It’s a sunny day in Ankara. After a week of peering through a cold cloud of fog from our apartment window, the frosted trees now glisten in the sunshine. Our home is abundantly warm and the neighborhood serene. With the exception of weekends and holidays, both national and Islamic, Urbndervish walks ten minutes to his office and prepares for class. His students, mostly Turkish, respect him and render him the regard due of an educator. His employer compensates him well based on his merit and experience, not race or gender. One income alone suffices our family here, so I’m available to stay home with Lil’ Z and Moulay.
When we do venture out to the store or around town, we usually see only a handful of other people of color, but it isn’t a big deal. We are not negatively harassed or profiled because of race or ethnicity. It is correctly assumed, however, that we are not Turkish, but we are still embraced warmly and helped hospitably. Our children are kissed, hugged, stroked, and given candies like all other children here. Younger children call my daughter abla, which means “big sister”, as they would call any other older girl. People find Moulay’s curly locks and Lil’ Z’s kinky hair curious, but the curiosity is sincere, not fetishism or disgust.
I’m not an expert at cultural analysis or the politics of migration, but what I do know very well is the feeling of being welcomed and I experience it regularly outside of the borders of my homeland. Some people find this assertion absurd and implicitly or explicitly ask us the recurring question “Why?!?” We field those questions as they arise in personal conversations, but after reading this article about the higher quality of life that people of color experience in Norway, we thought it time to share our reasons for migrating too.
Practice of Faith
So, if it’s not obvious by now, we’re a Muslim family—a brown one, at that. We’re not ethnically Muslim (well, if we knew our pre-slavery history, we very well could be) but rather people of African descent who embraced Islam as our way of life as adults. Our respective decisions were very personal and significant in our lives, hence practicing our faith—not just believing in it—is important to us. Having mosques and prayer spaces abundantly accessible, as well as restrictions on alcohol, drug consumption, and other social ills that we disapprove of makes our lives easier. We are not criminalized or victimized because of our faith, nor do we have to trip over ourselves to disarm the prejudice of others or absolve ourselves from atrocities that we neither committed nor condoned.
In all of the countries we’ve lived in, the incidence of gun violence, mass shootings, and violent crimes in general is negligible. Similarly, crimes that target children, Muslims, or people of color are uncommon in these places too. Going out at night is not a cause of fear or anxiety. However, during our last extended stay in the United States, the very real possibility of being harassed or harmed because of race and religion became a more vivid reality. If Urbndervish was late returning home from the mosque or the supermarket, the fear that he might have been stopped or harassed unjustly be a police officer was a legitimate possibility. Also, the incidence of hate crimes against Muslim women has become more prevalent as well. Wanton racial and religious profiling without abandon persists and keeps hitting uncomfortably closer to home.
Higher Quality of Life
As an English instructor, Urbndervish has been able to provide a better life for us overseas than he would have in the United States. Most of his positions in the last five years have provided our housing, airfare, and health insurance. Additionally, his single income suffices to not only make ends meet but provide us with an enjoyable quality of life where we actually have time to spend together, a budget to travel together, and savings instead of debts to put aside for the future. Saving more than we spend on a monthly basis was impossible for us even when we were both working professionals in the United States. The documentary Professors in Poverty addresses how American educators struggle to make fair wages in greater detail.
The added benefit to our life abroad is the enrichment that comes from seeing just how vast the world is and feeling empowered to know that we have a rightful place in it. Granted, we are very, very blessed and privileged to have degrees, diplomas, and passports that are respected in most parts of the world. We have an opportunity to leave a land that seems to have left us a long ago. Yes, there is work to do be done as agents of change and cultural transformers, but this is true anywhere and everywhere we find ourselves. Where one finds their purpose and peace is a very personal matter. We know and have read of other families of color who found home in Costa Rica, Indonesia, Ghana or the Netherlands. Whether permanently or temporarily, travel and migration teaches us and our children about other cultures, countries and ways of life firsthand. Similarly, it communicates that the planet is our home and we need not be held hostage to any one corner of it.
More Quality Time with Family
A very lucrative trade-off for us is that even though we live further away from our extended family, we actually have more uninterrupted time to spend with them during our summer holidays. While living in the United States, we juggled two weeks of vacation and a handful of national and religious holidays to split between our scattered families. Since living abroad, we’ve had five to eight weeks of annual leave every summer, so we can enjoy uninterrupted days and weeks with our family. Yes, we miss some of the large family gatherings, but we do our best to compensate by making our time together rich in substance and not just cultural symbolism. We also have weekly video chats and phone calls with our folks.
For the last seven years, our choice to live abroad has not been about fleeing or running based on fear, but rather doing what the human race has done for millennia—migrate. Whether it’s across town or across a continent, every individual has the God-given right to move freely to where they feel best supported in the pursuit of their ambitions and quality of life. Of course, there are legitimate financial and political challenges that hinder migration, so we don’t take this opportunity lightly. Nor are we so committed to any nation that we would stay in spite of it no longer serving our interests. We are global citizens, living our lives, seeing the world and exploring to find a place where our souls fit best.
…they will be asked by the angels: “What (state) were you in?” They will answer: “We were oppressed in the land.” And the angels will say: “Was not God’s earth large enough for you to migrate?” -Holy Qur’an, Chapter 4, Verse 97