Nothing has made me more appreciative of the every day, ordinary things than my life here in Yemen. We came with a suitcase apiece- three changes of clothing, some pots and pans, each child’s favorite two toys and books, and lots of my husband’s books. To have gotten rid of and left behind the things that had been accumulated over the years was difficult, but in a way it felt good, clean, to be starting over with so little. When we arrived my husband went out and bought a couple of plates, some blankets and portable mattresses for everyone to sleep on. As time went on, though, as always happens, we started to gather, well, stuff. Now, while we still have little compared to most people, we have enough that it takes us a lot more to pack and move.
I find, though, that the “stuff” we have still isn’t that important to me. I am thankful for all of it, but I know that if we have to leave it all behind, it will be with only small regret. So what are the “ordinary things” that make the most difference to me? Take a minute and look outside the window, and you’ll see.
Yemen as a country has a surprising variety of ecosystems. Harsh,hot,dry desert that takes hours to drive across- all you see in this region are the oil refineries shooting black smoke into the air, eminiscent of a barbarian feast in days gone by, occasional small hut-like dwellings, and camel crossing signs. Sana’a is a mountain aerie, with cool nights, warm days, and blessed rain that comes seasonally and washes away the dirt and freshens the air like nothing else can. Ibb is a land of fields and greenery, terraced crops growing in in a lush green waterfall down the steep mountains into the valleys below. Now we live on the coast of the Arabian Sea. It is hot, sandy, and dry, but the ocean, at least, is there to provide much-needed relief. When we first came here we lived in a very small, very hot house in what must have
been the hottest part of town. A few months ago, though, we were blessed to move into a small valley off the Sea, and now its breezes help to make the heat more bearable- as does the shade from our sidr tree.
The first thing you see when you look down to the sea from the road down the way is our tree. Its branches, covered in tiny leaves, thrust joyfully into the air, bringing a much welcome shout of green in the midst of shades of brown, and, in the background, the blue of the sea. It’s full of birds. A small community of gray birds with brown heads who bicker amongst themselves like a bunch of siblings.
Beautiful yellow weaver birds, a splash of color flitting from branch to branch as they build their nests high up in the tree, as far out of sling shot range as they can get. Grey or white doves who coo coo coo us into the evening, and who tease the cats in the yard mercilessly.
When I look out at our tree and feel the blessed shade that it provides, hear the various strains of bird song, and see the antics of all of its inhabitants, I am reminded again of the importance of being thankful, always, for the ordinary things.
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.