Smile Again

Posted in સ્વાનુભવ by saryu on February 16th, 2011

Smile Again

I saw her in the early evening light, waiting at the corner store. Her head was covered with the head band, or hijab.  I pulled up in my car, and we greeted each other as she opened the passenger door and got in. She seemed nervous as I was driving her to the Literacy Council’s location. Even though she had an engineering degree from her country, she spoke in broken English. Selma thanked me with a guarded smile for picking her up.

For the past one year her life had been in turmoil. I could see the sadness on her pretty face. I started teaching her English, and at the same time she gained confidence and trust. As a domestic violence victims’ advocate, I knew about her plight but she wanted to tell her story in her own words:

“My wonderful Teacher! The mountains of Syria seem so far away. The little girl who was called princess by her parents – sounds like it was in another lifetime. I was in high school when Shabir started paying special attention to me. Shabir was my first cousin but due to a family feud we kept away from each other. Our attraction blossomed in college. He became a dentist and I became an Engineer. When we announced our intention of getting married, our fathers gave in and both brothers’ families resumed their relations. Everything was like a dream.

After Shabir possessed me, his next obsession was to go to America. My opinion did not matter. He got his H1 visa and we came to Texas. My life was limited in the tiny apartment. I looked and felt out of place. Due to my visa status I could not get a job. Shabir, without a state license in dentistry, was working with very low pay. He used to come home frustrated and would find any reason to beat me.

In time, someone gave him the idea that if he married a U.S. citizen, his life would be so much easier. Then that obsession took over his thinking. I started wondering when he stayed out longer hours. Whenever I asked any question he raised his hand and told me to shut up. Then he started mumbling about divorce and shipping me back home. That would deeply hurt my family’s reputation in our community. Here I had casually met one or two families where Muslim traditions were followed religiously. I would not dare to share my domestic troubles with them. I was taught that a good woman always obeys her husband and serves him pleasantly.  Shabir would not tolerate any objections from me.

That day he was determined to get hold of my passport. He yelled and slapped me and ordered to hand over the passport. He threatened me with a knife. I ran into the bedroom, shut the door and dialed 911. Briefly I explained what was going on and left the phone on. He was quiet for a while so I opened the door and ran outside of my apartment. He came after me and started to drag me along the side-walk and up the steps. He heard the police car and let go of me. He approached the police as if nothing was going on but they could see the fear in my eyes and bruises on my body. They asked him to go and sit in the police car. While he was passing by me, he told me in my language, “I will find you and kill you.”

I was taken to the police station. After all this, I was afraid for my life and would not dare go back to our apartment. I was given a few pamphlets of different organizations and shelters. My English was very weak and I was so nervous that my speech was not understandable. One voice, speaking in Arabic, replied the next day. That lady was a volunteer, willing to help me. My day began with talking to the strangers and sharing my very personal life. Although, I was in an unknown place and among unknown people, I felt safe. Their confidence helped me to feel that I had some right to be happy too.

I went to many different offices and met many people. I was pleasantly surprised to see total strangers actually believing in me, ready to help me! I never wanted to face Shabir. I was afraid of him and at the same time I despised him. I was only 31 years old and he had destroyed my life. The court forced him to pay me a small amount monthly, and divorce proceedings were slow to progress due to many complicated issues. The future seemed dubious. Fortunately, my advocate found a middle eastern family who needed a housekeeper.”

Selma’s host family lived in my neighborhood but she preferred that I pick her up and drop her off at the corner drug store. She got a special visa available for domestic violence victims, so she could stay here and work.  She did not want anyone finding out where she was staying. She kept in touch with her family and a few of us by cell phone. She maintained good relations with her host family and lived with them for more than one year until she moved into her own apartment.

I always felt that if she kept her traditional look wearing a hijab, it might be difficult to find a job. I also believe that it is a good idea to assimilate with the society in which you live, but without compromising our principles. Covering one’s head had its purpose under certain circumstances. I brought up that point but she was determined to keep her traditional look. She always had to adjust her activities with her prayer times. She felt at peace praying five times a day, and it showed in her behavior.

After her divorce finalized, Selma started receiving marriage proposals. She shared the information with me, and I helped her to prepare before each “date.” One businessman from her country was very nice to her. He was divorced with three children. She met with his family during Ramadan and felt comfortable. She told him that she needs several months to decide and definitely not before her family’s approval. They put aside the marriage plans and worked out a deal that she would work in one of his stores as a salesperson. Our organization helped her to rent and furnish one apartment near the shopping mall where she worked. It was a children’s clothing store.

After several months I received a letter which said: “My wonderful teacher! You will be glad to know that my life is getting better. I will be getting married soon. My new husband went to my home town and got blessings from my family. I have survived!”

My mind vividly remembered one evening with Selma after a long English session.  We had a good heart-to-heart talk as we walked out from the classroom. The wild flowers and tall pleasant yellow sunflowers were looking at us. I admired that sight. Selma started up the hill and through the weeds to collect those lovely sunflowers. She brought down a bunch and ceremoniously presented them to me. That beautiful evening and her gentle smile left a special picture in my heart.

I wrote her back. “Those sunflowers are now growing in my garden and every time I look at them, they remind me of you. Now you know, growing untended in the wild, the pretty sunflowers can survive and thrive, and so have you. I wish you courage, wisdom, and joy in your life.”
your teacher, Saryu

Smile Again
My wonderful teacher, I send you this letter
To let you know that my life is much better.
As you know, I grew up in Syria
School and college were sheltered euphoria.
He was cute and pursued me for long;
I married him for love, thought together we belonged
I was overjoyed to come, guided by his ruling hand
I was happy in the hijab, timorous in this foreign land

Soon, my love was quite aloof; he had seen the dollar spoof
I was hurt and all alone, didn’t know what was going on!
He often slapped me here and there; I thought,“ he is just upset!”
I didn’t have anyone to tell, I kept the secrets very well.
He humiliated me more, asked for papers and passport,
I said, “ No, no, you must leave.” He said, “ need you to deport.”
He waved the shiny knife, yelled and dragged me to the street.
I cried and begged him just to stop, couldn’t see a way to retreat.

The police took me to a bend, where I could barely comprehend.
They told me to call some shelter, a safe place;
“I want to see my mama’s gentle face.”

Lucky for me that you were there.
You kindly took me in your care.
You tended my broken, beaten life,
You stroked my tender, weeping heart.

You taught me how to get my rights
Find the freedom from the fights
I look forward to future sights
Out of the dark and into the lights.

I thank you, O’ my teacher, as well as several other kind helping hands.

Your Happy Survivor 
—————————- ——————-
True story/Written by Saryu Parikh, June 2009

હસી ફરી–

આશ   તારલી   આજ   રાતભર  ઝાકળ   થઈને    ઝરતી
સ્વપ્નોની    રંગોળી     રોળી     શ્યામ   વાદળી    વરસી

યૌવનના     આંગણમાં    ખીલી   વેલી     પ્રેમ    સીંચેલી
શરમાતી     મલકાતી      અર્પિત     પૂર્ણ    પણે   વરેલી

એની    આશે     શ્વાસે    ઝૂલી   નરમી    નેણ   મીંચેલી
ત્રાપટ    ઝાપટ   વાગી   ત્યારે    ધ્રૂજતી   એ    ભીંજેલી

અણધારી      આફત      આવેલી       વાછંટે      વીંઝેલી
તણખલાના      તીર     તેવર     ક્રુર    કાંટેથી      વીંધેલી

હૈયામાં    એ   હામ    લઈને     શક્તિ    સહ     જાગેલી
મમતાળી     ડાળી    ઓથારે    હસતી    ફરી     ખીલેલી

નવા   પ્રહરની    ઝાકળ    ઝીલી   તૃપ્ત  બની   તરસેલી
હૈયામાં     ઉમંગ     લઈ    નવસ્વપ્ન     સજે   શર્મીલી

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