Death and Marriage

Don't worry, this post isn't a by-product of one of my existential crises - which have been much less frequent, ironically and thankfully, since moving to Jerusalem.  It's about the private English "tutoring" I've been doing for a few weeks now.  I basically get paid to become friends with this fabulous Muslim woman and ask all the questions I've ever wanted to know answers to while she practices her English.  The awesomeness of it makes up for the crap-ness of the overbearing, bossy unnamed dude I had to deal with last semester :)

Lama, mid 30's, is  a  doctor specializing in high level tissue something or 'nother, too complicated for my brain's limited understanding of the medical field to remember.  In June she is marrying a Palestinian refugee (also a doctor) who has been living in England for the past 20 or so years.  She is trying to practice English in the hopes of passing a language proficiency test in the UK that will allow her to practice medicine there.  Each session I come away freshly amazed at her work ethic, determination, kind heart, and open mindedness.  My favorite story so far is about how she got into medical school.  Medical school here starts at the bachelor level and so they study in medical school for 7 years before moving on to residency work and all that jazz.  Initially she got into the science college, but not the medical school.  She told me that she took all the classes that first year medical school students take with the intent to do better than any of them and make an appointment with the Dean to show him her scores and ask to be let into the Medical school.  Actually, she said it to me with a little more force than that "I told him that I had good enough grades to be in the medical school and that he couldn't deny my dreams of becoming a doctor".  And doctor she is.   

For some reason lately we have been talking a lot about death and marriage customs in the Middle East.  Did you know that when someone dies in Palestinian culture the tradition is to have something akin to a wake for 3 days where people visit the home and offer condolences, but only black coffee and dates are served?  It's sometimes hard to tell what customs are Palestinian, Arab, Muslim or some combination of the three.  Lama grew up in Dubai so we talk a lot about the differences between Gulf Arabs and Levant Arabs.  A lot of money and more conservative traditions are what we have covered so far.  Getting a sense for the rainbow of Islam that is practiced throughout the Middle East has been the most illuminating thing for me actually.  The "Arab World" is just as diverse as America - think Seattle Vs. Georgia, Texas Vs. Maine.  Really. 

On numerous occasions Lama has expressed ideals of universal respect, social responsibility, unconditional kindness, tolerance, hard work, and out and out goodness to me.  We have talked about the role of travel and learning to eliminating prejudice,  the traditions of culture vs. the actual doctrine of Islam, the beneficence of God towards all of his children, and the importance of true spiritual conversion and living charity over seemingly good acts done without pure intent.  I wish I could take her home with me, hitting junior high schools, Kiwanis Clubs, churches, and town hall meetings all the way back to Utah.  I feel strongly that it's important to grow our understanding of Islam to one that incorporates all kinds of Muslims - not just the bad ones.

The first day we met she told me that it had been suggested to her that if she took off her head scarf she could fit in better when she moved to England.  She talked about how she chose to wear it as a symbol of her commitment to God and that she wouldn't take it off to 'fit in'.  She went on to talk about how it would be good for people to see her wear it and get to know her outside the stereotype of scarved Muslim women. "When people get to know me, they will not see a head scarf, they will just see me."  It made me so happy to think of independent, kind, wise, devout, thoughtful Lama busting around the world shattering garbage stereotypes.                


  1. Brooke. You need to write a book. You have a special way of writing and making people feel like they are right there with you.

  2. wow! what an amazing individual. Thank you for sharing this with me. I sometimes find myself being closed minded on somethings. Brooke I love reading about all the things you are learning about out there in Jerusalem! you are so Lucky!

  3. Oh my GOSH Brooke - what a wonderful post.

    When you had first written about this woman, I was already intrigued, and now I am even more so. She sounds amazing, and I love your take on your time together.