The past few days, I’ve been feeling very downbeat. Everything from coming to terms with my inability to provide basically the most crucial equipment needed for Bilquis (my daughter), the fact that my husband does not comprehend the concept of helping out with things like bringing groceries, paying the bills, running errands and maybe even giving me a break sometimes from cooking, cleaning, and helping our son with his homework, or my 27 year old son who seems to believe that having a child every year is the next best thing to becoming the leader of your own tribe, although he constantly complains about the lack of income because of course, the bank of Motherhood is always open. Yes, I agree, very sad.
To be honest, these are things that I’ve already gotten used to. What really triggered my aggravation, was the flu, yes the flu. I have been sick for the past few days and It is literally painful everywhere. You would think that I should at least be entitled to a few days of rest, but no, there is no rest for me. Throughout sleepless nights filled with dry coughs, body aches, and major headaches, my husband felt that ordering out was out of the question, because of course “only irresponsible housewives ask for these kinds of things” according to him. Yes you read correctly. Let’s just leave it at that, no use trying to fix the unfixable.
So now that recovery is around the corner, I couldn’t help but remember my dear grandmother (Allah yer7amha). She was my inspiration, role model, and the most influential person in my life. I even wrote an essay about her a few years ago titled (The most influential person in my life), which starts like this:
“It’s okay sweetheart, don’t be upset with your mother. She really means well, she just doesn’t know that there are ways to get a point across without yelling,” my grandmother ( Allah yer7amha) would tell me with a peaceful look on her face which never failed to heal my suffering. She always knew how to make me feel better. I knew from the first day I spent with my grandmother when we reunited after 9 years of separation that she was my role model and a tremendously needed inspiration in my life. My grandmother taught me perseverance, compassion, patience, and wisdom. I can honestly say that I’ve become who I am today mostly because of her influence.
After spending nine years in America, my father had decided to go back Yemen to visit his family. The visit turned out to be longer than planned, so we ended up spending eleven long and dreadful years there. The only two things that I appreciated from my stay there were my gained knowledge of Islam and my grandmother’s teachings that I cherish forever.
After our arrival in Yemen, we stayed in the capitol Sana’a for a few weeks. After that we headed to a small village about five hours away from the city to meet my father’s relatives. It felt like we were time traveling into the past. As I sat in the back seat watching the scenery, it seemed like I was in a faraway land that existed a few centuries ago. Everything around me was ancient. There were no signs of modern technology anywhere other than the few older model cars that we saw in the city.
Throughout our journey, we saw huge mountains and hillsides decorated with large houses of rock and clay, and long narrow valleys with combinations of trees, shrubs, tall grasses, and endless fields of corn, wheat, rye, and other crops. There were cattle, sheep, goats, and donkeys everywhere. The most distinctive memory that stuck with me was the smell of fresh air mixed with an array of different aromas that only God can manufacture. The beauty of it all was captivating. It felt like a magical wand pulling us into a mystic world of nature at its best.
The magic and beauty of our journey faded when we finally arrived in the village. For the first time since our arrival, I felt uneasy. There were many strange faces that stared at us with disbelief, as if they saw something from a different world. But there was one face that was different, my grandmother’s face. I was only four years old when I left Yemen as a child to come to America but I still had memories of my grandmother. It almost seemed like she had a special glow that separated her from everyone else. As soon as my grandmother took me into her arms and started kissing me, I felt like I was home again. Her unique scent sunk into my soul and will always be a part of me forever.
I was going through a lot of frustration after we arrived in Yemen. I felt like I was in a strange place, as if my whole world was turned upside down. Having been raised in America, I did not know very much about my own culture, religion, customs, or traditions. I seriously needed someone to guide me through the new discoveries that I was facing. Not being able to properly speak the Arabic language made it difficult for me to communicate with others. I never felt that I could go to my mother for answers about this new culture and environment. It was obvious that she had her own troubles to deal with at the time. As for my grandmother, she always seemed to know what I needed, almost like she could read my mind.
My grandmother was never judgmental nor sarcastic like the rest of my relatives. Whether it was how I dressed, or how I couldn’t respond to their inquiries in the Arabic language, or the fact that I didn’t know anything about my culture, everyone had something to comment about. They always made me feel ashamed of who I was.
I had to learn how to cook on an oven made of clay and the only fuel was dry wood. What usually takes an hour to cook in a modern oven would take me two to three hours to cook in the clay oven. But I had nothing to fear because my grandmother was always beside me teaching me everything I needed to know. Every time I started to cough and get teary eyed from the smoke and fumes coming from the fire in the oven, my grandmother would tell me to stand outside of the dark kitchen until I felt better, but I would choose not to. I told her, “As long as you are with me, I can deal with it Grandma.”
My grandmother would constantly try to comfort me by explaining why my mother wasn‘t the one teaching me how to adapt to my new life. She told me that my mother was spoiled as a child because she was her only daughter. The fact that my grandfather, my mother’s father was a “sheikh”, an important public figure, gave my mother a sense of “arrogance”, was what my grandmother would call it. When I remember the past, I kind of understood why my mother acted the way she did because I read once that a person’s upbringing has a major influence on their personality. I guess in a way she felt entitled to having everyone take care of her.
My grandmother’s presence made coping with the new environment easier for me. She taught me everything from how to cook, chop wood, bring home water on my head from a well that was almost a mile away, feed the chickens, feed the cows and milk them, and work in the fields. She taught me the importance of perseverance because she knew that I constantly felt like someone who was swimming against the tide. She would always say to me in Arabic, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” She said that ever since I was a child, she always had a feeling that I would have strong characteristics.
I never in my wildest dreams imagined that I would one day live in a remote village, where there were no televisions, ovens, refrigerators, microwaves, vacuums, absolutely nothing that had the simplest implications of technology. I felt like I was a character in a story about an ancient land, one of those books I used to enjoy reading as I sat in my room back in Detroit. Although it took me a while to adjust to life in the village, with my grandmother’s guidance I succeeded. After almost a year of training, I was a typical village girl. I achieved all the skills that the other village girls possessed, which made my grandmother very proud.
That experience in addition to my grandmother’s influence has helped me to stay strong, compassionate, and perseverant. Once I realized that not everyone is privileged to the life we have in America, I also learned to be more appreciative to what I have and to never take anything for granted. Every time there are insignificant things in my life that bother me, I always remember my experience in Yemen; a great way to keep myself humble.