You can go home again
Saturday, November 01, 2003
When home is across the ocean, what is homecoming like for your children? By Naazish YarKhanPhoto courtesy of Naazish YarKahn Naazish YarKhan's family, clockwise from left: daughter Taskeen, 5; grandfather Khusro; Naazish; niece Safa Farooqui, 5; and son Yousuf, 10 months.
It's all so familiar to me. Yet, to my children, it's a world that's new and strange. I'm returning to Muscat, Oman, after four years.
And while a part of me feels as though time has stood still, another part sees it all with fresh eyes, too, because this time I see it as my children are seeing it. The last time I was here, my daughter was a baby, still not weaned. This time, I have an infant boy of about the same age. Strange and new as this place is to them, it's still home because my parents make it so.
If you were to pick a color to describe my parents' home, it would be yellow. It is warm and inviting, suffused with love, affection and conversation—a treat for the mind and the soul. This is the first time my parents are meeting my son. My daughter knows them a little from two previous trips and phone calls from Chicago. Yet both children go to them without the least hesitation. Even across the miles the bond exists.
My father talks to my daughter, Taskeen, explains passages he has read in the Quran, tells her jokes, explains to her what a desalination plant does, where Oman is on the map, and Chicago, which now seems so far away. The 5-year-old revels in the attention paid to her mind. My dad asks her to speak slower so he can understand her American accent. She discovers she enjoys experimenting with spoken Urdu.
My mother dotes on the kids. The first day we are here, she takes Taskeen out to buy a pair of goldfish, paints, crayons, a drawing book and other art supplies. Adults can find ways to entertain themselves in a new place, but children need to be made to feel secure, my mother reasons. I am also gently corrected by my mother when I criticize the kids publicly. It's not good for their self-esteem, she teaches me. Over the next couple of days Taskeen eats better than ever. She is a calmer, more well-behaved child than I knew she could be. Could it be this warm air or a dose of my parents' attitude?
I am excited to show Taskeen the country. The rugged mountains, the beaches, the mosques, Sultan Qaboos' palace. I want her to discover its nooks and crannies, its sights and smells, to make these her own, to make them a part of her memory and who she is. I want her to sense them not as a tourist but as someone who lives here. Am I asking for too much, given that we are here for barely two weeks? Am I hoping that a lifetime of memories and associations can be compressed into 14 days?
We cope with the heat by staying indoors until daylight ceases around 6 p.m. We venture out for ice cream or coffee, barbecued squid and fish kebab.
I've seen it all before. I used to live here, but I still love sightseeing. My daughter sees Sultan Qaboos' palace and thinks it's nothing like the castles she has seen in storybooks. It's like someone's home, she comments. I privately wonder who she knows who has such a palatial home. At the beach minutes away from my parents' home, she collects shells and I try to explain how the sea is not the same as Lake Michigan back home. She admires Sultan Qaboos' ship and wonders whether we can go see Sinbad's boat, too. My mother has told her about his many voyages.
We curve up the roadways to Jussa Beach. Somewhere along the road, I discover that what began as an effort to give my children a sense of Muscat has become my personal homecoming, my rediscovery of Oman.
A week later we're in India, my grandparents' home. We're here to care for and spend time with my bedridden grandmother who helped my parents raise me when I was a child. She watches my hyper 9-month-old and jokes, "maybe he eats too many hot peppers." Taskeen picks up the language easily and has no problem conversing in Urdu. In America, I have to goad her to talk in our native tongue.
We visit with my sister and her family every day. Taskeen and my sister's daughter are instant friends even though they have met after a gap of two years. Perhaps it is wishful thinking, but I would like for them to grow as close to each other as Taskeen is with her friends in America. I ask my American-born-and-raised husband repeatedly, "Do you think we can move here?"
For no reason, my grandmother blows me kisses or kisses my hand when I sit beside her, and I wonder how I can ever duplicate in my Chicago life this same feeling of complete love and warmth and affection that surrounds me here. Then I realize that in some ways I have created a larger extended family in Chicago. There are the Hammers, an elderly couple, whom my daughter loves to bits, and who shower me with much affection. There is Evelyn Skala, who is my grandmother's age and yet a very good friend to me. And of course, there's my best friend, Aliya; my sister-in-law, Tia; my confidant and friend, Ryan; and his girlfriend, Melissa. In some small way, I have begun the work and laid the foundation for relationships that will, I hope, last a lifetime in America.
But if my parents and my grandparents were with us … ah, that would be heaven.
Naazish YarKhan is a mother of two who lives in Glendale Heights. She teaches creative writing classes in the Elk Grove Park District.