I am teaching Latin dance to a group of elders in Worcester, MA, who live in subsidized housing. Many of them are Chinese immigrants who speak no English, but just adore dancing and by the end of the class were very physically affectionate to me. Others are eastern Europeans with decent English and a good sense of fun.
It was a hot day and I structured in several breaks to drink. Their activities director had laid on cold water and lemonade. One woman did not get up to drink. I asked her if she’d like me to bring some water to her and she shook her head. “It’s important to stay hydrated,” I insisted.
“I am fasting,” she told me with an accent.
“Oh,” I answered. “Of course, it’s Ramadan.”
“You know Ramadan?” she looked up with excitement and smiled. “How?”
“I know Muslim people, I know Palestinians. Where are you from?”
“Syria,” she said.
I felt my eyes tearing up. Imagine being this far away from Syria in such a nightmarish time for your country. Imagine leaving friends and relatives in that horror show of violence and destruction and probably not knowing from day to day how they are doing.
I opened my arms. She stood and came into them and we hugged. Clearly she was isolated among people who had no clue what she was going through. I sat down next to her for a minute or two until she could bear to let go of my hand, and then we all continued dancing.