The Journey Part 3
By Michelle Yeung
The same day, 2:30pm, Toronto, Canada.
A man sits on the floor at the mosque and writes a long over-due letter to his younger sister.
Asalamu alaikum my dear Fatima,
I pray that this finds you in the best of health and spirits.
Forgive me Fatima, forgive your brother, for not being in contact with you or the family for such a long time. My life here in Canada runs at a different pace to back home, I am kept busy with various necessary pursuits, but there my excuses run dry, and I can only hang my head in shame. It’s been too long, I am loathed to admit, possibly close to four years since our last correspondence.
I am quite well, and I send my love to you and all of the family. I do have some bad news however, my wife has left me. She returned to Jordan over a year ago. I won’t bore you with the details but I doubt that she will be back. I am thinking of returning home, this country is lonely, but I wanted to find out about the family situation first. I hope that you will write back to me dear sister, with all the news that you know I am looking for.
Canada is a wonderful country, but I still feel like an outsider somewhat. However, I feel closer to God here, can you believe that Fatima? Closer to our God in a non-Muslim country, where I have to take a bus across town to buy meat that is halal. Whoever would have thought it, when I left our home city fifteen years ago, that it never was quite the epitome of Islamic perfection as we had once thought. You see that now though, don’t you? You see what the family does to you, how they make you think as a woman? There’s deen and then there’s dunya, the two don’t mix back home, all of your teenage years they were shaping your thoughts, your ideas, your appearance, moulding you in something that suited that place, so you’d never feel quite at home anywhere else.
Anyway, I am in two minds about returning. I do miss family, I miss you, the unconditional love we all had growing up, knowing that we could screw up once in a while but ultimately nothing would change. I don’t have that here, here I feel completely alone, it’s just me and God. In many ways that loneliness feels good, I enjoy it, it frees my mind and my soul to connect with the divine, as my heart leaves the dunya as there is little in it to really cling to. But the struggle isn’t easy, every now and then I feel like giving in and returning to the ease and comforts of our family and the familiarity of our city. I am questioning what really is home for me, and I do not find the answer, is home a physical place, with a geographical location, or is to wherever one finds comfort and security? But then, Fatima, how would you ever know when you have never left our city, when you have never experienced unfamiliarity, loneliness, you’ve never been in a place where you are emotionally detached. Here I recognize so much of Canada, streets, buildings, logos, attitudes even, but it still doesn’t really feel like me, like a part of me. The recognition is just physical.
Do you remember Abdullah, he was my best friend at school, we were always playing football in the lane outside the house. He’s here now you know, in the very same city with me, he lives just across town, been here for almost three years. We met, tried to form a friendship again, I thought it would be easy, but it’s impossible, he’s too different here somehow. Back home, there were certain rules, things we all abide by, but here, he’s let loose, he’s drinking, gambling, previous etiquettes are all out the window. I bet if we were back home we’d be like brothers once again, because he’d stick to the rules, he’d behave. There friendships are simple, effortless, everyone is your brother or sister because ultimately you’re all the same. You look the same, eat the same food, have the same social norms and boundaries. I’m glad you’re not here Fatima, I would have liked for you to have spread your wings, but it could have been the breaking of you in the end. I think that I should come home, but then I wonder, am I home already, where is home, really? And where is home when each and everyone of us will die, move onto another realm of existence, of reality, where can home possibly be in this life? Anywhere?
I hope that I will hear from you soon, dear sister.