Nazar’s cousin, Osama, and their close friend Magzoub. They exchanged greetings and pleasantries, and Osama served them tea with baklava. They all sat around the dining table and exchanged stories, shared much laughter and Deanna noticed the time passing far quicker than she had hoped for because in a very short while she would be boarding the plane back to California.

Nazar stated that he needed to go somewhere and asked Deanna to accompany him, which she agreed to do. They drove to what seemed another strip-mall area with a number of Arabic businesses including a restaurant, market, bakery and jewelry store. Nazar took her into the jewelry store, which Deanna was finding very peculiar because she was still stunned at the first jewelry store she visited. Nazar greeted the owner, they exchanged pleasantries in Arabic, and Deanna meandered through the store unsure as to why they were here. They left the store went to the little market, purchased pita bread, fool and a few other items, then to the bakery to purchase fresh bakalava and kunafa. Once in the car, Nazar too, reached into his pocket and pulled out a small jewelry box and presented it to Deanna. Again faced with the uncertainty of what to say, she again said nothing. He opened the box and revealed another stunningly beautiful gold ring. She smiled courteously and said, “I can’t accept this”. Like Shaiboune, Nazar told her she could because in his country it was a sign of appreciation for one’s friendship. He cherished her friendship and was very glad they had met face-to-face and knew they were going to be good friends for many years to come.

They returned to their home, picked up Shaiboune and the three of them were off to finish any last minute sightseeing’s before she had to board her flight.

At the airport the three found themselves walking slower than normal as if to cherish every minute remaining of this visit. Shaiboune had secretly disclosed to Deanna that it was not customary for them to show affection such as hugging with women other than their immediate family members or wives, but he didn’t believe in that tradition. Moreover, he had shared that Nazar still held this old fashioned value and said he teased him in a good way often over their beliefs. The last call for Deanna’s flight had been announced and the three looked at one another with grim sadness and they all vowed to meet again, but were truly uncertain if that would ever occur. Shaiboune approached Deanna and gave her a hug, told her how much he appreciated meeting her, how much he enjoyed this time together, and promised they would meet again soon. Deanna thanked Shaiboune profusely for his incredible hospitality and invited him to visit her anytime he made his way to California. Deanna turned to Nazar to say goodbye to him and found him standing rather closely. Unexpectedly Nazar also hugged Deanna and told her it was his great pleasure to meet her, hoped that God delivered her home safely, and asked her to call when she got home so he knew she made it safely. He, too, looked forward to their meeting again….he then said a word she had never heard before, “inshallah”. Deanna thanked Nazar for his generous hospitality and extended the same invitation she had to Shaiboune. She agreed to call upon her arrival home.

Deanna boarded the plane, sat back and allowed herself to recap the entire weekend in Chicago. Tears filled her eyes for she could not remember ever meeting such generous, caring people that expected nothing from her, but rather showered her with the attention of someone that was ‘special’.

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