I was outside with my kids when my neighbor’s head peeked out of her gate. Her face and arms were all lightly covered with turmeric paste, and she had in her hand a watering pot. This neighbor had me over a year ago, for the first ‘formal’ visit. Here, when you go to someone’s house for the first time, you sit in their living room, eat a snack (which is usually packaged biscuits) and ask and answer the basic questions — like where is your home, what does your husband do, what schools do you kids go . . etc. Alot of the time it seems to me that all those questions are to determine your status and the familial title that you will be called. In my experience, that first visit is usually short (you leave after tea), and conversation never gets really interesting (at least not for women who are busy serving the snack) . Anyway, with this lady, I’ve had the formal visit at her house, and she’s been over to mine, so now it’s time relax and be friends. So she beckoned me in, explaining that she had turmeric on her skin because of her skin allergies. She was watering her garden, which is full of dalia, roses, different types of jasmine, aloe, cactus . . all in spring beauty. she gave the kids some blossoms while we toured the whole area.

It is very rare to find an educated, upper class woman who has a garden. Most upper class women live in an apartment and hardly ever go out. But my friend has a tall wall around her house and garden, so she can keep purdah while working in her garden. She told me several times that her “sir” as she calls her husband, would rather she spent more time cooking and cleaning, but, and she whispers to me guiltily, “I love plants!” She told me that same thing three times over that evening, as the kids and I sat on a stone bench and swatted mosquitoes.

I look forward to more such times with her.