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  • Writer's picture Yumna Elhdari

Talk to The New Moon

On the morning of Eid Al-Adha in 2011, I found out I’d be spending the rest of my life in America. Every year on the morning of Eid, I would meet the neighborhood kids of Najma in front of the local corner store and we’d all show off our Eid outfits. We’d get snacks from the kind twins — Muneer and Muhammad, who were known amongst us kids for having the best snacks for the best prices — and run around spoiling the beautiful outfits our mothers put together for us.

That year I was hiding in the bathroom I shared with my four brothers, attempting to fix the hair my mom spent two hours straightening the night before only to be ruined by a ten-minute shower. Knowing how angry my mom would be, I thought of a dozen different ways to fix my hair. Eventually, my arms got tired and I gave up. I sat against the bathroom door. I could hear my mom vacuuming the hallway, talking on the phone with my aunt.

“What is taking you so long?” she asked me through the door.

“My stomach hurts,” I responded. That much was true.

From my side of the door, I suddenly found myself interested in her conversation with my aunt. As she moved up and down the hallway, I caught snippets of her conversation when she neared the bathroom. Something about a “lottery.” One thing about a state named “Texas.” Another about “English education.” I couldn’t quite put it together and I didn’t try to. I could smell the Khaleeji Bakhoor my mom had bought burning from the living room. It smelled like Eid. I need to get ready for Eid.

My focus went back to my hair. I got up again and decided to brush my hair back into a half ponytail. I thought my curly hair made the ponytail look pretty and fluffy like the ponies I’d watch on TV, but I knew my mom wouldn’t like it.

I stalled a bit, figuring she was distracted by the phone and wouldn’t notice how long I had been in the bathroom. She turned off the vacuum and I heard a mop bucket rolling down the hallway. I could hear her more clearly now even as she went further away from the bathroom, telling my aunt that she was moving us to America. I was so shocked I didn’t notice her footsteps moving toward the bathroom until I was startled by her banging on the door. Over and over she’d ask what was taking so long and I couldn’t answer. I felt the walls of the bathroom close in on me, my breathing growing shallow. I felt like I couldn’t face her. I couldn’t show her my hair or my face. I wished that I had put on my shower cap correctly so that I didn’t have to hide in the bathroom and hear what my mom said. I wished that my hair was just straight so that I didn’t have to spend any time on it at all that morning. I would’ve just walked out of the bathroom and wished my mom a happy Eid and went on to live my life as I knew it.

But I was stuck.

I was stuck with a head full of curls and news that made my head even heavier.

Young Yumna with her family.

Two years later, I found myself in a small elementary school in Euless, Texas, surrounded by unfamiliar faces speaking an unfamiliar language. During lunch, I got a pepperoni pizza assuming it was Halal like all food was in Qatar. I almost ate the entire thing before a teacher approached me.

“Honey, I’m only saying this because I saw your mother wearing a scarf when she dropped you off, but that pepperoni is pork.”

I was sick. The teacher offered to take me to the lunch ladies to ask for something else. I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat for the rest of the day so I denied her offer. Other than it being haram, I felt absolutely repulsed by pig meat. Pork? Those same animals that eat their poop and look like aliens? I threw my tray away and sat down until the lunch period was over. I looked around the room and almost every kid was eating that pizza. It wasn’t just that they were eating pork, none of them were in uniform with their hair slicked back. None of them wore modest clothes, it looked like they came to school in pajamas. The girls and boys intermingled instead of staying separated. None of the teachers wore black abayas or black scarves. None of them smelled like Oud or had fresh Henna on their hands. None of them said Salaam to you, there was something so bland and lifeless in their hellos. Their world was disorderly. There was no God to tell them that eating pork makes you sick, that wishing peace upon someone every time you greet them is necessary and that modesty is a virtue.

The school administration decided to place me in an English Second Language (ESL) program, hoping I would improve my English while finding comfort in people like me. I improved my English indeed, but the feeling of foreignness would remain for years to come. Throughout my first day of school, I tried my best to calm my nerves. But it felt like every time I would introduce myself, people would laugh in their heads. I assumed the worst from every interaction: kids will laugh at me, they will ask me why I’m dressed the way I am, why I talk the way I do or why my name is so weird. It wasn’t until the last hour of classes that my nightmares manifested themselves, as if they were compounding throughout the day just to explode by the end of it.

Yumna as a young girl.

The kids in the classroom already knew each other from the years before, so I was to stand up and introduce myself. As soon as I said my name, laughter burst throughout the room. I was more confused than hurt. Yumna isn’t the most common name where I came from, but it definitely wasn’t a strange one. Not strange enough to be laughed at, I thought. A kid by the name of Robertson decided to blatantly pick on my name, as if his name didn’t sound like the most atrocious and ridiculous name I’d ever heard in my twelve years of life. But I couldn’t say anything to defend myself. I couldn’t tell them their names sounded weird to me, too. All I could do was cry and run out of the room.

I walked back home without telling anyone. Our small two-bedroom apartment was only a few blocks away from school. My mother was kind enough to turn the sunroom into a bedroom so that I could have my privacy as the only girl in the house.

I locked myself in the sunroom closet. In the darkness, I thought back to that day two years ago in the bathroom. In Najma, I had the option of running down the block to tell all the neighborhood kids about the shit day I’d had. They would’ve cracked jokes about how I’d soon be living in a country that smells like piss, and in a way, it would’ve comforted me. I would’ve quickly forgotten about it because at that age innocence begs to be consumed in the moment. I would’ve celebrated Eid with them without a single thought of my hair or future looming over me. We would’ve run to Muneer and Muhammad, and watched their smiles widen with the sounds of our small voices. Time would go by and the smell of Bakhoor and Kharoof meat would fill the streets. The sun would go down and we’d watch the crescent moon and say our goodbyes to her. Until next year, Noor Al-Qamar.

I wished more than ever that I could run to them one more time, but all I could do was make friends with the new moon.

Yumna celebrating with family, current day.

Edited by: Maia McDonald

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