I first saw her in the writing class. She was seated at the table, head turned toward the door, those inquisitive dark eyes that miss nothing peeking out from beneath her scarf. She had beautiful flawless skin and a lyrical lilting voice. With such a voice I imagined her to be a good singer.
Over the next few years I would discover how that uplifting voice belied a steely resolve and strength. She brought me into her Muslim, female, South African world. I learned about South Africa and the apartheid struggle from someone who actually lived through it. I learned the significance of her hair and her scarves and how people treated her because of her headscarf. I learned about her view of America, through the microcosm of Starbucks – her lens highlighting things I have known but not focused on – the multitude of choices at every turn that we take for granted, our penchant for always wanting more, our difficulty saying “no” to our kids. The individual versus the collectivist society. She never ceased to surprise me. In our last year together I learned that she had been the head of the Institute for Gender Equality in South Africa and that her husband paid her the salary she would have made there, with an annual cost of living adjustment, to leave her job and accompany him to America.
She was the best laugher. Her eyes would crinkle at the corners and her shoulders would heave up and down as she laughed her infectious deep belly laugh. How we laughed together over the years – about “George,” a.k.a., Jaws, and the watermelon; her struggles with her weight and objectification of her own body; her goal to be a psychologist only to find out that she was becoming a physical therapist.
She had a knack for wrapping with humor difficult issues of politics, race, religion, and aspects of the human struggle, delivered always by that lyrical lilting voice that imbued light into even the darkest of issues.
When we write, we turn our insides out. But she is someone who also brought the outside in, time and again extending invitations to us Americans to learn about her female self, her Muslim self, her South African world – through her writings, the embassy, and cultural events.
Inside out, outside in. That was Rosieda. Lively, deep, intelligent, warm, funny, perceptive. A big presence who left a gaping hole in our Six Dollar Therapy Group when she returned to South Africa.