My friend was on her second latte by the time I arrived at the coffee shop.
"Rough morning?" I joked, as she put down her New York Times.
"Actually, yes. Flashing back to my teens. Not a pleasant experience for anyone," she admitted. "It's this article. Wonder and Worry, As a Syrian Child transforms." She tapped the paper.
"She has a beautiful smile," I noted. "Ah, the enthusiasm of youth. Before life blows out the flame."
"I wish I shared your cynicism," she jibed. "My feelings aren't quite as civilized."
I ordered my cappuccino, and skimmed through the article. "What do you mean? It just looks like the family is having some hard times adjusting to American, I mean Canadian, life. That's certainly understandable." Thanking the server, I took a whipped cream sip. "And kind of a typical immigrant story, no?"
She shook her head. "No. I mean yes, but no. Look, my family came from Greece to the US in the 1950's. We were sponsored, too. But, we were expected to assimilate. Not only to learn English, go to American schools, but learn and practice American customs. My father was asked to change his name. My mother used to walk to the local grocer in Greece every day to buy one tomato, one cucumber, 2 eggs, and one cup of rice to make dinner. Our sponsor's wife led her to the grocery carts, and taught her how to shop weekly for the family instead."
I couldn't help but smile. "Wish we still had Mom and Pop grocery stores."
"When I was 11, my Girl Scout leader told my mother about deodorant. For me. I started using it. At 12, I had to beg my mother to shave my legs, so I wouldn't be teased by the other girls. I worked so hard, we all did, to fit in. To 'pass'."
I winced. "Sounds tough. But that was the era of conformity, Mad Men and all." Another sip. "You know, you've always been you, an individualist, a leader, a free spirit."
"Thanks to the sixties," she said. "A little. But my parents never really changed, or adapted. They brought Greece of the early fifties with them, and stayed in that country, even as modern Greece was mimicking Carnaby Street, Twiggy, and, soon, Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll."
"I've read that. That adult immigrants, especially, cling to their native land, a land which no longer exists except in their memories."
She nodded. "Greece, even during the junta, became very 'European', like Paris sophisticated. But my parents stayed in the past at a time when I wanted to live as an American teen and young adult. My mother had been born in the teens in a Greek enclave in the Ottoman Empire and spent her childhood in Western Turkey. She grew up rebelling against archaic standards, but still under the thumb of her father and oldest brother as refugees when the 1922 Catastrophe relocated them to Greece. She spent my childhood railing against the discrimination she felt as a woman by her family, and the envy of her brothers' lives and freedom. At the same time, she would tell me frightening stories of how young women who got pregnant out of wedlock back in Turkey were 'slaughtered'--her word--by their family in honor killings."
"Oh, my, that's awful." I frowned. "I would have said that's ancient history, but, sadly, our Machiavellian imperialist-globalist strategy has led to the resurgence of abusive fundamentalism in many countries, and even in the Western world."
Another nod. "She told me that women from these strict families would try to escape the restrictions by opting for anal intercourse in their secret relationships, or by having their hymens 'repaired' so they could be 'virgins' on their wedding night. We should be grateful that female circumcision never became a custom among the Christian refugees."
I shook my head, speechless.
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