The Bridge Between: Coming to America

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My mother’s reaction the day we heard the news we would be resettled in Portland made me wish I had a camera to record every moment, so I could re-watch it as long as I lived.

It was like a scene from an unscripted movie. 

When the phone rang at 8:30 a.m. we were all awake. My mother picked up the phone. She seemed very calm and ready more than ever to hear what was going to be said on the other line. You can see it from her eyes. She has always been that for us, the calm in a very messy storm.

We, on the other hand, were a mess. I promise you, you could hear our heartbeat from down the street, it was so loud. I tried to stay still so that I didn’t worry others. That was my job as the oldest. 

It was a Sunday morning 13 years ago, the temperature was 110 degrees but it certainly felt hotter. 

I woke up in the room surrounded by family and friends. They were dancing one minute and hysterically crying the next.

I was so confused.

Relatives started kissing me on my cheek, my uncle came and kissed me on my forehead, but I was too numb, too numb to feel any kind of emotion.

Among all the chaos I somehow happened to look out with my mother, who looked like she had been crying for hours. She came close and whispered, “go get ready we’re going to be late.”

I had so many questions but I could barely open my mouth.

I began walking to the bathroom and suddenly started to feel the warm sand underneath my feet. The second that the cold water touched my body I was quickly awoken, just as if I was having a dream.

This was the day!

I sat on the top of our suitcases in the back of my dad‘s pickup truck with my brothers surrounding me and my uncle driving us to the airport. Two other cars behind us filled with family and friends.

I wore a white skirt suit with a black scarf on my head, but the wind was so strong I don’t remember where it ended up. I let the breeze enter my body willing, inhaling all air I can before leaving Sudan.

The smell of the mud rejuvenated my senses. 

The smell of the Nile refilled my reservoir.

The street lights captured my imagination.

 The smiles on strangers’ faces on the street occupied my soul.

I later came to find out it wasn’t the end, it was the beginning. 

Arriving at Khartoum airport was a blurry picture. Many mouths moving, but my ears didn’t catch anything. My eyes saw tears and many white teeth.

I don’t remember what I packed in my suitcase but I know fear was not one of them.

I left when I was young.

I left when I was unaware.

I left with my eyes closed, but never knowing any fear.

I left with a vision, a real clear one.

I left with the future, the unknown one.

I left with a desire, the really hungry one.  

I left with starvation, but only for education.

I left with a motivation, the one that has no limitation.

I left with a promise, a really strong one.

Ekhlas Ahmed is a human rights activist and educator who lives in Windham. She is vice president and co-founder of the nonprofit Chance to Advance, which raises awareness about Darfur and implements initiatives to make education more feasible for all. Follow her on Facebook and contact her at ekhlas.ahmed@yahoo.com.