This is the first of two parts, sharing a little about how we ended up leaving our home in New York state to come to Yemen eight years ago. It won first place in the Storycircle Network’s Lifewriting Competition last year, alhamdulillah.
My fingers have combed
through your rough dirt
we have sipped
your breast’s sweet
you taste of home
Even before my husband and I married, we shared the dream of someday moving to Yemen. For years, this was a dream that had to be set aside, left to slumber as we travelled around the U.S looking for a good home for our children. From city, to city, to inner city we travelled, as my longing to establish roots somewhere grew with every move. Finally, we were able to purchase a three story house which had been taken from its previous owner for nonpayment of taxes. It was in a medium sized town in upstate New York. Its insides were unfinished- in some rooms there were cracks by the windows where the trees outside could peek in and see how our little family of gypsies lived. The yard was small and overgrown, with a huge comfrey plant near the back and some ancient pear trees along one side. It was perfect for us.
My husband fixed up the top floor right away, then proceeded to make the kitchen livable, and the living room actually comfortable. The middle floor was left for a later time- while never being finished or even really partially finished, one of its rooms became the boys’ bedroom, and one my workroom, where I concocted herbal potions and made soap to my heart’s content.
I spent hours outside in the backyard, digging out the largest garden space I could, as well as a couple of smaller ones around the edges of the house and the back fence. I planted vegetables and herbs, choosing those things that my children could snack on as they played outside, or which could be used as medicines when they were ill. The only exceptions were the morning glories which snaked up the black wrought iron fence in the backyard- I have always loved these joyful little flowers, and every time I looked at them I was reminded of my sister Patty, now gone from this earth, who covered her little house in the northern Wisconsin woods with them every year. I rejoiced when the plants pushed free from the ground, and I saw the children pause in their play to eat a carrot from the garden, or nibble on nasturtium or borage flowers.
We got to know the people in our neighborhood. Once they got used to me wearing my Muslim overgarments, my husband and the boys wearing Saudi thawbs, and the girls in their colored scarves and pretty skirts and dresses, they saw us as people, and, eventually, as neighbors. I sold my soaps at local businesses, was asked to speak at the small, privately owned bookstore on Main Street, and my son joined an archery club and learned to bow hunt. In a word, we became accepted.
When the horror of 9-11 occurred, we stayed in our house- it became a sanctuary as the world outside became just a bit scarier. Our car was vandalized and people would drive by yelling obscenities at us, just because we were Muslims. We stuck close to home, our lifeboat in rough seas, and tried to ride out the storm. I realized just how thoroughly our neighbors had embraced us when I was outside one morning harvesting calendula flowers, and the big, bearded, Harley Davidson driving sportsman who lived across the street strolled over. He stood looming over me for a minute, then said, “You having any trouble with the people around here?” My husband, who had been standing nearby, said that no, it was nothing we couldn’t handle. He replied, “There’s a lot of inbreeds in these hills- if anyone gives you trouble, come to me.” With that, he shambled off, not knowing that my mouth was hanging open under my veil at this gruff offer of assistance, this offer of community. The tears came when I went back inside.
To be continued…
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