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My Grandmother Washes Her Feet in the Sink of the Bathroom at Sears

Posted by on Dec. 30, 2013 at 11:30 AM
  • 21 Replies

My Grandmother Washes Her Feet in the Sink of the Bathroom at Sears by Mohja Kahf

My grandmother puts her feet in the sink
        of the bathroom at Sears
to wash them in the ritual washing for prayer,
wudu,
because she has to pray in the store or miss
the mandatory prayer time for Muslims
She does it with great poise, balancing
herself with one plump matronly arm
against the automated hot-air hand dryer,
after having removed her support knee-highs
and laid them aside, folded in thirds,
and given me her purse and her packages to hold
so she can accomplish this august ritual
and get back to the ritual of shopping for housewares

Respectable Sears matrons shake their heads and frown
as they notice what my grandmother is doing,
an affront to American porcelain,
a contamination of American Standards
by something foreign and unhygienic
requiring civic action and possible use of disinfectant spray
They fluster about and flutter their hands and I can see
a clash of civilizations brewing in the Sears bathroom

My grandmother, though she speaks no English,
catches their meaning and her look in the mirror says,
I have washed my feet over Iznik tile in Istanbul
with water from the world's ancient irrigation systems
I have washed my feet in the bathhouses of Damascus
over painted bowls imported from China
among the best families of Aleppo
And if you Americans knew anything
about civilization and cleanliness,
you'd make wider washbins, anyway
My grandmother knows one culture—the right one,

as do these matrons of the Middle West. For them,
my grandmother might as well have been squatting
in the mud over a rusty tin in vaguely tropical squalor,
Mexican or Middle Eastern, it doesn't matter which,
when she lifts her well-groomed foot and puts it over the edge.
"You can't do that," one of the women protests,
turning to me, "Tell her she can't do that."
"We wash our feet five times a day,"
my grandmother declares hotly in Arabic.
"My feet are cleaner than their sink.
Worried about their sink, are they? I
should worry about my feet!"
My grandmother nudges me, "Go on, tell them."

Standing between the door and the mirror, I can see
at multiple angles, my grandmother and the other shoppers,
all of them decent and goodhearted women, diligent
in cleanliness, grooming, and decorum
Even now my grandmother, not to be rushed,
is delicately drying her pumps with tissues from her purse
For my grandmother always wears well-turned pumps
that match her purse, I think in case someone
from one of the best families of Aleppo
should run into her—here, in front of the Kenmore display

I smile at the midwestern women
as if my grandmother has just said something lovely about them
and shrug at my grandmother as if they
had just apologized through me
No one is fooled, but I

hold the door open for everyone
and we all emerge on the sales floor
and lose ourselves in the great common ground
of housewares on markdown.

Mohja Kahf, "My Grandmother Washes Her Feet in the Sink of the Bathroom at Sears" from E-mails from Scheherazad. Copyright © 2003 by Mohja Kahf.  Reprinted by permission of University Press of Florida.

Sherri

Imagine.

by on Dec. 30, 2013 at 11:30 AM
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Replies (1-10):
amyasmommy2005
by Member on Dec. 30, 2013 at 11:34 AM
1 mom liked this

that just shows different people just practice different things. We need to be more tolerant to others.

yourspecialkid
by on Dec. 30, 2013 at 11:43 AM
1 mom liked this

 I can appreciate her practice of her faith.  However, people cannot go to another country and expect the citizens there to not be shocked when they do something out of the cultural norm for that country.

Before my husband deployed to Islamic countries he spent a great deal of time learning their cultural norms in order to not inadvertantly offend them.  He did not expect them to just know his way and accommodate him.

I think it would be nice if the grandmother learned enough English to share what/why she is washing in public.  I think a lot of people, myself included would not only be open but interested in learning.

 

LiveinJoy
by on Dec. 30, 2013 at 11:46 AM
5 moms liked this
Interesting. I'm not offended. I am offended by people who use the bathroom and walk out without washing hands.
PurdueMom
by Sherri on Dec. 30, 2013 at 11:46 AM

My favorite line:

"They fluster about and flutter their hands and I can see

a clash of civilizations brewing in the Sears bathroom."

PurdueMom
by Sherri on Dec. 30, 2013 at 11:55 AM
1 mom liked this

On September 11th of this year, a Boston high school staff member read a poem over the PA instead of leading students in the POA for the purpose and hopes of creating better cross-cultural understanding.  A few parents were upset - many Right-wing media outlets were outraged.

This was the poem.  I just thought it interesting and, well, enlightening.

Sherri

Imagine.

-Teeter-Totter-
by on Dec. 30, 2013 at 12:04 PM
Washing feet doesn't offend me lol.

Although the grandmother's disdain for the people around her was more rude than their surprised stares, in my opinion.

I find it interesting too. Being easily offended by the actions of others is something we ALL share lol
Momniscient
by Obama licker on Dec. 30, 2013 at 12:07 PM
And well said.

Manufactured outrage is tiresome.


Quoting PurdueMom:

On September 11th of this year, a Boston high school staff member read a poem over the PA instead of leading students in the POA for the purpose and hopes of creating better cross-cultural understanding.  A few parents were upset - many Right-wing media outlets were outraged.

This was the poem.  I just thought it interesting and, well, enlightening.

Posted on CafeMom Mobile
futureshock
by Ruby Member on Dec. 30, 2013 at 12:14 PM

okey dokey

Mrs.Sparkle
by Bronze Member on Dec. 30, 2013 at 2:46 PM
1 mom liked this
I would have asked her if I could help her hold something. People really need to learn tolerance.
FromAtoZ
by AllieCat on Dec. 30, 2013 at 2:50 PM

I can see this happening. People freaking out over such a thing.

Myself, I would have wished to have had a conversation with the Grandmother.

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