I have a new friend, her name is Alaa. She’s 12 years old and Egyptian. She had lived in my building for eight months but since she came and went from her apartment without paying attention to the neighbors (something not very common in Cuba) I never stopped to chat with her.
Although I admit that for some hidden reason or maybe because of my sensitivity toward children, I noticed something about her: she’s always attentive to the street from her high and barred-in balcony, she was always gazing out and always alone.
About two months ago, while I was walking my dog in the yard (a routine I repeat every day) I saw that she was gesturing to me from her observation post. Impulsively, and though it would mean depriving me of the serenity provided daily by the freshness of the uninhabited garden, I asked her to come down so that we could talk.
Despite the difficulties in communication, since she doesn’t speak English well and even less Spanish, I found a cheerful and astute girl. As for her, she must think that about me because from that day on, every time I take my dog out it doesn’t take long for Alaa — who has been watching out for me the whole day long — to come running out of her house like a butterfly that has finally seen the world. She’ll sit at my side, serene, waiting for some signal to begin a conversation.
Over the past two months I’ve seen the ease with which a child learns language and today we communicate in “Spanglish” with relative speed. We even laugh together at funny things despite our differences.
Under the skin of each human being, no matter what their culture or education, teems the unavoidable essence that makes us creatures of one same race with the same fears, the same dreams, the same yearnings, the same longings that are never satisfied.
However, there is something that upsets the delight of this new friendship. The neighborhood residents don’t seem to like seeing us together. Two of them have already come out to ask me if I’m giving her Spanish lessons and how much I charge. Or they’ll make other types of naive inquires, because “there’s always some hidden interest behind friendship with a foreigner.”
Or maybe it only appears to me that they don’t like our friendship, in which case this would be even worse because it would be demonstrating that in my mind, at some moment in my life, I had been inoculated with the idea that “it wasn’t good to be a foreigner’s friend.”
Without going into the details, I remember that my parents had forbidden this type of friendship when I was a little girl. Perhaps they were the unconscious reasons for this mistrust that makes me feel, deep down inside, that I’m doing something wrong each time I speak with Alaa.
And if they were the ones responsible for my fear, who and for what disconcerting reason caused that fear in them?