“I think God knows what he is doing with us,” says my friend Maryam.
Maryam is a woman of faith, bravery and sweetness.
About a year and a half ago, Maryam left her home of Iran to be at her husband’s side in the U.S. while he worked on his Ph.D. studies in physics at Mizzou. She wanted to learn English better and work on speaking so her husband took her to a meeting of the Downtown Toastmasters Club where I am a member.
How was her first meeting? “It was really frightening!” she said. People were hard to understand because they spoke so fluently and fast. Not one to give up easily, she kept returning every week to our Toastmasters meeting.
Her first goal was learning English but more than just finding a place to practice English speaking, she found many good friends. Her new friendships gave her the opportunity to know American culture and let us learn more about Iranian culture over the past year of her membership in Toastmasters.
Maryam gave a speech on how Iranians celebrate their new year in spring with special foods and meaningful symbols on the table . She taught us how they stay up together during the longest night until they see the sun rise. She spoke to us of Persian poets and how their words live in her heart. She made us laugh about her wedding photos and her attempts to make her face look sexy.
I asked her how it has been to live in America. She said, “We say America is the land of opportunity. If you can study hard and work hard, you get the best job. It doesn’t depend on your religion or your politics.”
Maryam’s sweet spirit and openness are charming. She looks for the goodness in people. She said, “All Americans are really kind people. People are so open when I say, ‘I’m a foreigner. I came from another country and I’m learning English.’ They encourage me and help me.”
I asked if she ever had difficult experiences because she is a Muslim from Iran and things can seem tense between our two countries. No one has ever said anything bad to her. She said, “Don’t trust your TV. When two governments are not so good to each other, they can make the people of the other country look bad. But people are completely different than politics. We all work, we all have children.”
In Iran, adult children usually only leave their parents when they marry. Maryam was an exception. She applied for a MA degree in the south of Iran, far from her family in Tehran. She was alone and had to learn how to handle things by herself. She worked, studied and made friends. After graduation, she got a job that required travel for work. Those days made her stronger.
Life often surprises us. She could never have predicted her current situation living 6,800 miles from home. But she explained that coming to the U.S. was not so hard. Her faith and a sense of purpose gave her strength. She says, “God had a plan. He was preparing me. Because of those days on my own, I could bear being alone without my parents and family. Now I’m OK, no problem!”
No matter where she is, she will never be far from a friend because she makes friends so easily.
Where will she go from here? Maryam says she is not satisfied with her English and feels she should work harder. She used to write a blog and stories in Farsi, her native language. Now she dreams of being a writer in English and making funny stories out of everyday life.
I treasure my friendship with Maryam. Whether she is giving a speech or writing a story, she has an audience in me!