A month home. A month of reunions, of revisiting the past, of revelations both large and small.
The journey was long; three days of travel, two nights spent in airports, planes missed, children sick. When we arrived in Atlanta no one was there to meet us, but when they came an hour later the hugs made the whole journey worth it. For three of my children, it was their first real taste of family beyond their brothers and sisters. Most of the others had only vague memories of grandmothers and grandfathers, aunties and uncles. Some of these, sadly, will remain in the land of memory. My children will never greet my sister Patty, or my father, as they left this world while we were away. They slipped through my fingers…but this only makes our remaining family all the more precious.
After a three hour drive, we were in our new, if temporary, home. Having never lived in the South, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the smell of green and feel of clear blue sky on a winter’s day is apparently the same everywhere.
“I never knew there could be so many trees!” said six year old Maryam.
The children marveled over the variety of the houses, the ease of the washing machine, and the feeling of grass underneath them as they rolled repeatedly down the small hill in the backyard. When my mother-in-law took them to the Dollar Store and allowed them each to choose five things for a dollar apiece, they were in shock. It took them an hour to decide, having never had such riches or so many things to choose from before. Aunt Elise took us to the library, and even Mu’aadh was speechless for a few minutes, shocked at the idea of so many books in one place, and all of them within his little grasp. Eating tacos for the first time, seeing dogs on leashes being walked through the neighborhood or cardinals swooping and swooshing through the cold morning air…everything is new to them, and thus, in some way, new to me as well.
When we made the very difficult decision to return here to the States, people warned us about the negative experiences we might have due to the general negative image of Muslims that many people have. After having been here for a month, I can honestly say that we have had no negative experiences at all. Our neighbors have been welcoming, people in stores have been helpful, and strangers in the street often smile and say hello. I know that there will be unkindness because we experienced it here both before and after 9/11. However, I make a conscious effort every time we go out to be kind and friendly within the boundaries of my belief system, and I have seen the difference that it makes. The children naturally do this, and it has paid off as well. The other day I looked out the window to see several of the neighborhood children out on our lawn, running, playing and laughing together.
The sadness of leaving Yemen is still with me; I doubt that it will ever go away. But I know that my life is overseen by Someone who has greater knowledge and wisdom than I, and that in every situation He has put good. I look forward to teaching my Muslim sisters here, to writing, to gardening, to making a home for my family. I look forward to the opportunities I have to do good, to share knowledge, and to benefit others. So even as my heart looks backward, longing for Yemen and all that we left behind, I look forward to traveling another path here, knowing that my experiences in my second home have changed me forever, and will color everything the future holds, no matter where we might be.
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.