The women in my family have always been soignée. One of my earliest memories is waking up to find my mother plopped in front of her eggshell-colored vanity, glamorously applying her face moisturizer, then her eyeliner, and finally brushing her hair ever so gently. It was a sacred time for her because, in those few fleeting moments, she could afford to stand still. Neither of my two sisters nor I dared to disturb her. That was one of the many things my mother taught my dad’s family when she first got married and moved into their familial home in Minya, Egypt. What was once a self-indulgent habit, quickly became a household obsession, as it didn’t take long before all the women in the house were waking up early to moisturize in solitude.
So, it did not come as a surprise that when my mom received her first letter from the Lottery Diversity Visa, my aunt half-jokingly exclaimed, “just remember to send us back some good moisturizer from America!”
After four years of traveling back and forth between Minya and Cairo to finalize paperwork and visas, it was finally time to say goodbye. Through teary eyes, I remember watching my mother struggle to transport one too many bags onto the plane.
The seven-year-old girl that landed in JFK on a crisp November morning was different than the one who had left Cairo. She was inquisitive, hopeful, and free from the physical and intellectual restraints that come with being a young girl in Egypt. Back in Egypt, she was always scared to ask too many questions; she now eagerly asked why the elevator at the new home moves to the right before it stops. Just a few months ago, she had never dared to dream of getting a proper education; she now looked out the Taxi window and pictured herself as a student in the passing schools. Only a few days ago, she wasn’t allowed to stand alone in the streets; and she now stood in the middle of the crooked sidewalk somewhere in Queens free from fear. She was finally at home, although she was only now seeing it for the first time. As Naguib Mahfouz says, “Home is not where you are born; home is where all your attempts to escape cease.”
Now, thirteen years later, that girl still hasn’t outgrown her stubborn curiosity. She is way too sanguine for a just world and is still unstifled.
And, she still remembers to send her aunt “some good moisturizer” every Christmas.
-Mariam Wahba, New York, USA