Farah’s initial shyness disguised her accomplished past.
In her native Tunisia, she lived as a respected doctor. But her entire world changed in the last two years, almost as if a hurricane had swept through. She was still reeling from the impact.
“My parents decided it was time for me to marry,” she shared. “I became too old. They were worried for me. They thought I wouldn’t give them grandchildren.”
Making a Personal Choice for the Veil
During this time, Farah decided to don the hijab, or headdress. “My parents didn’t force me, but it was my way to feel closer to God.”
“I don’t know exactly how to describe it, but it made me feel that I was preparing myself before God for what was ahead.” This was Farah's process of discovery, one leading to a deeper intimacy with God.
Farah’s older sister was the one who eventually made a marriageable connection for her with Karim. He was a promising, up-and-coming military officer who was headed to the U.S. for an 18-month master’s degree program in Operational Systems.
Life Change Almost Overnight
They were introduced and seemed compatible. Within two months, they were engaged, and in another three, married. It all happened so fast.
And then Farah was pregnant. Then their daughter was born. And then she left her job. And then they moved to the U.S. Whirlwind.
So here I was with her, on this crisp, fall day, with her rambunctious little one scooting around the furniture, not yet walking but almost.
“I don’t know what to do with her,” Farah confessed. “She is so busy. But I don’t know how to even get out. It is crazy.”
Farah’s sense of overwhelm was palpable.
“Back at the hospital, with my patients, I knew what I was doing. Now, with this little girl, I have no idea.”
Her mother was on the other side of the world. No one had prepared her for all these changes. For the sense of isolation. For the loneliness.
A Chance to Get Connected
But she had heard of our monthly International Wives Connection gatherings. And she joined. But there were few others from her country. She felt so far away from the familiar. And her husband – whom she barely knew – was immersed in his studies.
“I kept connected with home. That saved me during the darkest times,” she shared. Still, she longed for friendship, for people who cared and reached out. She craved discovery of new reasons for the sudden twists and turns in her life.
In time, she found it. First, that friendship came from a Middle Eastern friend, a new arrival as well, but on the opposite end of the introvert–extrovert spectrum. The two communicated in a unique mix of Arabic, French and the occasional English word.
Ermina’s animated personality brightened up the room. They built their friendship on their connection to their region of the world, common languages and circumstances. Yet their personalities contrasted so. In time, Ermina grew weary of pushing Farah to extend herself. They remained friends but their paths diverged some.
Connections to Home – Pain and Hope
And then came the bombings back home. First, in a famous museum and then on a tourist beach. These terrorist attacks targeted tourists, the industry Farah’s tiny country depended upon most.
“We are not a place like this,” Farah exclaimed. “Tunisia has always been safe. It has been a place of many tourists, mostly from Europe. Now I wonder what is going to happen.”
That stab of homesickness received a double blow.
Many women from the local community, connected with our International Wives group, began to reach out more intentionally to Farah. She received the embrace of many women who could sense the depth of her particular struggle. Her discovery of friendship was sweet.
Finding a Place and Gaining Confidence
In time, it lightened her burden. In time, she had found a place.
It was never perfect. Wearing the hijab in the U.S., even in progressive California (still) made her feel as if she were an object of curiosity and suspicion.
“I do feel different here. But I chose that. It is okay. I will make it.”
Farah grew more confident as more and more women in the group took a personal interest in her, as they took her and her little girl out to local venues – the public library, the aquarium, the park. As her life opened up more for exploration and discovery.
Unwrapping the Gift
As the date for her return drew near, Farah became more relaxed and connected. She began to realize the place she had grown to occupy on other people’s hearts. She began to see how she mattered to others. And the most significant discovery? She began to grow confident in her new role as wife and mother.
“When I return, I will go back to work. Truly, I miss it so much. But I think I have a new understanding from this time. I know myself better now. And I will miss this place.”
“…miss this place.” This place of challenge, of loneliness, but also of growth. Of discovery. This place that opened her heart to new ways of thinking, to new friendships, to new hopes, to new dreams.
“Come visit me someday,” she beckoned.
Three nights before they departed, Farah, Karim and their little girl had us over for a meal. Although most of their possessions were packed, Farah had put together the very best Tunisian meal she could, a real act of the heart.
“We wanted to give you this, as a way to thank you for all you have done for us, for Farah,” Karim expressed. “It means a lot to me that you cared so much.”
In that moment, I was sure that someday, somehow, we would visit them. In God’s will – InshaAllah, as they put it.
And I knew that this woman would be okay. She had found the best gift a season abroad could give her – meaningful friendship.
I carry Farah in my heart.
Sometimes shy people seem distant at first. Where you stand on the introvert–extrovert spectrum doesn't determine your value. How can we better understand this about others? And about ourselves? Share below, please!
Image Credit: Hermanpc on Flickr