Guest blogger: My dear friend Gayle
My wish for everyone, that you have a friend like Gayle in your life. Her generosity, kindness, and love are something else. Thank you so much for this my dear friend.
For about 10 years I worked as Director of Student Services and International Student Advisor for Southeastern University in DC. It was a small school of about 1200 students, half of them American and the other half international. When I entered the library on my first day at SEU, I observed a 19 year old male student from Pakistan tutoring a 60+ year old female American student. Through their interaction, I was struck by the unique opportunity we had to develop a significant level of inter-cultural and inter-religious understanding among our students, faculty and staff. That day, I decided that one of my goals at the university would be to make sure that on graduation day, each student not only understood computers, finance and economics, but that they also understood each other and celebrated our differences.
To that end, we went about celebrating just about everything that was important to any contingent of our students. On Songkran, the Thai New Year, we invited the Buddhist monks in to lead a prayer service; we filled “Black History Month” with a variety of activities to recognize the innovations and contributions of African Americans; for Chinese New Year, we all participated in the “Lion Dance,” and so on. The celebrations were held in the lobby in the center of our building so that everyone who was in the building and everyone who entered the building would be encouraged to stop and participate. And food was always served.
Our annual Ramadan iftar was one of our most important traditions. We ran around town collecting various items and dishes to make up our meal – mejdool dates from Costco, Pakistani samosas from “Kabob Palace,” a Yemeni/Ethiopian meat stew with rice from “Al Jazeera,” fresh pita bread, hummus and other dips from the Lebanese “Mediterranean Bakery,” baklava and other sweets from the Iranian “Yaz Bakery” and my version of either Moroccan Harira or Turkish Mercimek soup from “Gayle’s Kitchen.”
We would set up chairs and buffet tables in the lobby. Our students, fasters and non-fasters alike would gather, from so many different countries, representing a “mini-ummah”. I would open the celebration by greeting everyone with “Salaam Alaikum”, a phrase very familiar to me. In the language of my religion, it is similarly “Shalom” (again proving how similar we are). Our main objective was to let our Muslim students know that even though they were not at home, they were in their second home with a school family who greatly respected, appreciated and cared about them.
I received one of the best gifts of my life during my time at SEU. I met ‘My Littlest One’ (officially known as ‘MaDiha Mahmood’). A feisty little force of nature, MaDiha was so different from all of our other students and from just about any other person I’ve ever met on earth (except for one person). Most of our other students stayed within their ‘groups’. Not MaDiha. She was inclusive and wanted to get to know everyone; she didn’t judge anyone. In a place where most people could not agree on anything, everyone equally loved MaDiha!
I have had the opportunity to watch “My Littlest One” grow in to a fabulous woman/daughter/sister/wife/mother/aunt/friend/professional mashAllah. I was there when she married a lovely man named Kashif; at the settlement of their first home; after she gave birth to precious Shehernaz Fatemah, who has now been joined by her adorable twin brothers, Shahan and Jalal.
MaDiha and Kashif ended up in Washington, DC suburbs, and MaDiha quickly went about the business of nesting and creating a comfortable home, establishing herself professionally and developing a network of close friends. Like someone else we love, MaDiha is the center of her circle of very close friends. She is thoughtful and considerate; no matter how busy she is, she takes the time to reach out and keep in touch. Is this sounding more and more like someone else we all love?
When I opened the December 2008 of “Washingtonian” magazine, I was thrilled to find the article, “Pakistan on the Potomac” (http://www.washingtonian.com/articles/people/pakistan-on-the-potomac/). As I devoured the article, I realized two things: just by reading it, you immediately understand the open-hearted, loving soul and spirit of the author; and the author reminded me exactly of MaDiha. I thought to myself, I must meet Salma Hasan Ali, and I must somehow get she and MaDiha together.
I fell in love with Salma the day I read “Pakistan on the Potomac” and meeting her just confirmed what I already felt. I have now appointed myself an honorary member of the Ali family and impose myself on them at every possible opportunity!
Eid Mubarak my fellow worldwide members of the distinguished organization, “Fans of Salma” (F.O.S.)! In a warm and heartfelt way that only she can, through “30 Days”, Salma clearly focuses us on our blessings and encourages us to appreciate things we have taken for granted. For the 335 days that we have to wait until Salma’s next “30 Days” blog, may we all follow Salma’s daily example of consistently sharing our blessings with those who are less fortunate and constantly thinking about and working towards the uplift of our fellow humans.
May the children of the world sleep in peace tonight. May they wake up tomorrow in to arms of loving families who have enough food to eat, clean water to drink and secure and comfortable shelter. May their only worry be studying for a test with a very difficult teacher.
Day 27, Tradition 27: Understanding. Friendship. Love.