“Sonia! Please let me know when I can invite them? I don’t like eating at others’ place and never asking them over.” I heard my husband badgering me for the tenth time.
“Adnan! Not this week. I’m very busy. I have back to back nights and my brain is fried. I’m taking Minha for her speech evaluation and Raahim has his vaccination. Can we talk about this later?”
“Later when? After Ramadan? We need to invite them over for an Iftar or Suhoor, whatever works for you. Ahmed is flexible and so is his wife”.
“God! Stop annoying me. I’ll tell you soon. Please don’t put me under so much societal pressure. If feeding them at our place is the punishment for eating at theirs, then I’ll gladly decline all future invites”.
“It’s not a punishment. It’s an exchange of courtesy. They’re our friends and have young kids like us. His wife works too. We have to make them feel like they mean something too”.
“Okay, okay! I’ll let you know. Right now I just want to not think about an Iftar and a dinner. Can you respect that?”
I could hear him muttering angrily but I tuned him out.
For someone like me who hates mingling, especially with new people, asking people over is a lot of work. Not physical. It’s a lot of emotional work. For me to find common ground with people is hard. For me to engage in by-the-way conversations is hard. I was conditioned to be extroverted due to my inherent social anxiety and so I ended up being a cross between a shy woman and a blunt girl. While my husband finds this endearing, I find it embarrassing.
Visiting people is, if possible, even more work. I hate being in an environment where I don’t know where the bathroom is or where to find a nice, quiet corner. Even when with guests at home I require frequent mental breaks to be myself. It’s hard work being me.
And now Adnan wants me to ask someone over for Iftar and dinner. And ask that woman by myself to look hospitable? He expects too much from me.
Okay I’ll get to it when I’ll get to it.
The woman in question is actually a software engineer. Both she and her husband are Adnan’s colleagues. They have two little girls, who are adorable by the way. She is lovely. But I just don’t like having people over and going to so much trouble of cooking and cleaning. Especially in Ramadan.
As I was contemplating how and when to get enough energy to decide upon a date, Haifa called.
“Sonia! I was talking to Adnan and he invited us to Iftar at your place on Saturday. He said you’re not working this weekend”.
I secretly wanna rage into Adnan’s office and scream at him for making this executive decision.
“Oh yeah! Yeah! Hi! Yeah! Sure!”
“Okay! I just wanted to say thanks for thinking of us. Are you free this afternoon? May be I can call you again and chat some more”
Ya Allah! What does she wanna chat about?
“Yeah! Absolutely! Why not? Let’s see. I’m may be available from 4:00-4:30 in the afternoon. Works for you?”
“Yup. Talk to you later”.
Phone rings at 4:00 PM. I hate to admit it but I was waiting for her call. She was absolutely charming earlier. There is a down-to-earth quality about her that’s hard to miss and very personable.
“Salam Sonia! Are you free? Can we chat?”
“Yeah! What’s up?”
“Listen! I don’t want to impose. So I’m thinking that we should split the menu.”
“No way! It’s our dinner for you. I’m a good cook and fast too. I’ll start early. It’s totally okay”.
“I know you’ll be okay. I just want it to be a combined affair. Burdening our Iftar on one person isn’t ethical. We are all fasting. We will all contribute in the cooking and the serving”.
“Haifa! You’re embarrassing me. Really I can do it”.
“I’m gonna make pakoray, dahi baray and cholay. I have frozen kababs. I’ll bring those over. And I’ll bring the soda. Sounds good?”
“Really I don’t know what to say. Thanks. I think that’s enough for Iftar. I’ll get dinner then. Do you guys like biryani?”
“Like it? We love it. I’ll see you Saturday”.
I was mesmerized by this woman’s candidness and candor. I wanted to know her more, may be even make friends with her.
I told Adnan in the evening that I thought Haifa and I can be friends.
Needless to say, my husband is always happy when I make friends with his friends’ wives.
Haifa texted me the next morning and showed me the grocery items that she had gotten for our party. I don’t know what came over me and my introversion but I texted back,
“If you guys are available in the morning, why don’t you come over early and let’s make Iftar together?”
“Are you sure?”
“We’ll be there”.
Haifa came with her husband and her daughters on Saturday. We started setting up the kitchen to start food prep. Pakistan was playing cricket against South Africa so of course our husbands were no use. My kids were introduced to her kids. Her oldest was 4, youngest eight months. The kids got busy soon after. We left them with their fathers and got to work.
Can I say this was one of the nicest experiences of cooking that I’ve had in my life? I shared more about my life with this woman over making biryani than I had with anyone recently. We talked and laughed and exchanged tips about parenting, cooking, work with kids. I had never thought that this was the experience that I had in store for me.
Finally, when it was time for Iftar, we set the table, ate together and said Maghreb together. I’ve never felt more connected to my community than I did in that moment. A couple was in my home purely to have a good time over a Roza. How did this happen?
I know how this happened. Many years later I could finally see how it happened.
A woman initiated a sisterhood. She initiated it despite sensing reluctance. She didn’t take my reluctance personally. She wanted to make friends with me and wouldn’t stop at my hesitation at accepting her offer to cook for me at a dinner that I was organizing. She plowed through the walls of my introversion through sheer sisterhood and love. She showed me she cared by being there for me. She showed me I mattered by sharing in my work. She put herself out there even though she didn’t know me. Her principle was simple. “Everyone eats. Everyone cooks”. And I benefitted the most from this. I enjoyed a lovely Iftar, a delicious dinner, great company, in the comfort of my home without feeling over burdened under the asks of culture, norms and pseudo-hospitality. I was hospitable. But not because my husband forced me or because I wanted to make him happy but truly because I wanted to welcome Haifa and her family and do things for them.
Why is our culture one of reserve? Why is it of apprehension at forming new friendships? Why don’t we establish instant connections? There are so many friendships around us, waiting for one of us to say,
“Hey sister! May be cook together? Or spend the afternoon together? Or go shopping together? Or just hang out together?”
This opening sentence is usually all that’s waiting to happen. This Ramadan, let’s promote the culture of community by being open and accepting.