A Long Way Home

Black Traveling Family

It has been a long hiatus. I have written little for the past three months for three reasons: we were in the US visiting our families, Urbndervish left to start a new job and he had to take our laptop with him. Even if I had the laptop, it’s not likely much writing would’ve gotten done without my partner. I’ve been pouring all of my energy into the children- keeping them calm, engaged, and nourished since exiting Turkey, hopping between homes, and adjusting to life without Baba. However, much has changed in the last three weeks. The said Baba has returned and flew us to our new home—a home we never really wanted to leave in the first place and that took two years to return to–Oman. However, instead of returning to the traditional, provincial Nizwa, we disembarked in Muscat, al hamdu lillah (thanks be to God!).

We slipped out of the Sultanate’s embrace two years ago. Knowing that we had to leave Nizwa to expand Lil’ Z’s homeschooling experience, we tried moving to Muscat. Our top choice employer promised an offer that we didn’t receive until days before our scheduled departure. And with no room for negotiation, we turned down the paltry offer on principle and pushed on. While visiting our family that summer, we received word about a position in Morocco and spent the next eight months there awaiting the arrival of our son. We returned to the US for a pre- and post-birth stay of almost six months until taking up the next job offer in Ankara. Ankara was having a particularly rough year which we decided to wrap up on the night of the coup attempt. The very next morning we started the job search once again, and Urbndervish was offered an interview for the very same job he turned down two years prior. However, the offer was much more reasonable, so he accepted it.

Hanging in Brooklyn

In those two years away, it became clear to us that Muscat is the best destination for us. The safety of the country, the character of the people, and the emerging homeschooling community gave us confidence that we could make a home here for a while. Even though we were disappointed about our temporary separation, we knew it was worth it and made the most of it. I lingered behind with the kids in New York until our family visas were ready nearly two months later. It was a challenge being apart so long, but the children and I had a lot of fun ending the summer and entering fall in New York. We hung out with family, had play dates in Brooklyn, took trips to DC and New Jersey, attended my best friend’s wedding and watched the fall foliage change around us. Thankfully, we snuck out before Election Day and the pending winter.

Fresh Flowers

Urbndervish made a crazy overnight trip just to pick us up and fly us over to Oman on the same night of his arrival. We were finally together again and ready to settle into the nest he had been preparing for us. As we traveled, I felt a stir of emotions–sad to leave family, happy to be reunited, and anxious to see if Oman had changed or wasn’t as great as I remembered. Were my rosy memories omitting the challenges, difficulties, and frustrations we faced? Was I forgetting just how odd we were (and are) as an unschooling, vegan, American Muslim family with “crunchy” tendencies? Did Oman still have the charm that won us over years prior? In only a few days, the anxieties evaporated. Finding peace in the shopping mall’s prayer room, hearing Maher Zain belt “Yaa Nabi, salaam alayka” in the supermarket, and sitting on the beach for our first homeschooling meetup with beautiful moms and children from France, America, Kenya, South Africa, and Sri Lanka have all affirmed for me that we are where we’re supposed to be. Additionally, old friends have extended themselves by helping us find our apartment, selling and giving us great furniture and houseware, lending us our old car “Suzi”, and generally being helpful for our inquiries.

Some of the not-so-rosy moments have also surfaced. Plumbing problems, internet issues, and perpetual dust arose, but they are all manageable. Our children still go to bed with full tummies in one of the safest countries in the world and for this, we are abundantly grateful. There are bumps to be smoothed out and some that may never go away, but in the wise words of Mr. Kendrick Lamar, “We gon’ be alright” and I believe so. Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) said it more eloquently in the following translated statement:

Amazing is the affair of the believer; verily his entire affair is good and this is not for one except the believer. When something of good befalls him, he is grateful and that is good for him. When something of harm befalls him, he is patient and that is good for him.

So, it’s really all good, al hamdu lillah.

The Cornrow Chronicles

100_6873

We’ve been blessed with a beautiful, busy, little brown girl.  She rolls and tumbles, romps and plays, with little regard for fashion or vanity.  Busy little brown girls, such as ours, need a special hairdo that’s indestructible.  Dependency on hair clips and bows, pins and headbands will not do.  From the time she could reach those chunky arms above her head, she was pulling off hair accessories before I could put them in.  As the dexterity of her fingers improved, she would patiently unravel twists and braids while drifting off to sleep.  I knew a day was coming when I would have to face my sister-less past and confront the fact that I never learned how to cornbraid.  During long summer vacations spent with my dad, my poor scalp was subjected to the trauma of affixing dozens of fine braids all over my scalp but I accepted it as the cost of beauty and a rites of passage.  I certainly would never want Lil’ Z to endure the hair-pulling, tear-evoking process of a well-done head of cornrows but I do think a few neat rows of braids that are tidy, not tight, would be fitting.

My first attempts were confusing.  I would easily get lost in the process of braiding which left me discouraged.  One of my friends braided Lil’ Z’s hair last summer and it was amazing how her nimble fingers danced along her scalp, producing an art as ancient as Africa herself.

100_5741

When I tried to repeat the same, my hands looked like they were colliding in a knuckle fight.  Those early embarrassing attempts were pitiful.  On an online mothering forum, other mothers shared my plight and posted links of braiding tutorials and illustrations.  The technique was clear but coercing my hands to comply was a challenge.  After our week in Ethiopia, I just gave up.  Ethiopian moms seem to be content with simple box braids from childhood to adulthood and I could easily adopt the same ethic.  But this challenge kept gnawing at me.  One day, while taking out Lil’ Z’s braids during her nap, I tried to make a braid down alongside her hairline, slowly without interruption or movement, and with absolutely no pressure to keep the braid intact for more than the day.  The result was a little rough around the edges but it worked.  I bravely tried the other side and it looked even better than the first.  Urbndervish came home and was proud of my efforts.  So, I decided that I would give it a try, now and again, and that’s what I did.

100_6899

When I braid, my hands still look like a knuckle brawl but the product is much more graceful.

100_6926

Now that I understand the technique, I just have to keep on practicing without an unnecessary pressure.  Urbndervish usually reads to Lil’ Z while I style her hair and both of them are eager to see the finished product.

100_6983

There are no wedding dates or photo shoots on the calendar and it will be a few months until we’re back home in the US, so I have ample time to slowly practice here in Oman and show my curious neighbors just how beautiful and versatile Black hair can be.

If you’re up for the challenge, here’s a tutorial  and helpful tips to help you get started.  Happy Braiding!  🙂