Archive for September, 2015

“Take a Picture, It’ll Last Longer

September 30, 2015

A man coughs, a baby gurgles, our plane goes over another bump of turbulence. The flight attendant smiles as she hands me a chocolate ice cream to tide me over until we land. Next to me sits Alsea, the same person I sat next to on that hazy 8am flight out of Seattle nearly a month ago.

“We’ve come full circle.” I say as we dig into our ice cream. It feels like we were getting on the plane to leave just yesterday. And now we’re on our way home.

“Yeah, the whole thing feels like it could have been a dream.” Alsea says.

We get lost in our own thoughts again, the swirl of memories already blending together, but I refuse to let them fade away like a dream. Throughout our trip I posted to Instagram almost every other day what I thought were the best moments I had captured, and (most of the time) I tried to caption them with the best ideas that had been discovered as we travelled. These were the crucial moments of the trip, the moments I didn’t want to forget or let fade away. I hope you enjoy them.

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“Day 1: Toledo, Spain 🇪🇸⛪️⛪️⛪️🇪🇸”

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“Bienvenidos a la ciudad de joyas.”

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“Tour guide voice: “It was during this time that beauty and wealth started being displayed on the outside of buildings. Before that, palaces and castles had high, unadorned exterior walls so that the people outside could not even fathom the riches within. Now, we put the beauty on the outside for all to see.””

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“Hey everybody, look at me! #spainandmorocco2015”

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“Let’s moROCKan ROLL.” #spainandmorocco2015 #yesthatstheatlanticocean #yesiminafrica”

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“🐪🐪🐪 #spainandmorocco2015”

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“Morocco is currently winning the graffiti game. 🌈🎨”

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“New friends and old friends

Moroccan/Americans

What’s the difference?

#accidentalhaikus”

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“There’s just something about touring an old mosque the day after 9/11 and having our Muslim guide point out the various Christin crosses and star-of-Davids placed throughout the ceramic walls. “They symbolize a time when all three religions coexisted in Morocco.”

Kinda feels like a hope that a time of coexistence can happen again.”

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“Moroccan Hospitality (Noun):

When you spend a three hour lunch in your new friends’ house laughing and dancing and eating delicious couscous and as you leave their mother says

“You’re always welcome back here, you’re like my children now.”

Ft. Farah on the phone and us laughing about something Kharis did/said.”

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“Today we got to spend time with two Imams asking questions and coming together as two worlds colliding under one roof. It was sweet harmony.”

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“🇪🇸 I see you Madrid 🇪🇸”

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“Today we found the Madrid City Hall and it’s beautiful.”

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“Already missing Spain, Morocco, and these beautiful faces… I have loved every second of laughter, every sense of wonder, every slightly intimidating adventure, and every proudly miss-pronounced “lunch” and “shukran” with them. 💚❤️💛”

She is Gold

September 27, 2015

“If you had gold would you keep it out in the open? No, you would keep it in a safe.”

“God gives a woman a special beauty that she should only share with her family and her husband…Women are very precious and highly respected. Her beauty should be protected like gold.” The Imam, dressed in a long white jellaba and a long grey beard explains to us through our translator, Imane a figure of a strong independent Muslim woman translating the words of the Imam. She also takes the liberty of adding her own answers, claiming the truth of her religion.stock-footage-portrait-of-happy-muslim-girl

He speaks seated on the side of the room, relaxed and leaning against the window. We are seated in the Imam’s house on cream cushions with blue embroidery that wraps around the perimeter of the room creating an open space where everyone faces each other and tables fit in the center of the room, perfect for the tea and cookies that they serve us in abundance. We sit in near silence, taking turns asking questions. I first listen to the Imam, trying to pick out bits of Darija, and then to Imane’s translation, which I write quickly down in my notebook, not wanting to miss a word that this man says. He is like a window into a religion that our American culture is content to keep curtains drawn over. We slap labels on Muslims without thinking twice, questioning where they come from, or examining their validity.

One of these labels is the one of the oppressed woman. Why is she forced to cover herself? Why is her body bad to show? Why is she ashamed? But these are questions asked about Islam through the lens of our own culture; there is a gap here. So I try to listen again.

When we start to understand why a woman chooses to dress modestly and wear a headscarf, we start to see that it is not because of shame, but lovefeminism-muslim-women-oppression-and-feminism-2 for her body. She is beautiful and her beauty is respected and protected from objectification and cheapening we often experience in the west as we undress our women.
As Christians we often hear the message of “cover up,” the reason given is so the boys don’t experience temptation and lust. Girls are taught to be ashamed of their bodies, vessels designed to lead others astray. I think we have it wrong.

What if the west, too, believed that women are to be respected, cherished, and their beauty preserved like precious gold, not like a corrupt object that must be hidden to protect the eyes of others. No, not for others, but for yourself.

Our western minds can nearly not comprehend why a woman would dress a certain way for her own sake. “She’s doing it for attention.” “You’re going out with him? Show a little cleavage, he’ll love it.” “You look nice, who’s coming over?” How a woman looks is assumed to be a result of others. How women dress is Islam is a reclaiming of their bodies, their beauty, and their gold. Not for others, for themselves.

Painted Beauty

September 25, 2015

IMG_7059I took this photo while we walked through the city of Asilah for the first time. I was blown away by the amount of art work that filled the walls of this small beach town off the coast of Morocco. As we walked through the maze of cobblestone streets, I couldn’t ignore the fact that the walls on either side of us were painted with bright colors like coral, aqua blue, sea foam green, you name it – life was painted all over this city in every color. It was obvious that serious time and patience was put into making this quiet city look uniquely beautiful.
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I especially like the photograph of this man painting because it captures the patience that was put into the artwork everywhere in Asilah. As he waits for customers to buy his handmade art, he works away on original pieces with such a calm, peaceful manner (which pretty much sums up the entire vibe of Asilah). One girl in my group kindly asked him if we could take his picture and at first he steps away from the wall so we can take pictures of his art but we quickly tried to explain we wanted him in the picture as well. He blushes and points to himself with a look of confusion and as we nod and try to use hand gestures to point him back into the frame, he smiles at the camera at first but shortly after he shyly resorts back to his painting. It wasn’t just the art we wanted to capture, it was the memory of his presence we wanted to capture as well. He is what completed the picture, one of many people of Asilah who have painted their identity all over it. The people who have made Asilah such a memorable, beautiful, colorful, rare place that I already miss dearly.

new places, new friends, new stories

September 23, 2015

“I went to college in Texas for two years but just moved back to Morocco. I didn’t have much of a choice not to come back.”

As I sit in the rooftop of a coffee shop in Meknés, Morocco I have just met 19-year-old Souad. She just announced with a wide smile that she had been a college student at the University of Texas of San Antonio for her freshman and sophomore year but was forced to move back to Morocco this summer. Due to the increase of tuition cost on top of paying extra as an international student and her inability to get a job with only a student visa, the expenses added up to be too much. She had to return back home.

Despite her apprehension to return back home to Morocco, she was still able to find the positive aspects of moving back. She was proud to share with me that she had studied American architecture and was now able to share this new knowledge in her Moroccan classes since both countries use different building methods. I found it admirable that Souad chose to find the reasons to rejoice and be positive despite the sudden change of plans she had to make. It makes me wonder if I would have had the same attitude as she did if I were placed in the same situation. Then I wonder if I would’ve even had the courage to move to another country on my own for college in the first place, I’ve struggled with being homesick on this trip that is only 3 weeks…let alone the ten months Souad was away from her family! I don’t think I would’ve lasted in a brand new area on my own for that long and that makes me look up to Souad even more for all she had to endure in the past couple years.

After talking with Souad about her return from the United States, I met 20-year-old Fatma a few days later. In contrast to Souad, Fatma is preparing to move to the States for the first time. She has lived with her mother her whole life but is ready for a new adventure on her own and she too is moving all the way across the world in just a couple months. She was excited to explain to me and my friends that she was surprised to find she got a job with Disney and then even more shocked to find out she was approved for a visa rather quickly. Everything fell into place quite nicely for Fatma and even though she doesn’t know what to expect, she didn’t seem all that nervous talking to us about her big move across the world.

Fatma speaks English fluently and for only have lived in Morocco her entire life, I was curious how she learned conversational English so well. When I asked she responded with pink cheeks and said, “You are going to laugh if I tell you. You won’t believe this but I learned English from watching Hannah Montana.”

Of course we all laughed out of surprise but I was also laughing out of pure amazement. It is crazy to think that a Disney Channel show is what taught her English so well and the fact that she had the discipline and drive to learn it before she even started taking English classes in school is quite remarkable.IMG_7045

I have had the privilege of meeting two Moroccan girls just about the same age as me with two different stories. Two stories that reflect courageous independence and
spirits. I am blown away by the courage that both these girls have. I don’t think I would’ve been brave enough to make such a big move on my own at such a young age (even though I wish I could say I could). I have a deep admiration for both these girls and even though we come from opposite sides of the world, I look up to them for their willingness to take risks and live fearlessly; something I hope to fully attain one day.

Learning to be dependent

September 23, 2015

“Come on girls, over here!” Yells my new Moroccan friend, Fatma, to me and my four other American friends as we wander in the opposite direction like we are a pack of lost sheep. Fatma is on a mission to get us a taxi back to the hotel from her house which is located at the opposite side of Meknés. We, on the other hand, have no idea where we are and she has to scramble us together before we take the treacherous risk of crossing the busy street that involves a game of dodging cars in every direction, feeling like we are risking our lives with every step. It always feels like a miracle to be alive every time I manage to cross the street without being hit; Moroccan drivers dont stop for anyone!

Thank God for Fatma. We would be beyond lost without her guidance through the busy city of Meknés. Besides the fact that she knows her way around so well, she also walks like the strong, independent woman she is. She defies all stereotypes that we, Americans, have been led to believe for so long. She is not the silenced Muslim woman. At only 20-years-old Fatma walks with her shoulders held high, head up, illuminating a type of confidence that I wish I had while walking through Morocco. The few men who yell out to her with cat calls and whistles are non existent in her eyes; she is not phased. Fatma owns these streets. She is not afraid of anything and as much as I try to imitate her attitude on the streets, her story is not my own. I am victim to unwanted attention as a tourist. And I let it bother me. I have let this new cultural “norm” invade my thoughts; it has stripped me of my independence

We deal with constant stares, eyes always on us, feeling like we are being watched at every move like some sort of alien species. We might as well have “American” painted across our foreheads.

Yes, I get we are a large group of twelve American girls and we must be a sight to see parading through the streets of Morocco, laughing, joking, and sometimes talking a little too loud, but I can’t help but feeling like some type of prey to the eyes of Moroccan men lined up in chairs outside coffee shops, restaurants, shops, you name it. And yes it is the culture here, and I’m sure most of them don’t mean any harm by it but it’s such a different type of culture than what I am used to. I can’t casually walk outside our hotel to grab a juice down the block without being hollered at by men along the street, “hi beautiful!” or “hola chica” – the noise of multiple languages thrown out with hopes that one phrase will register for us. Due to this, I feel like I have somewhat lost a part of my independence while being in Morocco. I feel like I have been confined to staying in groups with other women to avoid any discomfort or fear of looking vulnerable. It’s a strange concept to me, to not feel confident or safe enough to make an outing on your own as a woman – something I am so used to doing back home. My independence is something I have taken for granted in the States but something I truly miss.IMG_7273

While I may have lost some independence, I have also gained a greater sense of dependence while in Morocco. We are from a culture that thrives off of being independent and “making it on your own”. Somehow we rejoice in the fact that if someone can become successful on their own terms and own free will then they have achieved the ultimate goal. Community seems to be lost more often than not in the busyness, individualistic way of life in the United States. Maybe that’s why I am feeling a lack of independence; I’m only being immersed in a something that feels so foreign but in reality this is is exactly what I needed. To learn how to live in constant community like they do in Morocco. The women are seen walking in pairs but in reality they are still strong, independent women; they just choose to look out for each other and that’s what I have learned on this trip. I have learned how to be dependent on the other eleven girls along with me on this journey. We have experienced the highs and lows of being in another culture together like homesickness (or food sickness), succeeding (or failing) when trying to speak another language, and learning the basic social norms of a different culture. Despite how uncomfortable I may find myself at times, the moIMG_7236re I realize we weren’t meant to do life alone and I have eleven sisters with me through it all. We were meant to share in the ups and downs of all parts of life together. That’s how they do life in Morocco and I have been blessed to experience it first hand with eleven girls I now call great friends who conquered three weeks living and learning in Spain and Morocco together. Even when we stick out of the crowd and inevitably draw attention to ourselves, I will choose to believe we stick out but like a bunch of wildflowers, crazy but beautiful in each of our unique ways.

The Queen of henna.

September 19, 2015

When asked to share my favorite picture from the trip, I kept coming back to this one. It seems to embody everything I’ve learned, processed, and deeply felt. The light coming through the window symbolizes the light being shed on not only the religion of Islam, but on Muslim women. The Islamic shrine may be in the center of the picture but my eyes go straight to her. Her blue hijab perfectly pairs with the eccentric walls. A single moment frozen in time. If this picture were passed around the Internet, what comments would appear? Would people assume she’s oppressed and given no rights? A picture says a thousand words, but those words are indicative of the person and the heart that speaks them. What would a Westerner think of this image? What would they assume about this woman who wears a hijab?

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What this image doesn’t capture is the tea and laughter being shared throughout the room with my new Moroccan friends. It doesn’t show the “selfies” being taken, the cookies being shared, or the conversations being had. It also doesn’t capture the beauty of this woman’s story. She is the QUEEN of henna; the master of her craft. She rules with incomparable grace and everlasting elegance. Her focus is fierce and her imagination is even wilder. Each detail is carefully placed and delivered meticulously. All of the princesses in her kingdom look up to her with respect. She is beautiful and strong, intelligent and independent. She has the freedom of choice, the freedom to dream, the freedom to dance. She makes life more beautiful and highlights the goodness in each person she comes across. She made THIS princess feel known. The design she placed on my body fit my personality and highlighted the deepest most precious pockets of my soul. Each swirl is filled with secrets of my past and hopes for my future. Though little words were ever actually exchanged, we understood each other. A little piece of her God given gift remains on my hands that go out in the world; a world that seems a bit smaller now. Some experiences, no matter how short or how seemingly insignificant, remain in our hearts forever. And some people inspire us without even trying.

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The Road Less Traveled By

September 19, 2015

“It tasted good. It was actually unfortunate that a perfectly good slurpy had gone to waste.” Suoad, a twenty-year-old Moroccan student from Meknes, laughed about her two-year experience at UTSA in the States, casually flipping her waist long black mermaid hair into a high ponytail. She told me about how an ignorant white male peer had come up to her on the Texan campus and poured a full cup of sticky cherry flavored slurpy onto her head in response to her being Muslim. She shrugged her shoulders unapologetically; “I confronted him about it later.” She had run after the boy and inquired about his unaccounted for actions, as she had never before seen him on the premises of the university. The boy, she said, did not understand my faith or me. I confronted him and bore my humanity to him in careful, measured words. I did not let anger cloud an opportunity for me to help him overcome his objectified interpretation of my identity. And then what? I felt embarrassment for my nation and those instances of naiveté, and I began apologizing profusely on the behalf of those stuck in the cultural paradigm of the revered hegemonic west. Suoad shook her head vehemently and brushed off my indirect attempt at reconciliation and laughed, “La, la, la. You see, after we talked, he looked me in the eye and apologized.”image1

Later Suoad invited me into her Moroccan abode and I nestled myself between pillows on the long couch that wrapped around the living room in a continuous serpentine manner, curving around the corners of the walls like arms extended to anybody who enters the house through the foyer. Her mother had stayed home from work to cook us couscous with lamb, filling a dish reserved for holidays that filled up more than half the table. I glanced around for a plate I could serve myself with, then quickly amended my attempts at enacting the comfortable individual manner of eating I was used to at home. Everyone had picked up a spoon and started digging into the heaping communal plate of food reflexively, sighing around mouthfuls of zucchini, potato, carrot, and cabbage. I followed suit and scooped up a piping hot mouthful and endured the burn of the steam in absolute relish as I moved the saturated spices that had soaked into the individual grains of couscous around with my tongue. “Haadi zien bzzaf! Shukran!” I discreetly had propped my notebook under the table and stumbled over what little Darijan I had written down hoping the sentence made syntactic sense. “Zuina?” I gestured uncertainly to the entire presentation of the food with all its colors and organically grown vegetables and fruits on display. Suoad’s mother laughed and nodded at my fragmented attempt to vocalize my overwhelming gratitude. She spoke and Suoad translated, “You are always welcome here in my home.”

What is reconciliation? I ask myself. More than the stark dichotomy between Eastern and Western cultures is the generalizations imposed on the “other” that is written on the walls of our immediate paradigm. I knew the boy that tried to shame Suoad too well, and yet there is something astounding when people choose to cross transnational lines and seek out the alternative stories and humanity of a single individual whom we label as ‘foreign.’ Sitting down at a table so far away from my home back in Washington and immediately made to feel as an adopted sister and daughter has flooded me with a humility so vast and all-encompassing as to bring kings to their knees. I cannot help but be stripped of all the premonitions I might have held about Islam and Eastern culture and exist naked and overwhelmed by the encounter that demands my undivided emotional presence. I can no longer turn away for fear of discomfort or the power to destabilize the core of my identity for I was never created to remain static. My encounter with Suoad and her family ushered in the epiphany that I alone do not possess God or truth. The unadulterated love that had been showered upon me, in juxtaposition with the story Suoad dictated to me, has invigorated my desire to be ceaseless in the endless pursuit of understanding other peoples to substitute judgment. Rather, I opt to take the road less traveled by and give willingly the fruits of my labor to those who remain trapped within their native cultures in the hope that they too might join me on this mind-rending journey.

More Hope, Less Pity

September 19, 2015

tumblr_mpuuz0RLWj1qegpc2o1_1280She wore a long floral dress the color of forget-me-nots against deep sienna skin. In the midst of a tempest where waves upon waves of over 194 boys crashed on the shores of my own personal space, she stood out as the slender shade of periwinkle stranded on her own island in the middle of the orphanage’s box-like courtyard. I began to part the waters, children who have not been touched for the greater portion of their fifteen years of life falling from my body like raindrops as they desperately offered up their names, inscribing them on crumpled slips of paper they tried to push into my skin in the wild hope that the memory of their existence would permanently graft itself on the surface of my heart.

Wading to the center with my growing fan base, I finally reached her.

“Ana smeetik Hannah.” I pointed to myself enthusiastically to compromise my poor pronunciation of the only sure statement I had gotten down in Darija. Eyes the color of dark chocolate sparkled in eager understanding as her head nodded vigorously, hands articulating the significance of her identity as she enunciated phonetically “Besba.” It was the only exchange needed to win over her trust. She carried my name on her tongue like the greatest gift bestowed upon her and slipped her arm around my waist in easy friendship. She attempted to nestle her head in the crook of my neck despite the onslaught of boyish jibes and grubby fingers trying to renounce the bond already established. I embraced the rush of maternal protector for the moment, making sure to smile and continue to acknowledge the other faces competing for my attention. “She’s crazy” a boy said in accented English, elbowing Besba aside and raising the back of his hand as though to threaten slapping the girls cheek. Her hand shot to her face to counter the anticipated attack and she scowled in accustomed disdain as she walked a distance away. “Hey, uh-uh,” I retorted, waggling my index finger with all the authoritative adult disapproval I could muster. The culprit dashed off and I turned hastily to seek out the small fifteen-year-old girl only to find her a short distance away waiting for me. Time moved quickly and soon enough I was integrated into the hustle and bustle of the pack, kids weaving in and out of our small hair braiding party lead by Besba with soccer balls and hula hoops flying in every direction while older boys flaunted muscles, parading like peacocks along walls they would intermittently scale just to prove they could.

There was a visceral need felt in every fiber of these kids, an inherent hunger to be remembered that reverberated off the kinetic joy, screams, and laughter experienced throughout the vicinity. It gave them solidarity despite the occasions of aggression and violence that grew in part out of the sadness behind their eyes. A boy caught a wisp of my hair that had blown out of my fishtailed ginger hair and placed it gently behind my ear. I watched as his face held only an innocent nostalgic fascination that drove him to make the reflexive shy caress. So many were here and excited to see me, to touch me, hug me, kiss me on the cheeks. In the moment, it occurred to me that pity was not good enough an emotion to leave them with. Pity was nothing but denying them a right to achieve impossible things by their own merit. It was rejecting their individuality. I caught the guilt building up within that was demanding me to answer: how ethical is it to enter a space like this and then leave? How could I justify only two hours? I wasn’t the white savior. I wasn’t here to take any of them away. And yet there has to be something good in the swift relationships built in the time we were given. There has to be something in choosing to come in spite of time constraints, in spite of the pangs of shame, or else why would anyone visit to begin with? Rebuking the myths of poverty, I admit that yes, there is part of the experience that was concerned with feeling bad. And yet, the passion, the books and notebooks propped on laps in studious ambition, the funds put into the institution that permits the majority to attend private school, and the occasional visits by strangers who choose to volunteer to impart the love of families they may not have been able to have, fights to contradict the notion that these kids are somehow tainted and unable to escape a life of disadvantage.

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I openly welcome the rush of humility gained from this encounter, mandating an emotional presence that is both exhausting to endure while seeking to edify and invoke a deep-set compassion at the core of me. However, at the same time, I will never allow myself to be the objective of every learning experience or relationship I engage with. There is so much more to the world than my own limited perceptions and so I continue to pray for Besba and the kids in Morocco whose futures are overly ripe with potential and hope.

Being naked is good for you.

September 18, 2015

I entered the hamam with a racing heart and self-conscious posture. As we all undressed I was filled with major skepticism and quickly averted my eyes. Scrubber and bucket in hand, I could no longer cover myself. I was naked. I entered the blue tiled room to find women bathing at every corner. I walked to the spout that would begin this questionable process. Be the baby. Be the baby. Be the baby. These words uttered from my lips were paired with nervous giggles. The middle aged Moroccan woman began scrubbing my body with full force. The room echoed and laughter filled every corner of the space. My own laughter bounced around the steam filled room and seemed to hit me in the face. Why am I embarrassed? I began to relax as I realized how normal this was for the woman scrubbing me down. She carried an elegance about her; confidence that seemed unable to be broken. Negative thoughts fell away like the dead skin on my body. My posture changed as I began to relax. This is no longer “weird”.

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 My mind wandered to when I was a little girl. I used to run around the house with nothing but a cape on, screaming, “I’m NAKED girl!” It was my super power. I proclaimed that title with boldness and authority. I was unashamed and unapologetic. At what point did I begin to believe my hips were a too wide? My shoulders were too prominent? My torso was too short? My nose was too big? When did that free spirited little girl begin to believe she wasn’t beautiful?

“There’s a mirror over here if you want to look at yourself” our friend Fatema casually told us. She had been coming to this hamam ever since she was little. She graciously led the way. I looked in the mirror and loved every part of my body for the first time in a long time. I raised my arms in celebration and giggled yet again. But this time I giggled out of relief. I felt undeniably free.

Reconciliation and a simple cup of tea.

September 18, 2015

I slipped off my sandals and stepped onto the Moroccan styled carpet. We entered the Imam’s house in unequivocal silence. The blue and yellow floral couch stood high enough that my toes barely reached the ground. I made eye contact with the Muslim man sitting across the room from me. He was an Imam; a religious leader in the Islamic faith. He smiled and the wrinkles surrounding his eyes became more prominent. He wore a long white juba that contrasted his dark skin. I imagined his long grey beard withholding all of the wisdom he has obtained over the years. I leaned in so as to hear the translator, eager to hear what he will say.

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 “This is the most precious time. Muslims and Non-Muslims. You are all here sitting to be loved by God”. A chorus of mumbled affirmations sung throughout the room. Peace washed over me like a calm, cool breeze at the hottest point of the day. Immediately the importance of this exchange dawned on me. This is a rare opportunity: two of the biggest religions in the world in one room discussing our faith.

 “Do you think Christians, Jews and Muslims can coexist?” we asked. “Peace is possible. We don’t push our religion on others. We hope they will come to believe what we believe, but we don’t hate Christians”. A question was later brought up about ISIS. “We’re not sure what they are doing. The only thing Islamic about them is their name. Bad can overcome anyone. But we don’t identify with them in any way”. More cookies were passed around the table. I looked around the room to fourteen curious and eager pairs of eyes. I’ve shared endless conversations about reconciliation with these women. In that moment I knew we were supposed to be there. Asking questions. Seeking. Being open. Being loved.

 How do you do reconciliation? I think it looks something like sitting in a room as a group of Christian women with male Islamic leaders and discussing and acknowledging the differences in our beliefs about God, but then sharing a pot of tea together.