Saturday, September 30, 2006

HALIMA AND RACHIDA

I met Halima (left) and Rachida (right) in 2005 when I trained them and other parents at Roosevelt Island’s Public School 217 to be volunteers in the school. I remember thinking at the time how they defied every crummy stereotype about Muslim women. They were funny, open, outspoken, and asked good questions. They shared from personal experiences of coming to the US, learning English, and navigating our culture. Through their talk, I learned that Halima and Rachida shared a strong friendship.

When I returned to PS 217 in the spring of 2006 to lead a workshop about parenting adolescents, Halima and Rachida came into the room together to participate. “Do you want any treats before you sit down?” I asked. There were coffee and sweet rolls on a nearby table. “No thanks,” they replied, “we just had breakfast together.” Something about that response caught my attention, maybe the fact that two friends started the day by sharing a meal. You don’t hear a lot of stories about moms, or anyone, doing that. I pried a bit and found out that Halima and Rachida’s breakfast together is a near-daily event. At 8:30 a.m., they drop off their children at school and head to Trellis, the only sit-down restaurant on Roosevelt Island.

The following month, after the school held a Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast, I pulled Halima and Rachida aside and asked if I could interview them for Creative Times. “Sure,” they said. And this is what they shared:

Halima came to the U.S. in 1995 and Rachida came in 2002. They met here at a children’s birthday party. They are both Moroccan, both Muslim, and both speak French, all commonalities which contributed to the original connection they made at the celebration. They also both shared a focus on education when it came to raising their young ones.

At the party, the two women exchanged information and continued to build their friendship in different ways. Before Rachida knew a lot of English, for example, Halima would do some translation for her at doctor appointments.

“What do you like about each other?” I asked them.

Halima’s reply: “Rachida is funny, sensitive, and she is a good mom.”
Rachida’s reply: “Halima is open-minded, sincere, and confident in the information she shares about parenting.”

Halima and Rachida’s families get together sometimes, but it is their morning breakfasts that are the bedrock of their friendship. “The breakfasts last hours sometimes,” they share, “and the time goes by quickly.”

PS – Halima is now the PTA President at PS 217. Rachida is teaching French at the United Nations International School.
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