Connie Shoemaker, one of the founders of Spring International Language Center at Arapahoe Community College in Littleton, first connected with Muslim women while teaching at American University in Cairo, where she lived with her husband and three children for four years, some time ago.
The local resident, now retired from Spring, still stays involved there and with teaching a course on writing life stories with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Denver (OLLI) classes popular with area seniors — and now she has written a book, “Taste the Sweetness Later: Two Muslim Women in America.”
She spent about 200 hours with two Muslim women, Nisren, from Iraq, where Saddam Hussein’s “eyes were watching” and Eman, from Libya, living under the dictatorship of Muammar Gaddafi. Shoemaker met both women in the Littleton area, through Spring and through Immigrant Pathways Colorado, where she serves as a board member. “The purpose of the book is to build a bridge of understanding between us and those different from us,” she said. And indeed it will.
In addition to a refresher on the disturbed history of their native countries, a reader visits family homes and gains insight into more intimate relationships within families as Nisren and Eman mature and, with their husbands, focus on making new lives in Colorado.
The title comes from Eman’s grandmother, who counseled a frustrated young woman: “Swallow it now and taste the sweetness later.”
The reader learns about the women’s family life and culture in two very disturbed nations, although both had a somewhat traditional early life surrounded by a large family. (Eman was one of 22 children in a sheepherding family.) Eman was a serious student, who wanted to learn English and computer skills, while Nisren had to reluctantly leave school after the elementary years to care for her mother’s latest baby, whom she loved dearly. Both women had arranged marriages, which worked out well. A reader visits inside the home, among large, (mostly) loving families, gaining new insights on other ways of growing to adulthood.
Each segment begins with a mini history of Iraq and Libya, which helps the assorted puzzle pieces of complex stories fit together — mostly. One keeps returning to those pages.
Raad, Nisren’s husband, was an interpreter for the U.S. military and as such, became a target for angered countrymen, who painted a threat on the family home.
Raad had met Col. Joe Rice of Littleton in Baghdad and Rice, aware of the threat to interpreters, offered to assist with immigration and contacted his friend, Susan Thornton, former Littleton mayor and active in Immigrant Pathways.
Nisren and Raab, with a daughter and son, flew for hours and arrived to find a beautiful, sunny, blue-sky day. Raad had a job and Nisren learned English and got her children enrolled in school in Littleton — and eventually gave birth to another young son. She continues with her traditional dress and unfortunately has to deal with unkind words at times in her community.
Eman had set her sights on studying in America and asked her prospective husband, Sami, if he would agree, which he did. Like many American men today, he handled the child care for two young sons, while Eman studied and achieved a master’s degree. While enrolled at CU-Denver, she worked at a receptionist job at Spring to help make ends meet financially, and Shoemaker became a supportive friend.
“Taste the Sweetness Later” is a thoughtful, well-written look at two contemporary women who might be neighbors — and the very different paths that brought them to Colorado. It surely does offer a bridge, as Shoemaker wishes. It is published by Shoemaker’s Amity Bridge Books, amitybridge.com, and can be found on Amazon.
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