On the Wrong Side of the World

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| This is the 390th story of Our Life Logs |


I was born in 1974 in Aley, Lebanon. Aley is called “The Bride of Summer” because it is located on Mount Lebanon above the Mediterranean Sea. Mount Lebanon is not a big mountain, but its magic is if you are on the beach in Beirut, you can see its majestic white snow line when you look up.

My parents already had what they thought was their whole family when I came along 13 years after their last son. With three brothers, one sister, and two loving parents, we were a happy, boisterous family. Although, some would say I was born on the wrong side of the world at the worst possible time. You see, I was born a year after Lebanon’s brutal civil war began. I grew up learning how to pray for the violence to end.

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More than 100,000 men, women, and children died from the war. Many people lost their homes, their limbs, or their living due to the constant shelling and bombing. It happened so often, it rarely made the news. I was barely four years old when my dad sent all three of my brothers to the United States to escape death in a war which made no sense to him. I only got to see my brothers when they visited, but I never got to truly know them.

At the time, Lebanon was a country of sections defined by religion. We were Druze, which is a very small and peaceful religious group living in an even smaller area of Lebanon. We lived with the Christians in the mountains. Because all these different religions and factions were living in a country smaller than Rhode Island, there were many fights. We never fought or sided with any of the groups, but we still got dragged into the civil war. That is why my dad was so determined to save his sons from dying for a cause he did not believe in, for a religion we did not identify with. The only thing my family wished for was a country of peace.

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By 1990, the war ended, and we could finally leave our house without the fear of being bombed. However, tensions were still prominent, and violence ensued. My family owned a small dairy farm, and my dad sold the milk and cheese in a shop. We were comfortable, but not rich. In Lebanon, you finish high school by 16 or 17, and I graduated in 1990. By then, my dad decided I should marry. I didn’t really have an opinion, and even if I did, it wouldn’t have mattered. It was just the way things were done. I didn’t mind, really, because I held a secret dream of going to college one day. I hoped that a husband with money would help me fulfill that dream.

A young man about seven years older than me had seen me walking home from school one day with my girlfriends. He found out who I was and approached my dad for my hand in marriage. His name was Rafiq, and I got to meet him one time before our wedding date. He seemed nice enough, and he had a good job as a dentist in the next village over called Chouf.

Ten days before our wedding, just as I was ready to start a new life with my husband, I received terrible news: My dad had been shot at his dairy store. I was completely devastated. Attending the funeral when I should have been preparing for my wedding was one of the hardest things I ever had to do.

Many people who came to his funeral told us it was because he wouldn’t fight. Some told us it was because he sent his sons away from the fighting. And some said it was an accident, and they were trying to kill someone else. I’ve always found it intriguing that people want to know why someone died when they die unexpectedly. To me, it doesn’t matter why. Knowing wouldn’t bring my father back.

To have time to honor his memory, we rescheduled the wedding for six months later. Since I had only met Rafiq one time before and one more time at my dad’s funeral, I never got the chance to talk about my dreams for college. But I told myself since he was a dentist, he would let me attend college at the American University of Science and Technology in Bhamdoun, a nearby town.

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Rafiq ended up being a very nice man and a good husband, but he was never going to let me go to college. I packed that dream away just like you pack your winter clothes into a cabinet every spring. Except, I knew I would never open that cabinet again, because it hurt too much to think about what could have been. Instead, I had three beautiful children. I had one daughter and two sons all before I was 25 years old. Some years went by in a blur, but I was able to keep my kids safe and away from the dangers of our country.

Every time my brothers in America returned home to visit, we’d thrown a big party. My sister, mom, and I would bake countless dishes while the men sat around and drank Mettea and talked about the problems in Lebanon. Every month, each one of my three brothers would send money to my mom. She used some of it to live. With whatever money that was left over, she put it into building a new floor of her house for each of her sons. It’s one of the traditions in the Druze culture and how we keep extended family close.

The whole family
My big family!

Each of my brothers got married and started families, two of the three marrying American women. Slowly, but surely, my brothers were able to add us to their family for immigration purposes in the US. My mom immigrated around 2003, although we joked that she became a world traveler because she flew back and forth since she’d left. Then my sister and her family immigrated around 2008.

Rafiq and I had discussed leaving many times, especially when sporadic violence would break out around us, and we would panic about our children being safe. But then the violence would end, and we would continue living our lives. Since our children were still growing up, we decided to let them finish school and start their lives before we thought about immigrating to the US.

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In time, each of our kids started their own careers, one as a mechanical engineer, another as a dentist, and the other as a nurse. With their lives on track, Rafiq and I decided to start immigrating in 2015.

When we began the process, all of our immigration paperwork was going through with no issues. We planned to go back and forth to see our kids until they decided to come to the US. Rafiq was studying very hard so he could pass the boards to be able to practice dentistry in the US. We started selling off little things here and there we knew we no longer needed, and my mom was counting down the days. We knew our prep was partly in haste because getting approval could take a while, but we were so excited and ready to join the rest of my family I hadn’t lived with since I was four that we prepped early!

Finally, in June of 2016, we were given our official paperwork and stamp of approval to go to the US, and my children were approved to visit. We wanted nothing from the new country other than the chance to live with our extended family. We were determined that America would be our loving, adopted home, one we would joyfully give our tax dollars to so the next person who was suffering or wanted to live there could get help.

My brother used to say how grateful he was for the freedom he was given in the US. At the time, I didn’t understand what made him so grateful, since I knew he had to work multiple jobs to get by. He said to me, “The freedom to choose what I wanted to be, who I wanted to marry, and where I wanted to live. I was given freedom to love, live, and make mistakes. For that, I owe America everything.”

Rafiq and I would whisper to each other late at night about how we wanted that freedom too. Even though Lebanon was much safer than it was during the civil war, you could never walk around a corner in downtown Beirut without looking over your shoulder to see if a car was driving too slow and getting ready to throw a bomb. So, when our paperwork came through, we were over the moon.

Moina and Rafiq
My husband Rafiq and me.

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Unfortunately, our joy only lasted until January 2017, three months before our departure. When we checked back in, we were told our paperwork had been “misplaced,” but the truth Rafiq later discovered was that our permission to immigrate had been revoked. No reason given, just taken away. We didn’t have criminal records, not even a traffic ticket.

Since then, we have been told five or six times that we would be able to go as soon as we filed this paperwork or that paperwork. But we haven’t been able to go any of those times. Each time we are denied with no reason given. My brothers call state legislators and federal politicians endlessly but to no avail. Each of them tells my brothers that the paperwork will clear up soon and we will be able to come. But the paperwork never clears up.

I understand I am not from a popular country or trying to emigrate to a country at a time in history when I may not be welcome by all. If America decides to keep immigrants out just because they don’t like the way we look, or the language we speak, they have the right to do so. This is not a story about taking away that right. That right is and will always be their choice. That is why I love America—you have the right to choose. But my family is in the US. In my opinion, my family is my home. Safety is my home. Empathy is my home. Until I can live with these, I’m not truly home.

I have lived in a country of war that closed down dialogs. I have learned that when people are blinded by their absolutes, they leave little room for growth or knowledge based on what others know. I hope that America does not follow down the path of my country by refusing dialog and empathy for immigrants in need of safety. I hope to be a part of their great country someday.

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I believe tomorrow will bring my destiny. I don’t yet know if it will be lived in Lebanon or if I will have the honor of living it in the US where my husband will make sure the teeth of all his American patients are clean and health, where my children will be free to move from state to state without fear of someone questioning them because they practice their faith in a small area, with a small group of people that can cause harm to no one. Maybe one day, my hopes will become my destiny.

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This is the story of Moina Zeidan

Moina was born in 1974 in Lebanon. The civil war in Lebanon broke out the next year and lasted for almost the first 20 years of her life. She lost her father to the war when bullets fired into their dairy store. She had an arranged marriage which stifled her dreams of going to college, but gave her three beautiful children. She watched her mother and all her brothers, sisters, and their families immigrate to the United States. But, when it was her and her husband’s turn, the immigration wheel stopped. Their immigration status for the past two years has gone from approved to denied to approved again. Then it was denied for no clear reasons. Yet, Moina still hopes and dreams that she and her husband will be allowed to join her family soon. Her husband, who is a dentist, wants to make American teeth clean and healthy. Moina wants to spend time with her mom during her final years. She still thinks the US is the most perfect country in the world. Because there, you can travel from state to state with no one telling that you cannot go because of your religion, color, sex, or creed. In the end, she says that’s all she wants. Freedom.

 

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This story first touched our hearts on July 9, 2019.

| Writer: Samantha Seconds | Editor: Kristen Petronio |

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