Homecoming. I thought about the idea of “coming home” as our jet from New York to Atlanta climbed slowly into the air, gaining altitude to try to avoid excessive turbulence. The plane was full; I thanked Allaah that we had been able to be booked on it the night before- that nine seats had been available for us. This would be our last jet ride, hopefully, for awhile. My mother in law, her husband, my sister in law, and her husband were supposed to meet us at the airport and then we would drive the rest of the way to Columbia, SC, a trip of about three hours. My body was heavy with fatigue and a vague sense of loss for all we had left behind in our second homeland of Yemen. I tried to shake the feeling, thinking about the coming reunion with family, some of whom I hadn’t seen for ten years.
Ten years. Ten years of journeys, experiences, wars, peace, sickness, learning, growing, friendships, births and deaths. I had a niece and a two nephews I had never seen, and my relatives had not seen my three youngest children either. My memories of my other niece were of a tiny girl running from room to room, hair flying behind her. Now that she was thirteen, I had to assume that my image of her was terribly dated. I thought of my sister and brothers; I had always been close to two of them, and I wondered if we would be able to come together again, like before. Looking inside, at how my life in Yemen had changed me, I wondered how much they had changed as they travelled their own roads as well. As I thought of the people I would soon be seeing, or at least talking to, I couldn’t help but think of the ones who had left this earthly journey before me, those I would not see again.
Less then a year after I left for Yemen, my sister Patty became ill; within a few short months she passed away. During those months I lived in a small village near Sana’a, and I had no way to call her. So instead I wrote her long letters that my husband mailed when he went in to work, and sent shorter emails to try to let her know I was there for her in mind and spirit, if not in body. I made her little gifts and sent them off…she died the week before they arrived.
A few years later my husband was planning a trip back to the States. We were in another small village, this one in the North, on the brink of war with Houthi rebels. I was just beginning to feel ill with the typhoid that would bring me down a couple of months later. The day before my husband left, he came home from the internet cafe and sate down next to me, taking my hand. He told me he had received an email from my brother, Abdus Salaam, and that my father had died. It was the same as with Patty- a brief illness, a flurry of messages sent, no replies received, and then- loss. In both instances, it was like driving towards a cliff with no brakes; going over the side of the mountain was effortless, and inevitable, and I was left with nothing to hang onto but my faith, and the little world I had made for myself and my family.
This then, was the end of the journey back. My in-laws weren’t at the airport when we landed, but came within a few hours. Seeing them, and their joy at seeing us again, reminded me of the importance of thinking of others and trying to put myself in their place.While I felt joy and sadness and a profound sense of loss, they were simply happy to see us again. It helped me to regain my perspective. So many factors came into play, causing us to come back to America. Ultimately, we had made the prayer for guidance, and Allaah had guided us here, to our first home, to the welcoming smiles of family members. And in the hustle and bustle of greetings, I realized I still have farewells to make- to Patty, and to Dad- as their shadows jostle for my attention each day. I see them in the rain, and I hear them in the wind.