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Her heart is for the visitor, the traveler, the new mother and the newlywed. To the world, she is a normal woman, however, I know her secret!
She truly is a special character in her own right. One of a kind. Traditional yet open-minded, thoughtful and deliberate, she has the renowned reputation of welcoming many guests to her home. A conversation with her is guaranteed to be filled with laughter, humor and great wisdom. I have never met someone so willing to share what she has.
The last time that we spoke, she mentioned how happy she felt as she entertained both friends and family. At the time, sixteen of us were gathered in two small rooms.
“I am grateful for all that I have received, so why should I not return the blessing?” she said to me.
“If you can ever do anything Sarah, you must show people, true love, remind them of their own worth in any way that you can!”
These words have stayed with me for quite a time. After all, they are powerful words, spoken by a woman who has known much suffering and pain, spoken by a woman who has had no choice but to be brave and journey through each challenge courageously.
Not many people know of her story and even fewer people know of her life.
Before the night fades and the sun begins to rise in the indigo sky and before the Fajr prayers echo between the city streets – she awakes and begins to prepare breakfast.
No two days are the same, and there is no telling who will come to visit and who will come to stay.
As she glances into the mirror whilst fixing her red, long wavy hair, a lifetime flashes before her eyes. Her lifetime. Her legacy. She remembers the stories: the pain, the challenges, the passion, and survival. As she sweeps her hair behind her ears, she glances over and views the several pictures of her family hung on the wall: her daughters, her sons, her pride and her joy.
The thudding sound of the rusty courtyard door awakes her from her reflection. The cleaner is arriving, humming softly upon entry carrying fresh produce from Baab Al – Amud (the Damascus Gate.) She greets the cleaner and welcomes her.
Click, the Fairuz tape begins to rattle in the player – and the cleaner begins to work and sing. Her strong voice echos throughout the house and out into the courtyard:
خدني ولا تخدني الفرح عالطريق حبك بيحصدني وماعندك رفيق
“Take me, joy is on the way, my love for you consumes me and you don’t have a companion”
And so she works – the meals, the visitors, the preparations for her family. Hours fly by and there is still more to be done. She joins in the cleaning, the sweeping.
After a while, the first neighbor arrives dressed in a suit and shiny black shoes that he has just polished. He is an Eritrean; he works late at night in the city center. Unfortunately, he does not own a television, so every Tuesday he comes to watch the latest news played on the Eritrean channel. He adjusts the channels and she starts to prepare the tea.
Colorful pictures flash before the unlikely pair.
“This is my city, my country. We have hotels there, people can visit..”
A myriad of colors floods the screen. As she listens to the music, she imagines what it would be like to wander through her friend’s distant-sounding homeland.
The kettle begins to sound indicating that the tea is finally ready.
They converse in broken Hebrew and Arabic whilst she pours the steaming tea into two tall clear glasses.
The flickering television continues to reveal the secrets and gems of Eritrea.
The neighbor leaves just before One o’clock, and she continues cleaning. After eating a little food, the maid prepares herself to leave, fixing her hijab across her face. Their eyes meet and they exchange a soft glance of warmth.
“See you tomorrow, Insha’allah”
As the day progresses her family begin to arrive. They come with their friends, their daughters, their sons. Within minutes the house is an array of different languages – Hebrew, Arabic, and some broken English – yes, all are loved here. ALL ARE WELCOMED HERE.
Some of the family stay for a few minutes, some stay for hours.
It’s 7:30pm and I walk up the stairs, three neighbors sit gathered around her. Those gathered smile and laugh together with her, she looks so radiant, so poised.
“Ahlan Sarah, habibti”
The neighbors shuffle to create some room and a chair is pulled up. We talk together in the courtyard whilst sipping our hot Arabic coffee. As my eye wanders, I see a white flower falling from the plant growing on the wall. Jasmine. It sways in the wind, slowly and softly falling in front of her, landing perfectly on her knees. When she sees it she smiles. She clasps the sweet flower in her hand and smells it with closed eyes. As her eyes open she looks at me, with a smile. Grasping the flower, she slowly places it into the corner of my hair. Her eyes are sparkling and she is beaming.
A wise woman once told me she was grateful and how she wanted to repay that blessing by loving others. A wise woman once told me to remind others of their worth. A wise woman once told me to love others unconditionally. The same wise woman has never once seemed unfulfilled. I have never once caught her on a quest to find herself, her identity or her calling – she is already aware of all three. I have learned her secret – counting our blessings does not guarantee us an easy life, however, it does give us the strength to find fulfillment in a world that does not revolve around ourselves. After all, to live is to love.
“If you can ever do anything ________, you must show people, true love, remind them of their own worth in any way that you can!”