Alhamdulillah, we have been back in the States for two weeks now. I have found that I’m not the same person I was when I left here almost ten years ago; and yet my heart aches at such sounds as the wind in the trees, or the crunch of leaves under my feet, the giggles and shouts of my children as they roll down the little hill behind the house, reveling in the grass like young horses. So familiar, the sounds of my childhood and young adulthood, a memory half-grasped, then held close as it blooms into reality.
The weeks leading up to our trip were filled with activity, yet I was never so busy that the mixed bag of my emotions was held shut. I looked forward to getting reacquainted with family, to breathing in winter air and seeing pine trees reaching into the cold, crisp sky of December. I felt sadness and loss at the thought of leaving Yemen, which was a home as much as any place can be a home, and its people, so generous and kind.
The first leg of our trip was simple, from Mukalla to Sana’a, a short hop of an hour or so. Well, simple in concept- this was the flight we had missed the week before due to the travel agent’s confusion. Everyone at the airport welcomed us like long lost family, remembering the problem we had had, and happy to see us back. My husband repaid the kind brother who had lent us the money to return to our house in Shihr, and he smiled and waved and prayed for us as we boarded the plane.
We arrived in Sana’a to cold air and clear skies. We had an eighteen hour wait in the airport- it would be too difficult to go to a hotel with all of our luggage and be sure to get back in time for the early morning flight. We couldn’t even check in; we sat in an outer area with big doors open to the winter weather. One one the mechanics from Royal Jordanian, which we were flying, called my husband back and gave him tea for us and a box of tissues. I took the children past the soldiers and let them play outside for a couple of hours before the sun set. They had fun, and found a little secret garden with a mama cat and two kittens playing in it, and were amused by their antics for quite some time.
When we returned to the waiting area, we watched people coming in to check in for flights all to Mumbai and Dhibouti, among other places. Always one who loves to watch people, I made up stories in my head for my fellow travelers, probably much more romantic than reality. Hudhaifah, my sixteen year old, was asked to lead the prayer in the little carpeted area where employees and travelers prayed, right behind the metal seats. Later on, he and my husband went and got us a little supper from a take out restaurant nearby, and then we made a little enclosure with our luggage in the prayer area and cuddled up against the cold, trying to sleep while Khalil stood watch. Hudhaifah went over and talked to the soldiers, telling them of our travels, and about Muslims in America. After we had been resting for a bit, my husband threw a large, fuzzy, pink blanket over us- it seems one of the soldiers had run home and gotten it for us. Soon another appeared for my little boy. Again, the kindness of strangers in this wild land gave comfort. As I held my baby close to my heart for warmth, I said a prayer for these people, and for us- the thought of leaving them making my throat tight.
We settled in, and waited for morning to come…