Biographical Non-Fiction posted September 12, 2011 Chapters: -1- 2... 

This work has reached the exceptional level
A true story of friendship

A chapter in the book the ties that bind

Peace in the Middle East

by catch22

It was shortly before September 11, 2001 that I met my best friend Arpita*. She was my teaching assistant for a chemistry lab I was taking. I would be lying if I said we became friends instantly. No, Arpita was a tough walnut to crack. At the time of our first meeting, I had no idea that her armor of sarcasm and nonchalance hid a loyal friend and compassionate human being. All I knew about Arpita was that she was Iraqi, and came to live here in the States as a teenager. In class, she would brush aside everyone's questions with the usual, "You have a book, so go look it up and stop wasting my time." Then she'd go back to teasing the slowest kids in the lab section for routinely making her stay late. That was my first impression of Arpita--not impressive, to say the least.

Fast-forward six months. I was looking for a research opportunity at my school, but didn't know where to begin. I ran into Arpita on campus one day, and I blurted out my predicament (expecting her to shoo me away for wasting her time). To my surprise, she didn't brush me aside. She told me how impressed she was with my performance in her lab section, and that she would be willing to mentor me in her research lab. I was shocked, but gratefully accepted the position.

Over the next two years, an unlikely friendship blossomed. I am a timid little Jewish girl, and she came from a devout Muslim family. She schooled me in the Iraqi way of tough love. I washed her dishes every time I ruined an experiment, and endured her relentless sarcasm day after day. She once told me, "You know something? When I give you something to do, you either do it half-assed, or you do it like a jack-ass." I knew she was right. Some days, the insults stung me through and through; others, I laughed along with her. Some people looked at our dynamic and thought I was bullied, but I knew better.

You see, we became sisters. Yes, the kind of sisters that pick on each other without end, but also the kind of sisters that would defend each other with our very lives if circumstances called for it. How did this happen? It all started late at work one night. It was common for us both to work unsupervised well into the early morning hours in the lab. I left to get some ice for one of my reactions, and when I came back, Arpita was at her desk with her head in her arms. I thought she was asleep, but when she lifted her face, her makeup was running down her cheeks--she was crying! Of course, I put aside what I was doing, and asked her what was wrong. In a rare moment of vulnerability, Arpita confessed her boyfriend of three years had been cheating on her, and her heart was breaking. I gave her a hug and we talked for a long time that night. This was the turning point in our friendship. She began to open up more frequently to me about her family and her life outside of the lab. I learned she worked another full-time job outside of school (a nursing job) to help pay for her siblings' education. I learned she had a strained relationship with her father, who lived back in the Middle East. I also learned that she had a fierce loyalty to her family and their values. Even though she herself was not religious, she would never pursue a relationship with a non-Muslim man out of respect for her family. Of course, this made dating options in the States limited. She was very secretive about herself, but over time, she slowly let me into her world. I met her family and befriended her sisters. To this day, they call me their "sister from another mother". After the day she broke down and cried in front of me, I began to recognize a kindred spirit in this ostensibly different human being.

One thing to note about Arpita--she is very beautiful, but frighteningly strong. Her spirit was too strong for the lab, and certainly, too strong for any man we knew. She dreamed of one day going back to Iraq and opening a clinic for women to help improve the lives of all women there. Her heart was so big it could not be contained within the confines of a job. I knew the day would come when the comfortable life we led in the States could not hold her spirit any more. I knew she was restless. She wanted a family of her own. She wanted to be a mother and to care for a child. She wanted to make a difference in someone else's life. That was Arpita. She always led a life in service to others.

Nonetheless, I was shocked and scared when I learned she was accepted by a non-governmental organization based in Iraq to serve as a nurse in the region. She told me two weeks before she was to leave, and I don't remember the last time I cried so hard. I was afraid for her safety. She did not know where she would be working, only that the areas that needed nurses the most were in the most volatile border regions. In spite of her family's and my protests, she left for Iraq eighteen months ago. Every time I read the World section of the news, I dreaded the day I would see Arpita's name on the list of U.S. citizens killed in a roadside bombing in the desert.

That was how I felt at first. I was scared of the unknown. Now, I realize that if Arpita is ever going to be fulfilled, it will be through a life in service to the greater good. I am proud to know her and call myself her friend. She is making a difference in the most selfless way she can. She is not only a patriot for her country, she is a champion for her family and friends. Her sister is having a baby this fall, and I hear Arpita and her entire family will be reunited for the event in the States. I plan on being there, too, alongside my "other family".

What does this have to do with the decade since September 11, you might ask. Well, everything! Arpita always said that, "if a little Jewish girl and a little Muslim girl could become friends like us, there was hope for peace in the Middle East and the world." This is my deepest wish and has been for the past decade: that the most seemingly different human beings will one day set aside their prejudices and celebrate what binds us together--our compassion! I am seeing this dream coming true in my lifetime, and I embrace it with all of my heart.

Across America writing prompt entry
Writing Prompt
Write a short story. The topic is: Positive events since September 11, 2001. Minimum length 300 words. Maximum Length 3,000 words.


*The names have been changed to protect the innocent.
Word count: 1176
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

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