Last night I went to sleep to the sound of rain against the windows. This morning I awoke to the same sound. To me, it was the sound of home.
Yesterday afternoon Khalil and I went for a walk in our quiet, tree-filled neighborhood. I couldn’t help myself- I kept taking deep breaths of the cool, crisp air. “This is the thing you can’t explain to people,” I told him. “All the millions of little things that, piece by piece, make up “home”.”
The flight to New York from Jordan took twelve and a half hours. For a person who hates flying, it was a trial. Alhamdulillah, though, Allaah made it easier for us when one of the flight attendants asked someone to move out of one of the four seat middle sections so Khalil and I could sit there with the baby, rather than in our more cramped side seats. That made a huge difference, mash’Allaah, to be able to lay the baby down sometimes, or even spread out just a bit when things got uncomfortable. We flew Royal Jordanian, just as we had when we were flying to Yemen ten years ago, and alhamdulillah, we found them to be very accommodating and helpful- and we figured that if we were going to give thousands of dollars to an airline, it should at least be one from a Muslim country.
After twelve hours spent trying to get comfortable, or trying to make the baby comfortable, we began our descent into New York’s JFK airport. It was a smooth landing, alhamdulillah, but of course a couple of the children got sick. My heart was full of mixed feelings regarding being back in the States- a feeling of loss for my Yemeni home of ten years, a feeling of homecoming, and a feeling of hope for new journeys and roads unraveling before us.
When we got off the plane, we were taken aside by a burly Homeland Security guard with a bit of an attitude. I had heard so many horror stories of Muslims being harassed when returning from overseas that I didn’t know what to expect- I tried to keep an open mind. We were escorted into a waiting room with all of our carry-ons and Khalil and another guard went to get our luggage. Thankfully, the men who were behind the desks here were courteous and respectful.
My husband was questioned separately, while Hudhaifah, my sixteen year old son, and I were questioned in the same room with my children all present. One funny moment came when they asked if my father had ever owned or fired a firearm. He was raised in the north woods of Wisconsin, and lived in Wisconsin all of his life- so like most men of his generation, he did own a firearm for hunting. So I told him that yes, he had owned one- but, honestly, I doubted if he fired it much. I remember him always coming home from hunting empty handed except for tall tales that he had made up for us children while he was out in the woods. I actually got a smile, however small, for that bit of information.
Homeland Security had to go through all of our bags and our computers. The officer in charge was incredibly kind and polite, apologizing and getting us all water to drink while we waited. After a little while he took us into a side room with comfortable chairs and toys for the children to play with. I promptly fell asleep.
When we were through being checked out, another officer took us to where we could find out about getting a new flight out, as we had missed our connecting flight to Atlanta due to the security process. I can honestly say that we were treated well and with respect and kindness by the Homeland Security force, perhaps because, besides not having anything to hide, we were respectful and kind to them as well.
The next few hours were spent trying to find the place where we could purchase new tickets, and then sit and wait out yet another night in the airport. At one point my husband and son were gone while we waited in a cold outside area for them to return for us. People passed by, hurrying and bustling to get to their own flights, or their cars…but over half of the people who passed us stopped to ask me if they could do anything for us. I was so thankful that, even though we never accepted any help, my heart became more and more restful and content with out decision to come back. The kindness continued, later, when the Delta people brought us blankets and pillows and gave us vouchers for food for the whole family.
Later, as I walked up and down the concourse with a wide awake baby, I thought of the kindness we had been shown repeatedly during the course of our trip. As we were walking a young man entered the terminal, obviously waiting for a plane that must have been delayed. He pulled his suitcase a little bit away from where my children were sprawled under their blankets, dozing. After a bit he laid down on the cold floor and put his hat over his head, hoping to get some sleep. For some reason I was touched by the trust he showed in laying down near to us, in all of our foreignness- my husband in his thawb, with his taaqiya and beard, Hudhaifah in his Yemeni clothes, the girls and I in our black hijaab, faces covered. I told Hudhaifah to wake him up and give him a blanket and a couple of pillows.
“Oh, thank you,” he said fervently. “I can really, really use these.” And he promptly situated himself more comfortable and went to sleep.
I sent a prayer of gratitude to Allaah for making this trip as easy as possible, and I asked him that the next, and last, leg of our journey go as smoothly.