Ahmed gazed with astonishment at the children of the family next door playing in their front yard. He was aware the name of the game in English was basketball.
Since his family had moved into the neighbourhood from the detention centre where refugees had been processed over countless months he’d lost track of time, and troubles in his homeland were beginning to fade from his memory. He’d constantly pestered his father during that period of detention asking why they had to be locked up and unable to move out of that guarded area. His father told him it was for their protection, but Ahmed could not understand why when he could catch glimpses of people moving freely outside without any obvious concern.
Later he would understand why that long and dangerous trek over mountains and out of his country and then the boat trip to another country was because it was too dangerous for them to remain in his beloved homeland where language and customs were familiar. Then when unloaded from that boat trip they had transferred to a flimsy fishing craft and after days of slow progress and hunger on the ocean entered the coastal waters of their targeted country. They’d sighted a coast guard ship heading their way and were issued with life vests by the fishing boat owner before being commanded to jump into the water with guns pointed at them before the owner of the fishing boat turned back in the vain attempt to flee into international waters. But the coast guard ship was too fast and soon the fishing boat was being towed back and struggling swimmers rescued and put back in the boat then towed the long distance to shore. Ahmed still had night terrors remembering that time desperately trying to stay afloat in the water and screaming for his father’s help.
Ahmed’s family were placed in detention as illegal immigrants and began a long period in custody. During that time children were placed in school to struggle with their assignments in a new and difficult language. His parents were also given language instruction and they struggled as a family to learn this language and at the same time orient to different culture rules and laws in the event some would be permitted to stay. Now and then uniformed men would come and remove one of the families and Ahmed would run and hide as he heard the screams of the family to be returned to their country of origin when it had been determined they were illegals who’d not escaped torture in their country but just wanted to jump the queue in immigration by entering illegally for economic reasons.
Ahmed was handling the language issue well now they’d been released into the community on probation while their case was finalized but his parents were struggling and for that reason were finding it difficult to get permanent work. There were times when Ahmed or one of his brothers was called by their father to explain their situation to potential employers in English and with each day at school and interface with the business world on behalf of parents his confidence grew as the eldest son.
But he was appalled at some of the customs of this host country they now lived in. In his culture girls had their place in the home and learned the role of women who would spend their lives as wife and mother in the home and only venture out covered under the protection of an adult man of the family. Education for women was not important in his culture but in this country, law demanded all children attend school.
His astonishment as he watched the neighbour home was to see not only neighbour children, boys and girls as teenagers in sports clothes mingling freely with other neighbour kids but the husband and wife watching from their pool nearby clad only in swimsuits. It was unseemly to see that woman flaunting herself in a bathing suit in front of young men and women and for that matter people from the street. What kind of decadent country was this? He looked away as unwelcome thoughts travelled through his mind looking at all that bare flesh on women, but his eyes slowly drew him back to the scene.
How many times had he asked his father why these people didn’t pray several times a day according to the sacred writings or attend a Mosque? His father had shrugged it off and told him he should be careful about vocalizing his concerns to the citizens of the country as they were here on probation, and it was unthinkable for them to return to their country now as they would be targets for the political forces now in power and probably killed if sent back. But he also threatened Ahmed that if he ever adopted the customs of this country or was enticed into another religion then their community would be honour bound to deal with him severely. Ahmed understood such deviation would be a matter of life or death.
But Ahmed was intrigued by the freedom of neighbours on either side of their rented property. His family had been welcomed by neighbours when they first moved in, but their neighbourly efforts at inclusion had been met with guarded politeness as they refused to join in the activities of the street parties. The actions of the people of this country were immodest in Ahmed’s parent’s opinion and they did not want their children contaminated by this immodest Godless society. They were here for their family safety but determined not to be corrupted by secular freedoms they saw about them. As soon as they could be financially established and not reliant on government support, they would move to enclaves where they could be safe within their cultural environment and among their own people.
The government school Ahmed and his siblings attended consisted of children from many backgrounds. Most were the children of people whose parents or grandparents had migrated to this country but while they represented an assortment of races there were none from his country of birth. He learned that people from his birth country were concentrated in a distant suburb of the city and Ahmed’s father had told him that when they were financially free to do so they would be moving to that suburb.
There was an easy intermingling of children in his present school, and he became accustomed to the freewheeling spirit of comradery during school days. After being in that wider community for a year he began to rebel at home at his parent’s insistence he should not mix with their neighbours though they were always friendly. By this time, the kids next door had given up inviting he and his siblings over to play games, but Ahmed was having difficulty understanding why he could freely intermingle at school but not be able to do so with neighbours. His parents had no satisfactory answer to this question but sternly commanded their children to stay apart from what they considered unwholesome environments where young men and women freely mixed in games and parties.
Ahmed happened to be returning from school one afternoon when three of the neighbourhood youth were returning to the neighbour’s home after shopping. Ben the eldest greeted him and Ahmed who by now desperately wanted to be included greeted him back much to Ben’s surprise. He and the others stopped in surprise. They were used to being politely rebuffed. Ben spoke.
“The kids from the neighbourhood are coming over in half an hour to play basketball. You can join us if you like to play.”
Ahmed smiled. “I’ve watched you play, and it looks like fun, but I don’t know the rules of the game as I’ve never played it before.”
Ben smiled. “So that’s why you guys never accept our invitations. You don’t have to feel embarrassed as we’ll be happy to teach you. I think you’d be good at the game. So, if you can make it in half an hour, we would welcome you. It’s up to you.”
As Ahmed walked into his home, he found mother hard at work in the kitchen preparing for the evening meal when his father returned home from work. He greeted her respectfully and went to drop his schoolbooks and bag in the bedroom. His siblings were already home and they chatted animatedly about their experiences in different grades at school. He then returned to the kitchen to inform his mother he was going to the neighbour’s house to learn the game they called basketball on their invitation. His mother exhaled in surprise!
“Your father has warned you strictly not to join those games next door. Who knows what corruptions those children will lead you into! See how their women dress!”
Ahmed was not impressed but respectfully answered his mother. “Father sends us to school where we mix with young men and women just like them everyday Mother. I have not found any of them to be bad people and I like them. If I can meet these people all day in school, I can’t see why I can’t socialize with them after school and I want to learn that game just as much as I want to learn at school so I can have a good life someday.”
Mother busied herself with her work but spoke softly. “Your father will be very angry if you do this son.”
Ahmed’s siblings watched with concern as he headed down the driveway and joined the group next door. They watched as their brother was greeted warmly and included in the group as they taught him the rules of the game. They scampered inside as they saw their father arrive home cheerfully and come inside to greet the family. Father quickly noted the suspense in the air and glanced around looking for the reason. He did a mental inventory of family members and noted Ahmed’s absence.
Mother spoke. “He is with the neighbours learning to play a new game.”
Father exploded and the children fled to their room. He turned to Mother. “Why did you permit our son to mix with those godless people?”
Mother stared at her husband. “He is a young adult Father, and he is beginning to question what he sees as an inconsistency. We send him to school, and he has been mingling with these so-called godless people every day for almost two years now and we have been telling him its proper to do that but not proper to mix with the same people after school. I had no answer to give him. You are wiser than me so please explain it to him when he returns home.”
She busied herself in final preparation for the evening meal.
‘We are ready for our evening meal, would you kindly call for Ahmed to come home?”
Ahmed’s father strode down the driveway trying to hold his anger. It would not be acceptable in this country for him to punish his son in public and it would be bad for the family if anything negative were to be reported to Immigration as they studied his request for citizenship. He would have to act wisely. But he thought of his son’s questions as he strode down the driveway and realized how inconsistent his demands were. His son had been mingling with the “godless” for almost two years now at school and he had not seen any visible change for the worse. He had said nothing about him attending school as that was the law and he had to show himself respecting the laws of this country if the government would grant him sanctuary. His son was approaching adulthood and had to make decisions as to what was right himself. Someday he would not be there to guide his thinking. Perhaps he should be trusting him more?
By the time he reached the neighbours home he was calm. He greeted the playing youth pleasantly. They seemed respectful. Smiling he informed Ahmed their supper was prepared and Ahmed thanking his new friends departed with his father. They returned home together silently. Just before entering the home, he spoke to his son.
“Ahmed you are a young man and have to make wise decisions. You were trained to believe in God and live a good moral life. I trust you will remember what you were taught as you mingle with our neighbours. They seem like good young people even if we can’t relate to their culture. Perhaps I was wrong in describing them as godless.”
“Yes, they are good people, and we are not the ones to determine who is godless. I know why we believe what we do, and you can trust me to follow our family beliefs and principles as I learn to adapt to this new culture father.”
Mother smiled as she placed the food on the table. Her husband was a good man and wanted to do what was in the best interests of his family and keep to the highest standards but learning to live in this strange country was difficult for all of them to adjust to and people who desired friendship should show themselves friendly. Perhaps they should be more willing to understand the host culture point of view and ways and not be judgmental.
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