Tag Archives: Life in Yemen

June 23 – Connections

by Khadijah


The night is cold, rain pelting against the small windows, filling strategically placed pots to overflowing, candlelight flickering and dancing against whitewashed walls worn to gray. I sit listening to the symphony of water, light and darkness as it surrounds me, seeping through my fleece blanket armor, providing the song for my thoughts to hum along with.

Within three years of moving to Yemen, I have lost my eldest sister and father, each moving beyond my grasp, slipping away even as I strove to hold onto them ever more tightly. My remaining siblings are travelling their own paths. I understand, as this path that I am taking to gaining knowledge seems strange to them, foreign, extreme. To me, it is the only way, a blessing from Allaah that I cannot turn away from.

This June is a time of connections. My sister is visiting, and we are enjoying times of quiet conversation, evening walks, and fun with all the children together. Last week a conference was held, bringing Muslims together to seek knowledge. I was asked to speak, and was blessed with meeting students from my online classes in person, putting faces to the words across the screen. And, one day last week, I was finally able to meet the sister of my heart, who had previously only been a smile in my inbox, sharing so many ideas, dreams and aspirations through our lengthy and frequent emails.

I spend the second day of the conference waiting, knowing that she and her family got in late the night before after a long transcontinental flight. Every time the door opens, though, I look, and wonder if it will be her. Finally, my daughter Juwairiyah comes in and says, “Ummi, you have to come outside.” I rush out and see a newcomer, and know it has to be her. In seconds we are holding each other, thanking Allaah for bringing us together in body as He has blessed our hearts to come together so many months before.

The next few days are times of silence and laughter, speaking and listening, sharing and spending time together. The day she is leaving, we sit side by side watching our children sliding down the steps of the house we are staying in.

“I’m sliding down on my back!” says one girl.

“I’m sliding down on my stomach!” says another.

“I’m sliding down on my armpit!” says a third.

We turn and look at each other, identical looks on our faces and suddenly we know for sure that this friendship and sisterhood is for real. I think back to those rainy nights of solitude, and rejoice in the fact that there is a time for this, and a time for that, and in the knowledge that each thing happens in its own time, its own place.

I thank Allaah for the blessings of this month, for the love and strength of sisterhood, and for allowing these connections to be made.

Khadijah is a writer, student, teacher, translator and herbalist. She currently lives in Kansas City, MO, homeschooling her eight children while working on all of her various projects and planning her next move to a homestead in New Mexico.

March 31 – Scent of Jasmine

by Khadijah Lacina

A few days ago Mujaahid called me from Yemen. It was the second time I’ve spoken to him since our return to America, and I admit I had trouble speaking through the lump that filled my throat. I talked to little Suhayb, and heard baby Yasmeen in the background. It made my heart ache to feel the distance that separates our worlds now. I wanted to share with you the story of baby Yasmeen, to try to bring her and her family just a little bit closer…

On September 27, a new little person entered the world. My eldest son, Mujaahid, and his wife, Hiyaat, had a baby girl. She was delivered at home, with a midwife and Hiyaat’s mother present, and by all accounts was a big baby. She was born with a caul- in Islaam this doesn’t have any special significance, but I can imagine that my Bohemian grandmother, and my Irish grandmother, would have a few things to say about it. They named her Yasmeen, which is the source of the English word, Jasmine. I pray that she will both spread joy and goodness like the fragrance of her namesake, and that she will find the world to be sweet and scented in the same way.

I wasn’t there for the birth, just as I was not there for Suhayb’s birth, making this a bittersweet time, one which brings home forcefully the reality of distance unrolling over desert and mountain, of time spent apart and the choices which led to this separation.

The first choice, I suppose, was when we sent Mujaahid to study in the village a few months before we ourselves were going to make that transition. He would call every week, his voice sounding small and far away and tearing at my heart-strings. He would assure me that he was fine, and was studying hard, and that everything was alright.

The second choice was when, a couple of years later, he decided to marry and to build his house attached to his wife’s house across the valley. Automatically he became a part of their life, while stepping out of ours in a major way. His brothers and sisters felt the distance at that time; perhaps it was for the best because when we left the village a year or so later due to my continuing illness, he didn’t even consider coming with us.

That was the next choice, and it was both ours, to leave, and his, to not join us. It was so difficult leaving the village. I had teachers there that I loved and respected, I loved learning about Islaam and attending classes and lectures, and the village itself had found a deep and abiding place in my heart. And, of course, as we were bumping off in the pre-dawn darkness over the trackless mountains that surrounded the village, my heart felt like it was being physically ripped in two as part of it stayed with Mujaahid.

I don’t have any photos of Mujaahid as a baby, but last year, when I was able to see his son, Suhayb, for the first time, I immediately saw the shadow of my little blond boy in his face. It made parting with them after a month even tougher, bringing home truth of the saying that when we choose to have a child, we choose to allow a part of our hearts to walk around outside our bodies for the rest of our lives.

Now time, and distance, and political upheaval have made our lives in this beautiful land more uncertain than before. When I think that I may never see Yasmeen, or Suhayb, or Mujaahid and Hiyaat again, I feel an intense sense of loss, and sadness, and a wish that I could somehow change things, while knowing that I cannot. Too much time, too much distance, too many choices made that led us to where we are now.

But I know that even while a part of my heart is with them in their mountain village, a part of them remains, and will always remain, within my chest, as close as the air I breathe. And sometimes, that is all you can ask for.

Khadijah Lacina has recently returned to the States after almost ten years living in Yemen. While trying to get over her culture shock, she spends her time homeschooling, writing, knitting, crocheting, playing in the dirt trying to grow things, and messing around with herbs.

February 29 – Unexpected Grace

by Khadijah Lacina

February is a month of birthdays in my family. I was born in that month, as were three of my children. Each birth was special, but the one I want to share with you today is that of my son, Mu’aadh, who was the first of three babies I had in Yemen.

When we moved to Yemen I was four months pregnant. I was worried about having a baby there, due to the fact that I tend to hemorrhage severely after every birth. I found myself in a strange environment, full of strange germs, and dealing with customs that were totally different from my own. I didn’t even speak the language well at that point.
I went to the Mustashfa Um, the mother’s hospital, a couple of times before I gave birth. I found a doctor and an ultrasound technician who spoke English, more or less, and the ultrasound doctor even gave me her home phone number and told me to call her when I went into labor. In Yemen, the custom is for some of the women of the family to accompany the mother-to-be to the hospital, and she was worried because I didn’t have anyone to go with me. I didn’t think I would call her, but knowing she was there was a comfort.

The night of the birth arrived. I hadn’t felt well all afternoon, and was keyed up and full of energy. I wasn’t sure at first that I was in labor, but by evening it became clear that that was the case. I was determined to stay at home as long as I could, as I knew that once I went to the hospital I would be by myself- they don’t allow men into the labor and delivery areas at all, so my husband, who had been present at all the other births, would be waiting downstairs. Finally, around midnight, I decided we had better get going. We walked downstairs, and I crouched on the sidewalk by the buildings while my husband tried to get a taxi in the nearly deserted streets. The first cab driver saw us an opportunity to make some extra cash; the second, however, was reasonable- and when he saw I was really really pregnant, he hot-footed it all the way to the hospital. I remember that trip as a collage of lights, glimpses of men sitting in tea rooms or gathered on street corners, and wild dogs skulking in the shadows.

Once at the hospital I was told to go right upstairs. I tearfully said goodbye to my husband, clutching my walkie talkie in my hand so I could talk to him once I was settled in. I walked up two flights of stairs, and was met at the top by a doctor I had never met, one who didn’t speak English. She smiled at me sweetly, though, and talked to me as if I could understand…and I almost could. Her expression turned alarmed when she checked my condition- apparently I had waited just long enough before coming, because I was ushered straight into the delivery room.

“Bismillah!” In the name of God, she said, and told me to push. The nurse held my hand and said “Bismillah” as well, and I felt comforted, blessed that these women who shared my faith were helping me have the baby. Three pushes, and there was Mu’aadh.

After a few minutes they walked me, with the baby in my arms, to a room to rest for a bit before going home. There were two other new mothers in there, along with an entourage of female companions. They spoke to me, and the first thing I was asked after they wished Allaah peace upon me was, “Where is your mother?” I knew how to answer that, anyway. I told them she had passed away. “Your sisters? Your aunties?”
“They’re in America,” I answered, suddenly feeling very alone, and very young and very far from all that I knew.
“America!” they said. “Miskeena!” Poor girl! Suddenly they were swirling around me, pressing cookies and milk into my hand, offering to hold the baby for me. Tears welled up in my eyes as I felt the kindness and love of these women who were complete strangers to me. “I will be your mother,” said the mother of one of the other women. From her bed, her daughter smiled and waved at me. “Sister!” she said in English.

My walkie talkie beeped. I pressed the button. “How are you doing, Sweetie?” asked my husband’s voice, quiet and reassuring as always. “Fine, alhamdulillah…and you’re a daddy!” He didn’t understand at first, and then he was bursting with happiness. “Are you okay?” he asked.

I looked around at my little impromptu, totally unexpected family and smiled.

“I am,” I replied. “I really am.”

Khadijah Lacina has recently returned to the States after almost ten years living in Yemen. While trying to get over her culture shock, she spends her time homeschooling, writing, knitting, crocheting, playing in the dirt trying to grow things, and messing around with herbs.

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.

June 20 – Then Came the Rain

by Khadijah

This morning we were sent the gift of rain. Month after month of dry, hot, humid weather, the sky an unforgiving blue so light it was almost white…and then this morning, rain.

Khalil and I sat by sea, watching the village fishing fleet heading out at sunrise, the sound of their motors swallowed by the great heartbeat of the sea. A few dark clouds were scattered across the sky, glowering slightly at the dry earth below but if I have learned one thing here on the coast of the Arabian Sea, it is that clouds like that rarely fulfill their promise of rain. So we perched on a pile of rocks (probably sharing them with several crabs, but I try not to think about that), holding hands and enjoying being, and being together. Then Khalil said, “Lift up your veil.” I did, and I felt the tiny kisses of the softly falling rain, and I remembered.

A few months after coming to Yemen, we moved to a lovely little village in the mountains north of Sana’a. We had heard there was a rainy season, but after a couple of months of living there had yet to experience it. It seems like it was late in coming, as they began doing the rain prayer at the masjid. I was going through a tough time then; my sister was dying out of reach on the other side of the world, and I was feeling alone and out of control. For a recovering anorexic, feeling out of control is one of the things that can set one back to destructive habits, and I was fighting that as well.

The email came on a sunny, bright morning – my brother writing to tell me that Patty had finally passed in the night. My husband was at work, it was just the children and me at home. I gave the baby to my oldest son and went to hang the laundry up on the roof. As I walked up the steps, he called up to tell me that they had held another rain prayer. In the numbness of my soul, I dismissed this as being fruitless, meaningless. I pushed open the metal door and stepped out into the morning air, and breathed a breath of…rain?

And it fell. The rain fell, first gently, caressing, and I turned my face up to receive its grace. I dropped the basket of clothes and walked to the edge of the roof, and leaned over just as the rain began to come down in sheets. As I watched the dry earth soak up the blessed water, I felt a little knot inside of me loosen, and with the release of the rain from a sky that had held its breath for months, I allowed myself to mourn Patty’s death, and celebrate her life, and to be reminded of the beauty and order and greater wisdom that is always there, even when my eyes are closed, if I simply open my heart.

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.

May 18 – The Tree

by Khadijah

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.

May 15 – The Bird Lady of Bell Center

by Khadijah

Every year, spring swept into Gays Mills, Wisconsin, on the tail of my Aunt Mid’s RV, as she and Uncle Byron returned from their winter sojourn to parts south. Aunt Mid was my favorite great-aunt, perhaps because she reminded me so much of my mother dark hair, snapping brown eyes, a wonderful sense of humor…but Aunt Mid was something more, something that was just her she could talk to the birds. And perhaps, more amazingly, she understood when she talked back.

My great aunts from my grandmother’s side were by and large of the cute grandma type by the time I knew them gray hair, sweet smiles, cookies on demand. But Aunt Mid, who was my grandfather’s sister, was something else. My first memory of her was as my kindergarten teacher. She was one of those teachers who really love what they’re doing, and therefore instill the love of learning in their students. She didn’t mind if I called her Aunt Mid instead of Mrs. Ambrose, which was good because I couldn’t fit any other name to her but the one I knew her by.

I don’t know when I first realized that Aunt Mid’s birdtalking was something out of the ordinary perhaps when I saw a newspaper feature called “The Bird Lady of Bell Center” and saw a big photo of her with a bird sitting on her hand, she leaning forward as if whispering in its ear. I had seen this numerous times when my mother and I would visit her, sitting on her patio drinking iced tea. I would listen to them talk, mostly about family, as Aunt Mid was an amateur genealogist. I would watch all the birds flitting from place to place on the yard. Every once in a while one would approach my Aunt, and she would pause in her discussion and talk to it. This seemed perfectly normal to me or maybe it just fit in with the sort of magical aura that Aunt Mid had for me. I would have accepted just about anything from her, as I always felt that she was different from everyone else, someone extra special.

I have found that I have some of Aunt Mid’s magic in myself, in my gift of healing. Aunt Mid could do this with her hands. If you had a burn, or scraped your knee or elbow while visiting her, she didn’t go for the alcohol and Bandaids. Instead, she would blow on her hands, rub them together, blow on them again, then place them ever so lightly over whatever was hurting you. Within minutes, the red would lessen, the swelling would go down, and you would feel almost one hundred percent better. My mother inherited this gift from her, and I in turn inherited it in my less flashy, more conventional methods of healing, with heart and hands and herbs. Whenever I help a child with a bruise, or a friend through a cough, I think of Aunt Mid, the Bird Lady of Bell Center, and I am thankful that a little bit of her, and of my mother, lives on through me.

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.

May 10 – Hasna’

by Khadijah

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.

May 5 — In the Suq

by Khadijah

Our house in Old Sana’a was near to two major outside markets–Bab ash-Shuab and Bab as-Sabaa. To get to either one of them, we had to walk down cobblestone streets, doing our best to avoid goats and the small children that seem to be everywhere in Yemen. Even after we had been in the neighborhood for a bit, the children would still stop and stare, their eyes huge as saucers, their fingers stuck in their mouths like pacifiers. I didn’t think we looked all that different–I wore the all-enveloping black garment that I’d worn in the States and which was similar to what many of the Yemeni women wore, my face covered with a veil, and all of my children are a mix between me and my African American husband–so their coloring is similar to that of the locals. I hesitated to uncover my eyes, though, knowing that my baby blues would certainly arouse a lot of unwanted interest! My eldest son, though, is blond and blue-eyed, and there was no hiding that. After being here for a few years, I realized that culturally there is simply no problem with staring. If you’re interested in something, you stare at it. It still seems rude to me, but I understand it is a cultural difference, that’s all.

The suqs of Old Sana’a are incredible places. While some of the vendors have small spaces in actual shops, most of them conduct their trade from wheelbarrows or blue tarps spread on the ground. As you weave your way between them, they all call out, “bi miya bi miya bi miya” (only a hundred riyals) or “ahlan wa sahlan!” (Welcome!). Small boys selling anything from sponges to rat killer to watches tug at your sleeves, earnestly trying to convince you that whatever they have, is exactly what you want. Colorful dresses wave in the wind, delicate embroidery flashing in the sunlight. Bright silver jaambiyas, the daggers that almost all northern Yemenis are never without, march across the blue tarps, along with their gold and blue embroidered belts. Socks, toys and dishes all “made in china” fill the storefronts, along with cheap hair baubles and flimsy electronics. The spice stores are a special treat- baskets and canvas bags filled with spices–cloves, cardamom, cinnamon sticks–send their heady fragrances out into the street, beckoning you to come and look, come and buy.

The sellers are usually friendly and helpful, though they automatically raise their prices, assuming that you will bargain them down. Some, though, usually those with a wad of qat in their cheeks, are barely civil. I learned early on to find the helpful shopkeepers and always go to their stores, rather than have my day spoiled by a rude or offensive one.

Open-air restaurants abound, selling boiled potatoes and eggs to dip in a fiery mixture of powdered spices, bean sandwiches, falafel sandwiches, chicken and rice or even, in some areas, hamburgers and fries. The markets are full of men, women, and children, voices raised as they enjoy their daily bargaining, or gossip with their favorite shopkeepers, or sit on the curb sipping hot, spicy tea. The suqs in Old Sana’a are a feast in every sense of the word- for the eyes, the nose, the ears, and the spirit!

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.

All photos courtesy of Jorge Tutor (http://www.jorgetutor.com/)

April 23 — Arrival Part 2

by Khadijah

Our first house in Old Sana’a was comforting- it was a little different, but not too different, and it had a stove and refrigerator and couches- things we simply did not have when we had just arrived. The rent, however, was very high, and we had a very tight budget. So Khalil started asking around and, through a German student at the language institute, found what would turn out to be my favorite house here in Yemen.

Old Sana’a is a magical place…winding alleyways, sometimes only wide enough to walk single file, lead one past tall tower houses reminiscent of castles or fortresses. They sport gingerbread facades, windows seemingly sprinkled randomly across the stories, each one outlined in white. The cookie cutter tops jut into the blue sky, symbolizing the joining of heaven and earth. There are several suqs, or open markets, scattered throughout the old city, selling everything from cheap transistor radios to intricately embroidered wall hangings. I fell in love with the Old City as soon as I saw it, and our new house became my refuge for our first months in Yemen.

Five stories high, the door of the house was tiny, as if meant for creatures smaller than human size. Its key was huge, taking two hands to turn it. The house was in the old Jewish quarter of the city, and we were told the doors were like this so that the occupants would have time to flee through the roof if soldiers came in from below. Above the door was a chute which extended up the side of the building with a decorative grate in it. This made it easy for someone in one of the higher floors to look down and see who the visitor was when the bell rang. Inside, the rooms looked as though they were carved from the earth itself- all light and curves and fluidity. Over each window was a stained glass window, sending a kaleidoscope of light into the room to dance across the floor at different times of day. The kitchen had a built in tanoor oven in one corner, which was fueled by wood. Mornings brought the scent of woodsmoke and baking bread wafting through the windows, reminding me of home, while connecting me with the history and traditions of my new home at the same time.

My room was small, with built-in cupboards all around and legless couches covered in a rather garish red print surrounding a squat table. One of the couches was wider than the rest, and that was our bed. Mornings were cold in the old tower house. First thing, my son would brew tea for everyone, and then the children would gather in my room, where we would sip the hot, sweet beverage, talk quietly, and feel the sunrise as it climbed slowly up the walls of our little fortress. A little later we’d climb to the mafraj, the room at the top that offered a panoramic view of the Old City. Looking around at my new, I longed to find my space amongst the people, and to become a part of this enchanting, fairy tale world.