When cultures/religion collide? Mon dieu! (3/2005)
French class. That’s where we met. Both of us in a new city, a new country, and perhaps a bit lonely, looking for something to do.
I noticed her the first day, right away. No surprise there – so did every other man in class. Maybe even half the women, too, that’s how bewitching her beauty, how dazzling her smile. That first day we didn’t even talk, except to say to each other (and to the rest of the class), “Je m’appelle so-and-so.”
The second day of class, she called me and asked me for a ride to class. Was she interested in me? Could she possibly be so forward? No, there was a bus strike and she needed a ride to class. I didn’t mind.
A few weeks later, she called me again and asked for another ride. Another bus strike. Again, I didn’t mind.
By the end of our first month in class, we had become study buddies of sorts. We began going to, and returning from, class together regularly. She didn’t have to depend on the unreliable bus, and I got the pleasure of her company. We practiced conjugating verbs as I weaved my way through traffic. I would have preferred to conjugate coucher instead of dormir, but I didn’t tell her anything like that. Besides, something in her mischievous eyes told me that she too had the same lyrics float by in her imagination. Voulez-vous coucher avec moi, ce soir? You betcha. Mais oui.
But I remained a gentleman throughout. We became friends. I learned of her family – her intelligent, industrious father; her kind and warm-hearted mother; her brother, of whom she spoke so highly.
I learned that her family – she – was Hindu. My family – I – am Muslim. Very different. Very, very different. We talked openly about the enormous differences between our two religions.
Over the months, well after the French class had become finis, our friendship grew. Over the years, our friendship expanded and evolved into something more. Yes, love.
The struggle was not so much within ourselves – we loved each other and our love for each other was stronger than our religious beliefs, or our senses of culture and heritage. No, our struggles had to do with our families. If we were to marry, what would we tell our parents? How could we possibly tell them? How could we possibly marry, and effectively shame both sets of our parents? They would have heart attacks just from learning that we were seeing each other.
One particularly clear day, we took a long walk together. We walked through some gardens, along the river, in the fields. A subtle glance between us was all it took. Wordlessly, I had asked her to marry me. Wordlessly, she had said “yes.”
Wordlessly. That’s a good way to describe how we’ve handled our situation these past ten years. Our families still do not know we’re married. We’ve told no one. Not even our parents.
But now my wife is pregnant, and we want our children to know their grandparents, and our parents to know their grandchildren. Is that too much to ask?