The proposal came after a game of Frisbee on the day before my 20th birthday in October 2001. We managed to squeeze in our wedding over Thanksgiving weekend in November. In December, I graduated from college. In January 2002, my new husband and I packed up our wedding gifts – as many as would fit, into suitcases; the rest, into storage boxes – and moved to
The U.S. Embassy in
Our local church congregation of Russians took pity on me and made me an assistant to the girls’ youth group leader. Sasha spoke English very well and had even lived in
In the meantime I started work as a private English tutor, and crammed into dank metro cars in the bowels of the city with hundreds of other commuting Russians to visit my students around the city each afternoon. Before long, I could direct the babushkas to the nearest metro station and complain just as long and loud about how the buses never ran on time.
A summer vacation trip took my husband and me to
The girl’s eyes lit up. “Viy govoritye po russki?” she inquired rapidly, and without waiting for an answer began chatting happily with me in her native tongue. Relief washed over my exhausted soul. Here was someone I could talk to! Here was something familiar! I had never felt so close to home.
Now we live in
I found a job teaching English courses at an organization called Amideast. My students are Syrian teenagers. For some of them, I’m the only American they’ve ever met. They speak heatedly about their frustration with their image in the western world. They struggle to overcome their forced guilt-by-ethnic-association with radical Muslim or Arab militant groups. In class, when discussing the recent fighting in Fallujah that temporarily favored the insurgents, one of my students slipped and said that “we were beating the Americans.” Anass quickly corrected himself and everybody was able to laugh about his mistake, but it seemed to strike at a common undercurrent of confusion.
Anass certainly isn’t radical – he’s a normal, educated Syrian teenager. He works hard at his English studies and listens to Metallica more than my own brothers ever did. One day he brought his guitar to class. In exchange for letting him leave early to go to a rehearsal, I had him play us a few songs. His first choice was a classic, morose song by the Lebanese civil war icon Fairouz. The students clapped their hands to the familiar rhythm and even sang along. As the song came to an end, they begged for another. This time, I heard not the horse-hoof clip-clop rhythm of a Middle Eastern song, but the familiar chord progression of the opening strains of the Eagles’ “Hotel California.” Anass knew the English lyrics by heart, and sang them with an intensity that seemed to indicate he even knew the meaning behind them. At the chorus, the whole class joined in the singing, and I found myself surrounded by Syrian teenagers singing a classic American song, in what was to them a foreign language, and doing it better than I ever could.
Home had never felt like this before.