I've been back in the States for over nine months now and not a day goes by that I don't miss the sights, sounds, smells, and confusion of living in another country. I listen to Arab pop* Pandora stations and crave cheap, street falafel regularly. But my life has been changed beyond my taste in music and food. When I came home in December I thought that was going to be the hardest part. But, boy, was I wrong. So very wrong.
No one warned me that by exposing myself to (and falling in love with) a different culture I was also opening myself up to a new kind of pain and feeling of loss.
I've lived with Arabs, Christians, Muslims, Israelis, Jews, People. And that's how I see them, as People. The lessons I learned from my host sisters in Bethlehem are just as valuable to me as the ones I learned from Robi Damelin. I learned about love and forgiveness from a Sufi sheikh and a Jewish rabbi. I've had the thickest coffee and the sweetest tea with beautiful, broken, hopeful people. I witnessed and participated in collective worship in some of the most unlikely places. But I'm not in that place anymore. And that breaks my heart.
It's hard for me to put into words why this hurts me so badly. I would love to still be in all of those places continuing to learn from these People I willingly call my brothers and sisters, but if I'm completely honest that isn't the reason my heart is so heavy. What really weighs me down is the unwillingness of others, mainly Americans in my experience, to be educated. In the past month American news sources have been flooded with reports of the atrocities committed by Daesh (more commonly known here as ISIS, ISIL, or the Islamic State). As with any hot-button issue, this has caused my Facebook news feed to be full of posts from people who seem to be experts on the issue. All of the lessons I learned from my time abroad can be summed up in saying this: Nothing is as simple as it seems and every story deserves to be told. But what I see around me, mostly on social media, are people who only hear the stories they want to hear. They frame issues in a way that only points to the answers they want to see. That, friends, is why I have a pit in my stomach that won't seem to go away. Don't misunderstand all of that to mean that I support a terrorist organization, but know that what I'm really saying is that I refuse to let Daesh steal the love I have for Muslims. I refuse to group all of these people together. I refuse to stop loving any fellow human being.
When I came home at the beginning of December, I felt suffocated. I thought that was the hardest part of re-entry. The re-adjusting. The navigating relationships differently. Being away from the people who I had spent every waking minute with for three months. But that isn't the hardest part. The hardest part is nine months later when you still feel like your heart is somewhere else and your toes are itching to feel the uneven limestone streets again. The hardest part is knowing the things you've seen and the stories you've heard and wanting everyone around you to have at least a fraction of the sliver of understanding you feel like you've gained. The hardest part is knowing that you have been given one of the greatest gifts you will ever receive and not knowing how you are supposed to share it with others. That's what no one told me about coming home.
*currently listening to Amr Diab