Monday, November 23, 2015

Pie in the Sky, For Some of Us

Months ago, when I was still in Morocco, I had a "pie-in-the-sky" conversation with my friend Fatima. Or at least, I tried to.

"If you could change anything about our town, what would you change?" I asked her. (In hindsight, I'm rather proud of that sentence structure. It took me many moons to learn "if" statements in Darija!)

She gave me a blank look.

I tried to give her an example. "Me, I would build a library. A giant library, in our rural town where kids tell me they don't like reading because there's nothing good to read. I would put in comfy chairs and all my favorite books, and I'd have storytime every single week."

She gave me another blank look. "We can't build a library."

"Well, not right now, we can't," I agreed. "But if I didn't have to worry about time or money or anything else, I would build a library. What would you do?"

It took a while, but I finally coaxed an answer out of her. She didn't part with it lightly, as though she'd only barely let herself think this thought, as though she'd never expected to say it out loud. "I'd have a wedding salon," she said. She told me that she'd learn to do wedding henna and hair and maybe even sell fancy wedding dresses.

"That's a great idea!" I told her.

She shrugged. "It won't happen."

I started pressing her further: why not? Who says? What would it take? Have you heard of microloans for women?

She was already shaking her head, sadly. "You don't understand."

She was right. I grew up in a family, in a town, in a country, where I was taught to dream. I was taught that I should go after my dreams, and that I can do anything if I put my mind to it. If I wanted to start a wedding business, it'd take me a few months to figure out the logistics, but you can bet I would figure them out and I would have my business.

Fatima didn't grow up the way I did. Her family pulled her out of school in high school, because her brothers said she'd learned everything a girl needed to know. She is one of the quickest learners I've ever met, one of the first to recognize someone else's need and go meet it, and she's been raised to think her life begins and ends in the town in which she was born. I loved - I still love - that little town, but my heart grieves for Fatima, and for all the girls whose dreams are so buried that they don't even know how to access them.

This week, Fatima has been on my mind. Because of the attacks in Paris and Mali and Lebanon and elsewhere, because of my current students, because of Thanksgiving. I'm thankful for the many people in my life who encouraged me to dream. I'm thankful for anyone, anywhere, who is using the events of the past few weeks to fuel not violence but passion. For those who see needs in the world and meet them, for those who fight for others' right to dream, for those who speak against the darkness that sometimes seems so all-encompassing.

Fatima told me a few weeks later that I was the first person to ever ask her something like that, and she told me shyly that she couldn't get my question out of her head. As far as I know, she hasn't started a wedding salon. For all I know, she never will. But I'd be willing to bet that when Fatima has a daughter, that daughter will graduate from high school. She might go to college. She might start a wedding salon, or go to med school, or go to the moon.

Whose dreams have you encouraged today?