By Susan Healy
I am an omnivore. I love food. You’d think I’d want to tell you all about a delicious meal I had.
But meals are often about memories of meeting people and learning things, and this is the theme of my story. It is about meeting a woman at a dinner and having my eyes opened to subtle prejudices I carried.
To give you the context! I had the unexpected pleasure of being invited to an Inter-faith conference in Malaysia. The hosts were a group whose leader was a Muslim, a really perceptive man. Most of those who ran the conference and looked after us were Muslim, and notably a good number of young Muslim women.
I was very taken by the dress of these women, all so bright and colourful. In their dress, they reminded me of butterflies. In person, they proved to be strong and highly educated. The one assigned to look after me was the administrator of Malaysia’s Red Crescent, the equivalent of our Red Cross. In her early thirties, this woman has already worked in the Serbian conflict and several war-torn areas of the Middle East.
“Now, what about that meal?” you are saying.
Well, on the last night of the conference we were taken to a restaurant on a lake. Very romantic! And, of course, we were plied with many dishes of delicious Malaysian food.
I sat opposite a very pretty young woman, with pink hijab and robes. In my mind, I called her “the strawberry.” At a glance, I would have thought she was eighteen but I soon gathered she must be a good bit older than that. She was married and I would say she was very much in love. She told me with great earnestness that, whenever they could, she and her husband prayed together 5 times a day. I was getting the picture of the perfectly demure Muslim wife.
Later, I asked, “What work do you do?”
“I’m a notary,” she said.
“Oh, what does a notary do?”
“When there is a major building project, the notary is responsible for all the contracts.”
As she proceeded to detail what her job involved, my mind was fair goggling, imagining the expertise, diplomacy and toughness you’d need for a job like that. My stereotype of the submissive Muslim woman was being shattered before me.
I can’t tell with certainty one item of food I had that evening but I have never forgotten my meeting with “the strawberry.”