Across Continents

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Meeting Maria


Today’s Kiwese word: sin to meet her. Hundred of these and you’ve got a metre

Maria wore a Hijab. A headscarf. The Koran requiring Muslim women to cover their heads when praying. But what, I enquired, of those who also covered their faces? That, she explained, was merely local custom. The wearing of a Burdah no requirement of her faith. Commonplace in strict societies such as Saudi Arabia it might be, but pilgrims to Mecca were permitted only the Hijab.

It’d been an early start. Up at five. First ferry of the day between New Zealand’s North and South Islands. Sailing from Wellington to Picton. Swift to secure a window seat. Striking up a conversation with Maria on the next table when I’d asked if she’d mind keeping an eye on my belongings whilst I went to find a coffee.

Her eldest child was twelve. I guessed she might be mid-thirties. An uncertain estimate. What was the average age for marriage in her home country Indonesia? I’d no idea. Besides, she was an educated businesswoman, independently minded. Adherence to norms probably not her thing.

I’d explained that whilst I might ask her husband his age, it would be quite improper for me to enquire as to hers. She was, of course, free to tell me. But if she did, I’d be obliged to treat it as confidential. As I would her husband’s. Moral requirement rather than religious obligation.



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