We have each embraced education as a path toward independence, community service, and self-knowledge, yet our life stories beyond that shared career path have varied widely.
Lilia, 48 years old, on the far right, was born in Tunisia and immigrated to the U.S after receiving a scholarship to the University of Missouri at age 18.
Hassnae, age 32, lives with her mother in Fez, Morocco, and works as a middle school teacher. Both Hassnae and Lilia are practicing Muslims. Lilia met her husband, also from Tunisia, while attending college in Columbia. She is a woman with feet in two worlds, one who acted as a bridge for those of us from America during our visit to Morocco. We were so grateful for her Arabic translating skills, and beyond that, her insider ability to share cultural and religious knowledge.
Our desire to see the inside of a mosque, and her desire to serve in her natural role as teacher, created a stir with the authorities when we were denied admittance in spite of attempts to wear headscarves in order to blend in.
"What kind of a woman are you, to leave behind your husband and children and travel with these women, here?" was shouted at her in Arabic.
The three of us, from Washington, Mississippi, and Massachusetts, listened with rapt attention, aware that though Morocco is considered a progressive country among Islamic nations, we had committed a religious faux pas and our friend was now suffering the consequences. Though we could not understand the Arabic, we understood well enough the tone and volume of the heated discussion, in which our friend and cultural ambassador was now animatedly arguing back with the strength of an Arab woman and the courage of an American woman, one fully capable of defining for herself "what kind of a woman" she is.