Every once in a while, Facebook has some redemptive value to me. I threaten to abandon the social network every few months, frustrated by how it sucks up my limited free time and leaves me mentally fatigued. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed, perplexed, and disheartened about what it delivers to my page, while other times I’m informed, inspired, and ignited to do something meaningful, be someone meaningful. It’s always a gamble. I never know what Facebook will serve up, but its saving grace for me is the ability to connect and reconnect with friends from my past and future. This is partly how I ended up in Singapore, meeting my sister, a kindred soul that I never thought I would meet.
About six years ago, I was working as an entry-level engineer in Western Pennsylvania. Still wintry and cold, it was a relief to be relegated to office work, as opposed to field work on military bases in the backwoods of North Carolina. I plowed through the daily tasks of data analysis, design, and report writing. At times when the office was quiet and my work for the day was completed, I’d daydream about our great escape–not a week-long vacation or a three-day weekend away. Urbndervish and I were preparing for a major move, an entire year abroad. We had not yet settled on Yemen as our destination, so we were still exploring the top locations for Arabic study in the pre-Arab Spring era: Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and Morocco.
On one particular day, Morocco was heavy on my mind. The rich heritage and fusion of Arab and African culture intrigued me. As I started reading travel advice, I struggled to find a traveler profile that I could relate to. I had no interest in the nightlife or hotel resorts. I didn’t want to visit historical Islamic cities and mosques for their architectural value, but rather their spiritual value. Fatefully, I stumbled upon the blog of a fellow lover of adventure–a young bride from Singapore spending her honeymoon in al Maghrib. Her photos were captivating but not nearly as much as her anecdotes.
Traveling as a young, practicing Muslim couple, they were met with curiosity. They were invited into homes, invited to prayer, and invited to return. Even beyond the honeymoon, I followed my virtual friend back home to Singapore as she navigated her path as a working mom striving to uphold her faith and family amidst the demands of her profession. Her family soon became my own. I rejoiced with her joys and grieved with her losses. Our exchange continued well into my first year in Yemen. Whenever limited internet would allow, I would peak into Umm Umar’s window to see how her family was doing but eventually she discontinued her blog and I didn’t know where to find her.
The years passed and I would occasionally think of Umm Umar and her children. I wondered where their travels were taking them and what lessons parenting was teaching them. I reluctantly joined Facebook in 2009 for work correspondence in Algeria and slowly became entangled in the web of statuses and newsfeeds. One day last year, I saw a Facebook page for My Happy Prayer Place and recognized a handsome little boy with a familiar face. I recognized him as Umar immediately and eagerly connected to my long lost virtual sister. A few months after our rekindled correspondence, Urbndervish was graced with an unexpected week off from work in mid-January, giving us a great excuse to jetset during the low travel season. We decided to visit friends in Southeast Asia for a few days but couldn’t resist a quick stopover in Singapore to finally meet my sister.
To be continued…