by Khadijah, Southern Yemen
Seven years ago, we lived in a small, two family cement brick house in a small village in the shade of a volcano. In the early morning light the air would sometimes shimmer as we walked in its shadow, creating the illusion of some superheated gas rising up from its somewhat dilapidated cone. We walked through lush green fields, past small mud brick houses with brightly painted metal doors, and past a graveyard full of flat stones; cold reminders of the once vibrant life that now resided underneath each one. So many children, my heart ached for them every time we walked past, ached for what they would never see and feel and experience. And my heart ached for their mothers, and I wondered if they often trod the path I was walking, and sang a lullaby to their lost children.
Life is such a precious thing, so easy to squander and so difficult to treasure until it is too late. Here in Yemen, the majority of families lose at least one child before they have reached the age of maturity. A sobering thought for those who live in a world of quick fixes and emergency medical care. I understood this when I came, but it was not real to me until I lived in another village, in another part of the country, and there was war.
At the time, my eldest old son was on his own, my husband was in America, and I was struggling to take care of my six other children, to make order in their lives out of chaos, and to give them the gift of life’s joys. I was suffering from typhoid, which made even getting out of bed some days a great victory. Leaving the village was not an option for numerous reasons; that left making the best of a very difficult situation.
Each morning we would wake up to the sound of the call to prayer in the predawn darkness. Lighting the propane lamp, I would wake the older children to pray and get ready for a day of learning and playing and living. As I sat over my Qur’aan recitation, I found myself taking solace in the words I was saying, taking what I would need for the day in each verse. Patience to deal with the living conditions- food shortages, sewage problems, a lack of running water. Courage to face the afternoon bombings, which had become as regular as clockwork. Thankfulness for my family, for the opportunity to learn and to teach, and for the lush green of the countryside that flourished despite the havoc wrought by the people who lived in it. I prayed for insight and courage. I prayed for safe passage for my children through this maze of violence and sadness. I prayed for the children in that little graveyard in that first village I lived in, and that their mothers, too, would find solace and acceptance of what could not be changed. But most of all, I simply prayed for peace.
Khadijah grew up in the Kickapoo Valley in Wisconsin and now lives in Yemin with her husband and eight children where she teaches Arabic and Islaamic studies to women and helps them recognize their importance and the need for their stories to be heard. Khadijah was the winner of the 2010 Story Circle Network Lifewriting Competition.