August 9 – Holding Space

by Khadijah

I sit on the rooftop as the sun slowly sinks to the horizon, steel hot blue of summer sky melting to the sweeter, softer indigo night. Six days of Ramadan have slipped by, six days of prayer, fasting, soul searching and sacrifice. Six days of waking up at 3:00 am with my eldest daughter to make breakfast for everyone in the deep hush of breath held night. Six days of everyone working together to make something special out of whatever we have on hand, knowing that food prices in the markets have doubled and tripled since the beginning of the month. Six days of reading and playing and laughing with little ones.

Ramadan is always a time of renewal- the body remembers hunger and thirst while the soul remembers the feast of faith. This year, however, because of the protests here in Yemen, a month that should be spent in joyful contemplation and willing sacrifice turned for a few brief days into one tainted by destruction and death.

Three nights ago my son went down to the market to buy juice cups for the children. He encountered crowds of angry young men, burnt husks of motorcycles, carts tipped over and set ablaze, and a field of broken glass and stones. Later that night gunfire could be heard in the not too distant distance, as we sat together and listened to the night prayers recited over the loudspeakers of a dozen masjids. As I gave comfort to my children, I found myself feeling outraged and frustrated at this foolish show of violence in a town with no government presence at all, a town of southerners in the heart of the south- what purpose could they have in harming their own people, of protesting to empty skies and absent authority? This revolution of the rich here in Yemen, where the protesters tend to own ipads and laptop computers and spend hours online while their fellow countrymen lose their jobs and have to struggle to feed their families in a broken, spiraling economy, has gone on for months. Months of snappy slogans, empty promises, and needless violence that have plunged millions into a reality harsher than that which they already lived in. Feeling anxious and unsettled, I booted up my computer and connected with my sisters across the world at Storycircle.

I told them of the riots and the absence of fresh vegetables. I told them about the fires and the skyrocketing food prices. I told them about my frustration at this attempted hijacking of this blessed month. And they listened, and responded with questions, ideas, encouragement. They listened, and I felt myself relax, just a little, and remember that no matter what a few hot-headed, misguided people were doing, I still had my family, I still had my home shaded by its beautiful tree, I still had my sisters back home holding space for me, thinking of me, and supporting me. I still had my faith and my determination to spend Ramadan in worship and contemplation, and my drive to use the blessed presence of this month to improve myself for the rest of the year.

They didn’t say any specific thing, they didn’t come up with some magical solution, but they listened, and their hands and hearts joined around me, helping to hold me up until I could step back and join my hands with theirs, and take my place in this circle of sisterhood that is Storycircle.

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.

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6 responses to “August 9 – Holding Space

  1. Kadijah, it is so tragic that the holy days of Ramadan are being spoiled by anger and unrest. I felt a mother’s anxiety as you wrote of sending your oldest out into such destruction to complete the simple task of getting juice for the little ones. I hear your frustration and impatience but I also hear your determination to honor Ramadan in your tree shaded home with your family and know you still consider yourself blessed. I wish you, literally, peace.

  2. In Yemen and the Middle East, you listen to “…the night prayers recited over the loudspeakers of a dozen masjids.” Hold on to this, because you will not hear it again here in the United States.

    The gunfire will stop, sooner or later, but not the prayers.

  3. I feel our lives are enlivened and deepened when we share with our sisters. We never know when it will be our time to need support – again – but whether giving or receiving the love and encouragement, it is all life expanding, affirming and what gives meaning to our existence. Holding you, and all my sisters, in a prayer of safety and loving light.

  4. As always, Khadijah, you move my heart and stretch my mind. Thank you for the gift of your words and your vision. Know that you and yours are in all of our hearts here, halfway around the world…

  5. I am sitting here in the AZ desert tonight preparing materials for the workshops i will be giving over the next two days Khadijah, and your words touch me as always- it is especially poignant as i have thought about you so often these last days for two reasons- one is your holy days and my hope for peaceful celebrations and two i will be heading to WI next week to speak so always think of you then….but tonight I look at the moon watch the evening birds and the sunset as i float in a pool at this zen buddhist retreat here in the AZ desert and i embrace my sisters around the globe- thank you for sharing with us- blessings dear sister

  6. Thank you so much for sharing your part of the world and this life with your sisters, Khadijah. You do expand my awareness, and touch my heart. May peace linger under your tree.

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