We were in London this summer and it felt like the news everyday was either about terrorists targeting London or the integration “problem” with the huge influx of Arab immigrants. A few well meaning friends warned us to not wear anything that made us “look American” before we left. I think of myself as a tolerant person, above stereotypes. I hardly think of myself as a target. But the day we ventured into Grovesner Park, I remarked that we might be in the most dangerous place in the city. The park is in the exclusive Mayfair District, surrounded by astronomically expensive flats and five-star hotels. But it also happens to be in the shadow of the American Embassy.
I noted that our parks and recreation department should take a cue from the Brits. Like so many parks we encountered on our trip, Grovesnor Park had free ping pong tables,, giant chess sets, free yoga classes and a stage where a band was setting up for a free afternoon performance. My son and husband became engrossed in a competitive ping-pong match, while my daughter curiously explored some foam blocks. Before she and I finished building a wall, other children joined in to knock it down. Soon everyone had a different idea of what to build: A fort, a stage, a staircase. They took turns trying different ideas. They helped each other create their visions and than shared in the pay off, total destruction!
Brainstorm,.Build, Breakdown, Repeat. They played for an hour with those foam blocks, just some simple yellow blocks. There were many days this summer when an hour seemed like an eternity to my bored kids and I would have paid big money for an hour to myself. I need these blocks, I thought, already reaching for my phone to Google where I could buy some.
“Excuse me.” A little dark haired girl about my daughter’s age interrupted me. “Is your daughter Muslim?” She asked.
My daughter has white blonde hair and blue eyes. “No, she’s not,” I told her and smiled.
“Oh, she is Christian?” the girl’s brown eyes widened as the wheels visibly turned in her head. She ran back to join the game.
My immediate reaction was relief that I hadn’t turned into a provincial, paranoid tourist. Even the children knew about the division, and probably sensed the unease. But in this park, playmates simply looked like playmates. Inside the castle they were building together, their laughter was indistinguishable from one another. They were the same.
When we finally left, the girl joined her mother, who was covered in a veil and burqa. Just past the park gates, guards with machine guns paced. We returned home a week later to find similar “us-versus them” news headlines about racial unrest and police shootings.
Maybe I should buy those blocks. Alot of blocks.