Having arrived in the village only a few days before, I was nervous about visiting my new neighbor’s house after the Eid prayer- worried about who would be there, what I would say, hoping I would understand what was said to me. She graciously led me into a small, bright room with two long cushions along two walls and bade me sit down. I sat, lifted up my veil, and looked into the eyes of Hasna’
I remember the first time I met her, in East Orange, New Jersey. I was the new girl back then as well, having moved into this inner city neighborhood with my family, feeling like I’d landed on another planet. I was selling handmade dolls and clothing at a masjid event, and Mujaahid, who was nine, was selling friendship bracelets he had made. A teenage girl in a colorful scarf came with her mother and started looking through the bracelets. I don’t even remember how we started talking, but we did, and thereafter I felt a soulconnect with this young woman, over ten years my junior.
After that first day in the village, I saw her sporadically she had come to get married, and study, and lived across the valley. Seeing her, though, was always a joy. She even played the duff and sang an REM song at her own wedding party, to get me to dance, and I realized that I loved this about her – she helped me to remember who I was, apart from being a mother, wife, and student. She valued beauty, and she looked for it and saw it in so many things – possibly because of the light that shown in her own beautiful soul.
We had some tough times in the village, and it seemed that often when things were toughest, Hasna’ would show up at the door, bearing powdered milk and cookies, or a bag of rice or dates. Sometimes she would twist or braid my eldest daughter’s hair, chatting the whole time. She always said exactly what she was thinking, and I valued that, as I found it hard sometimes, myself, to speak up. One day after I had been sick with typhoid, she came over and took off her outer garment, rolled up her sleeves, and started cleaning my house. I was so embarrassed I had been unable to keep it even slightly clean due to my illness, and I hated that she saw just how filthy it was. She filled up some buckets, grabbed some rags, and, ignoring my anger, cleaned all morning. We started writing notes to each other and sending them by messenger across the valley, and more than once she invited me to her little houses and made me lunch. We would talk about life, I would tease her, and she would roll her eyes at me, and I was reminded again of how much she meant to me.
Hasna’ is still here in Yemen, but across the country from me. We write back and forth, though, and I still have the feeling of connection with her that I had when I first met her all those years ago in America. In her I see friendship, and the light of faith, and remember tougher times when she listened, and laughed, and sang, reminding me of the value of sisterhood.
To see more of Hasna’ and her work, please visit: http://hasnalogy.blogspot.com/
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.