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Finding Home Part 1

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

planted seeds

we have sipped

your breast’s sweet

nectar

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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9 comments

Susan Albert on June 14, 2011 2:33 pm

Khadijah, I enjoyed reading this when it won the SCN competition. I’ve enjoyed it again–I’m glad you’ve posted it here. 9/11 was a tragedy for all of us. The anti-Muslim anger was–and continues to be–an especial tragedy. Thank you for balancing it, here, with the acceptance of others in your community.

I’m looking forward to rereading Part 2!

Khadijah on June 15, 2011 3:37 am

This issue of the intense hatred and fear of Islaam and Muslims that has spread all over the place is a very important one- and it is sad that it is happening in America, where we have had the chance to learn so much about tolerance, especially after the Civil Rights Movement. I sometimes have people do an exercise where they change “Muslim” in an article or comment to “black” and see if it still seems acceptable to them. Prejudice and/or racism is an ugly and malignant thing, and I hope through this blog, and through my interactions with the non-Muslim community, to help to curb this as much as I am able insh’Allaah.

Laurinda Wheeler on June 15, 2011 6:14 pm

Thank you for sharing this piece Khadijah, and I look forward to reading part 2…

I really enjoyed the part where you talk about the digging and gardening that you did, “choosing those things that my children could snack on as they played outside,”…

Khadijah on June 15, 2011 6:30 pm

This was really important to me- growing things that they could nurture, and that could nurture them. We had just come out of a couple of years of living in the innercity of East Orange, NJ (across from a junkie hangout, actually) and I needed to reconnect myself, and connect all of the children, to nature and the land.

Thurayah Stoehr on June 17, 2011 11:49 am

This is hard to read and respond to. I am always amazed how you never complained or even gave a hint that anything but wonderful things were happening. What a good lesson for us all in accenting the positive and making it so.

Khadijah on June 17, 2011 12:57 pm

I think I learned this from all the moving around we did, looking for a place to try to plant some roots- we never made a bad move, there was good everywhere we went.
There was a Muslim scholar who once cautioned about complaining to other people- he said that either the one hearing it loves you and you will make him upset as well, or he dislikes you, and he will be happy at your misfortune!!

Umm Yusuf on June 20, 2011 1:05 pm

Although my little potted garden never matched yours, thank you for reminding me how much fun it was playing in the dirt and watching the fruit of your labor break free. When you left New York, I was sad, fearing Iā€™d never see you and the children again. When my husband decided to move to Yemen, my first thought was ā€œforget Carmen SanDiego, where in the world is YEMEN!!!ā€ But I am happy we decided to go, the experiences we had are the kind that shape us and make us better, stronger, more caring and considerate people. We have shared many of the same experiences in the course of our lives in Yemen, and I am so happy that you have put these experiences to paper.

Khadijah on June 20, 2011 3:55 pm

Hey Grammie- I still remember how happy I was when I found out you all were coming here too! And I’m thankful that we lived in the same area at least some of the time.

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