I’m still not sure where my home is. I think of going back to Marrakech, and I’m filled with warmth and excitement for everything that await me there..
Though I was born and raised in the United States, for much of 2012 and the beginning of 2013 I lived in Marrakech, Morocco, my husband’s hometown. My two young children attended school there, coming home every day reciting Quran, practicing their Arabic-language homework and singing snippets of French songs.
I spent my days soaking up the local language and culture, shopping in the markets and roadside food stands, wandering around and exploring my adopted city, shopping with other American friends who had found their way to Marrakech, relaxing with my Moroccan family, and just doing my best to carve out a life for myself.
In all, it was a wonderful experience with one notable exception: I was living this life, having this adventure of living in another country, but I was doing it all without my husband.
When we decided that I would move temporarily with the children to Morocco, It wasn’t a decision we relished, it was one of necessity. With his job firmly rooted in the states, we had no choice, especially with my decision to introduce my children to the Moroccan culture of their heritage and to a family with which they had virtually no contact.
Little did I know that fateful decision would lead me to ponder on whether I should make Marrakech a permanent home, or that I would one day decide to leave it all and return to the States. I didn’t know that even after returning home, I would again yearn to live in Morocco, or that all of it would lead me to what I am today: an anxiety-ridden mess of indecision over the future course of our life.
In fact, I’m essentially torn between staying in America with my husband until he can find work in Morocco or going back now without him and living a fulfilling and enriching yet incomplete life in Marrakech.
Many Women’s Dilemma
Despite how strange my dilemma may seem to some, it’s not so unique, especially for Muslim women married to men from countries other than their own. Take the story of Aisha Chudnoff, an American who hails from New Mexico but living in Meknes, Morocco, with her two young sons while her husband stays in the United States for work. She said her faith is what brought her to Morocco in 2011.
“The truth is living for Allah is harder than the words,” Chudnoff said. “When we make a decision to go in that direction we can’t expect we won’t be tested. But moving to a Muslim country was the best decision I ever made. Even with only seeing my husband for two weeks at a time every three months, I don’t look back and think I should have stayed in the States.”She added.
Chudnoff said there are benefits in living in Morocco that simply cannot be replicated in a non-Muslim nation.
“Hearing the adhan five times a day, seeing my children going to Dar al Quran every week, learning Hadith and good Islamic manners in school,” she said.
As a convert and a non-Arabic speaker myself, it was this type of thinking and desire to live amongst other Muslims that drove me to Morocco in the first place. When we first reached Morocco while my husband was with us, we enrolled and started the children in school, we motored around Marrakech on a motorbike, we toured the city on foot and enjoyed its cafes, mint tea, delicious cuisine, and we spent lots of time with family.
As a convert and a non-Arabic speaker myself, it was this type of thinking and desire to live amongst other Muslims that drove me to Morocco in the first place.
Then, my husband left for the United States alone and I was heartbroken Even though I knew his leaving us there had been the plan all along, seeing him walk through those airport doors, watching his face contort with pain and hearing him urge me, “Don’t cry. Be strong for the kids,” was almost more than I could bear.
Our initial time alone in Morocco lasted five months before my husband returned and, after a short visit with his family, we all returned home to the States together. However, during my time in Marrakech a stint that was supposed to be temporary- I realized that my children were learning a wealth of information in school, they were speaking Darija (Moroccan Arabic) and they were learning to read, write and understand classical Arabic, something that would not be so easily achieved at our home in Texas.
As a Muslim convert who herself cannot read, write or understand Arabic, I quickly realized I couldn’t take my children out of that environment and a second decision was made for me and the children to return to Morocco after a summer spent with my husband in the States. So, my two little ones and I returned to Marrakech, again without my husband.
I quickly settled into my routine again, this time meeting more friends and getting out on my own more. Time passed and my husband was due for a visit, this time for seven blissful weeks. Looking back on it now, those weeks together were my undoing in Morocco because when that time was over and my husband once again packed his bags and left us behind, we both realized we couldn’t live that way any longer. I remember sobbing silently on the staircase the day of his departure. It was such a deep sorrow, and I wondered how I could face another airport goodbye.
As it turned out I couldn’t handle it and it wasn’t long after he left that I began slowly falling apart. I started to have anxiety attacks and crying jags. It was as if I couldn’t bear to be apart from my husband any longer and the quicker I could get home and be reunited with him the better.
So,I landed back on American soil on Feb. 2013. I was home with my husband and again I quickly settled into a routine, reenrolling my child in school, and finding and furnishing a new apartment.
Though my husband was just as eager to be reunited with us, he feared my decision was being made purely on an emotional basis and he thought I should take some time to make sure that leaving Morocco was what I really wanted. Knowing what I know now, those were wise words. However, I didn’t heed his advice and I made the hasty decision to return home.
Where Is My Home?
Quickly, I realized that I didn’t feel as settled and happy at being back “home” as I thought I would. Of course I was thrilled to be back with my husband, our family reunited and complete. But, despite having my own space again after sharing a small room at my in-laws’ house, despite being surrounded by everything familiar and comfortable, I was not at ease.
I began having anxiety; feelings of nausea as I watched my youngest child – who in Morocco was attending school and learning so much – sit home day after day because of being too young to attend Kindergarten in the States. I began to feel sick to my stomach as I saw my children forgetting all what they learnt in Morocco. I watched helplessly as all this went on, and I was filled with regret and worry that I had made the wrong decision.
There was even a particularly bad incident which further fueled my regret and made me question my choices. Soon after we returned home, I had a verbal altercation with a woman at a playground who I found yelling at my son for no tangible reason. She simply said she did not want my son to play with her son and went on to call him a string of horrible names.
I was so upset and hurt and out of anger and blind rage said some nasty things to this woman in return. What she said to me next both turned my stomach and gave me serious pause. Looking only at my hijab and assuming I was a foreigner she yelled at me saying: “Go back to my own country”.
This is something I’ve never been told since I converted to Islam nearly eight years ago. The irony of her cruel words was not lost on me. Should I go back to my own country, to Morocco? Was Marrakech, Morocco, my true home and was that why my very spirit seemed to be rebelling against being back in the States, making me physically ill?
Looking only at my hijab and assuming I was a foreigner she yelled at me saying: “Go back to my own country”.
My close friend and Muslim convert Elizabeth Johnson, who is planning on moving to Casablanca, Morocco, with her two small daughters while her husband remains in America to complete his university degree, said she experienced similar feelings when deciding to make her life in Morocco rather than raise her girls in the United States while her Moroccan husband finished school.
“I asked myself, ‘Do I see myself here in 10 years, and the answer is NO; so what am I waiting for?’” Johnson said, adding that her husband will do his best to visit her and the girls during semester breaks. She admits the long separation will be hard and she will have to play single mother most of the time, but she feels the sacrifice is worth it in the long run.
My friend knows her path and knows her true home is in Morocco. As for me, I’m still not sure where my home is. I think of going back to Marrakech, and I’m filled with warmth and excitement for all the opportunities that await me there. I miss my Moroccan family and how they all congregated together often, laughing and eating and arguing together. I miss hearing my children speak in different languages from my own, their knowledge surpassing mine. I miss the novelty of living halfway across the world from my native home, the adventure of it all. Part of my heart stayed behind in Morocco.
But when I think I am on the verge of deciding to return to Morocco, my thoughts go to my husband and our family life together in the States and how I treasure the time we spend together as a couple and with our children. Therein lays the other part of my heart, the part that has no attachment to place or to a certain country but only yearns to be with the person who matters most.
In essence, no matter how much I am sure that moving back to Morocco would benefit our children and me in many ways, knowing that the decision means facing another painful and tearful airport goodbye terrifies me. “Home” may be in Morocco or “home” may be where my husband is. I’m not sure right now. But what I am sure of is that wherever I make my home I’ll be doing so at the expense of my heart.
First published: February 2014