More about Khadija….
Jane took a deep breath as she turned into the driveway of the Sharpstown Garden Apartments. She veered to miss a pothole and came to a large sign that commanded her to stop. She stopped and looked into an empty guardhouse, then drove on through the open gate. So much for security. Hmmm – apartment 203B. Okay here’s Building 400, there’s 300 okay 200 must be on the back. Turning the corner, Jane almost hit a woman wearing a sari-type dress. The woman looked at Jane and Jane suddenly felt like she had two years ago on her honeymoon in Acapulco. She and Ted had emerged from the Southwest Airline terminal and she had been overwhelmed at different dark faces, different smells, different language (her two years of Spanish didn’t even begin to help for the first couple of days!). That feeling of visceral fear crawled up her back and stayed there as she went up the stairs to apartment 203B. Perhaps that was why she later did what she did.
She didn’t need to look for the number because there were toys with dark skinned children running along the second story. Peering into the open door, Jane knocked – Khadija came forward, a smile on her face. Jane was amazed at the beautiful dark curly hair around the girl’s face. She seemed much more approachable to Jane.
Hello Khadija. Is your mother here?
Khadija smiled and turned and said something back into the darkened apartment. A woman wearing the same sari-type dress came forward. Jane looked into her face and saw the similarity to Khadija. The woman smiled and motioned to come in. Jane stepped forward only to look down and see rows of shoes against the wall. Glancing at the woman and Khadija’s feet, she realized that apparently they took their shoes off. Should I do that too or maybe I don’t have to because I’m an American..and oh my God, besides I have that big run in the toe of my hose. Feeling very awkward, she slipped out of her flats and walked into the living room and sat on a large plastic sofa where she carefully placed her foot over her torn stocking. As her eyes adjusted to the dim light, she noticed a large television on one wall and a large tapestry with a square black building and lots of people circled around it. Khadija’s mother noticed her looking at the tapestry and said,
Jane smiled and repeated,
“I wonder what that means?” They sat in silence for a few minutes.
Do you speak English?
The young woman smiled and shook her head. Two little boys ran into the room and climbed up into their mother’s lap.
Khadija, can you tell your mother I need to talk to her. Is there someone here who speaks English?
Khadija spoke to her mother in the same language as before and Jane wondered what she really said. The mother spoke (rather sharply Jane thought) to one of the boys and pushed him toward the door. He flew out. Several long moments of silence ensued. Jane was feeling more and more uncomfortable. Suddenly Ohm Mohamad stood up and left the room. She was gone for what seemed like an hour to Jane.
I wonder if I did something wrong. Maybe I shouldn’t have said that word what was it I can’t remember now. Maybe she’s getting something to drink. Maybe she was ironing and left the iron on..no she would have been back by now. I don’t know. Why did I come here. This was a stupid idea
OH Jane gasped
as she looked up into the face of a tall dark man at her elbow staring down at her.
Oh I’m sorry – I didn’t mean to startle you.
My God he has a British accent thought Jane.
I am Abdul Osman, Khadija’s father. And you are her teacher?
He stepped back and said something to Binti as she came back in carrying a large jelly glass filled with orange liquid and a small saucer with yellow squares on it.
I am so sorry my son just came to tell me you were here. Please have some kashata* -my wife makes them. They are sweet cakes from our country.
Oh you know our country?
No, no. Jane was still trying to recover her composure.
Please help yourself.
She took one of the cakes in her hand. It was very heavy. Wondering about the number of fat grams, she took a bite.
Ahsalam wa lakum –
Abdul Osman looked toward the door. A shorter man came in – the two shook hands.
This is my brother Osman. Hello.
I hope Khadija has not been a problem.
Oh no Jane raised her hand to protest and maybe it was that sudden gesture, or the fear that had never quite gone away or the fact that she was still trying to cover her torn hose but she began to choke on the sweet cake. Oh Lord don’t let me choke on their country’s food. The more she tried to stifle the coughs, the worse they became.
I know our food is sometimes heavy for Americans
No. no really it is very good. I like it very much. Really I do.
Jane felt like a real fool.
Please can I have another.
I’m overdoing it. Better get on with the problem.
Mr. Osman, I’m here because we’re concerned about Khadija’s eating at school. Or more precisely, she’s not eating.
Jane began to explain the problem.
Abdul nodded (as did Osman)
Oh yes of course, you see we are Muslim and do not eat pork. It is haram for us.
Yes but this wasn’t pork just hamburgers and french fries.
There is no pork in the school?
No, well maybe …well I don’t know. But I’ll check. Anyhow, she has to eat. She can’t concentrate if she doesn’t eat.
Of course, my wife she will prepare her food. We were not sure if we could prepare her food ourself.
Of course, it is no problem. But I will check and see if there is pork in our lunchroom.
Well thank you very much.
She stood and everyone stood also. Well that was easy…who knew??
Shaking hands with everyone, she backed toward the door and slipped her shoes on. At the door she turned back to say good bye only to find everyone coming out – Binti and Khadija both had black scarves on their heads – she tried not to stare as the child deftly wound the scarf around her head and the mass of black curls were gone.
The next morning, driving past Sharpstown Gardens, Jane looked for 203B and smiled. It wasn’t until she walked into her classroom, that she realized that for the first time, she had felt no fear driving by the dilapidated apartments. She looked at the mail on her desk. Mumtaz was scrawled on the top left corner.
For your information
More information about refugees. The vetting process. It takes approximately 18 to 24 months for an individual to be vetted to come into the United States. Here is a link to the nine step process that every refugee goes through before being admitted into the United States with explanations of how they “wash out” along the process and are not admitted.
*Kashata is a popular sweet all along the East African coast and remarkably similar to the popular Ferrero Raffaello coconut candy. It is a delicious treat that could be dessert or eaten whenever you please. See photo at beginning of article