Fatima’s country

Just as I was settling in to the routine of attending the mosque class on Sunday’s, Fatima suggested we switch it up. She wanted me to come to her apartment during the week for more one-on-one time. I continued to fasten my headscarf in the rearview mirror, only now I emerged into the busy parking lot of a student housing complex. I felt like Clark Kent making the transition to Superman. I walked the pathways to Fatima’s building in hijab. I wasn’t concerned about running into anyone I knew because I felt unrecognizable. I had never understood why Lois Lane couldn’t tell that her super hero boyfriend was the same guy as her reporter colleague, but it suddenly made sense. Identity is so much bigger than a face.

The personal details about Fatima I had gathered at the mosque were skeletal at best. She had come to the United States for her husband’s graduate studies. She had two little girls. I also knew the basics about her homeland: a colonial past; a ruthless leader, initially supported by the west, brought down in spectacularly grisly fashion; roving bands of militants fighting for control. Its story was similar to at least a dozen other countries in that part of the world.

Now, with time spent just the two of us, I put meat on those biographical bones. Despite my preconceived notions regarding the status of women where she was from, Fatima had managed to obtain an advanced degree living there. She had been a professional working woman before coming to the United States. Her husband’s degree in agricultural sciences was being funded by her country’s government—some aspect of which was obviously working well enough to finance such projects. But her family’s efforts to broaden their horizons came with sacrifice. Since arriving in the U.S. more than five years earlier, they hadn’t returned home once. Both of their little girls had been born here. Their grandmothers back home had never held them.

I had only ever met ex-patriots of countries like hers who fled and had no desire to return. Not Fatima. She longed to go back. She spoke of her homeland with a tenderness some might reserve for the dearest loved one. She showed me pictures on the internet of its most beautiful features. She fed me its popular dishes. She called it “my country.” “This is food we eat in my country.” She and her husband had visited another town in the United States that reminded her of it. “The temperature, the way the air smelled,” she said with a serene smile. “I closed my eyes and I was in my country.”

I wondered how she felt about the ruthless leader who had been killed—if his rule was as bad as the media here had made it seem. She hadn’t been back since his death. Her gaze lowered to the floor, her expression went pensive. She nodded, “It was bad,” she whispered. She told me about a cousin who was executed for carrying anti-government propaganda in his car. “I’m sorry,” I said. I meant for her family’s suffering, but also for whatever role my country may have played in creating the situation. “Thank you,” she replied. I searched her eyes but didn’t see any blame there.


7 thoughts on “Fatima’s country

  1. Very heartfelt. I think we tend to forget that others, even if they come out of a brutal regime, love their country. They have family and familiarity! Good story. Are you being spiritually fulfilled?

    • Hi Cheri, I don’t think I can quite answer that yet…”spiritually fulfilled” to me sounds like you’ve come to the end of the road and feel perfectly satisfied. I can’t say I’m there yet and I don’t know if I ever will be, truthfully.

  2. I just wanted to comment on something from your last post: “Like the other faiths I had explored, the primary ideas weren’t so difficult to grasp, it was all the stuff that had sprouted up around them: the customs and rituals, many of which developed after the main messengers were long gone.” This is what I’ve observed too. “All the stuff”. I wish we could carve away all the stuff from the outside of religion because I think there’s something true and simple inside each one, which they probably all have in common. I think that’s what you’ve been mining for all this time, Corinna.

    • Hi Shelley, Yes, I feel I’m arriving at some underlying commonality and it really is what I’ve been mining for. I think the commonality is so simple: we’re all united, we’re all family, we all come from the same source. So simple and so powerful.

  3. I really appreciated reading this post, Corinna, and getting the little insights about Fatima’s home country. We Americans are still guilty of seeing our nation as the only good nation on earth. Add to that our abysmal ignorance of other lands and cultures, Add to that our natural discomfort with all things Islam and on top of that …. whatever….. It’s good to hear how she regards her homeland, and does indeed remind us of certain commonalities.
    Thanks again.

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