I Am Haram
It was a simple mistake, yet it was too late. The damage was already done. The echoes of laughter bounced off the white walls and engulfed me. "They are laughing at me," I concluded as I naively confused the word jamel (camel) with jabel (mountain). "La Nabila," the eldest daughter, Maha, said as she playfully climbed on top of her younger brother, imitating a camel and ending my misunderstanding. Her eyes filled with tears of amusement from listening to my primitive Arabic, while mine flooded in frustration from embarrassing myself in front of the Abu-Bakhra family that I so desperately tried to impress.
I crept away into the common room with my journal tucked underneath my arm. My refuge for the past ten days was a shiny new black journal that my mother had given me before I embarked to Jordan. Intrigued, I opened it and found the untouched lines comforting as it reminded me that I was the one in control. My pen would move as swiftly as I wanted to and would write as much as I pleased. Smiling, as I recalled their broken English because that meant that they were blocked at the entrance of my refuge. Inseparable, my journal and I, reassured each other that it would all be over soon.
"Focus on the commonalities," I thought would be a successful approach to interact with the five children. A simple task since I had "the" item which would guarantee my acceptance in the community: a soccer ball. Brazilians know that a good soccer game is the perfect opportunity to solidify a relationship. Placing the ball on the rusty floor, I kicked the ball upwards as I started to do the "embaixadinha" or simply juggling the ball with my feet. Ahmad's face lit up and rushed by my side begging me to teach him my most famous trick. Grinning as I already celebrated my victorious conquest of the family, I dribbled past him and passed the ball to Fatima, the youngest daughter, and later, I reencountered with "the item" Slowly, Fatima stopped running, Ahmad grinned as he sensed trouble coming my way, Maha stood by her mother and glared at me. Our match was short-lived since my host mother interrupted, shaking her head in disapproval: "Girls do not play soccer here." That phrase stung. My only connection with my 'siblings' was robbed from me.
They had lied to me. They had lied to me. My parents had lied to me when they had told me that I was Lebanese. If I were truly Lebanese, I would not had foolishly tried to cut tomatoes horizontally instead of vertically or claimed to be satisfied after only eating one plate (a sin in the Arab world).
My face cringed as I forced myself to call Ursula "mama". Ursula laid resting her weight on her right arm as she carefully lifted a cluster of grapes bringing them close to her lips. I snickered as I watched because I had a secret. Charlotte, Emma, and I called my host mother Ursula as she resembled my childhood nightmare when watching The Little Mermaid. Ten years later I relived those moments of fear. Laying back on thin mattress, both my couch and bed, inside the crowded room with six other members of my family. I felt alone.
To say our relationship progressed was a stretch. I sensed Maha's cold eyes staring at the back of my head as I folded my clothes and placed them inside my backpack. Quickly turning to affirm my suspicion of her staring at me, she immediately rushed to do the household chores. It was me against them. My long walk to my morning classes in a nearby house became my only moment of independence. Arabic class was my daily escape from my reality at "home". I saw my friends staying in nearby villages. Julia had an amazing "mama" who cooked her favorite meal every day for her. Emma only had two siblings. Charlotte lived in a farm. Sofia had fresh bread every day. I had Ursula and five siblings.
"Marhaba," I greeted as I walked inside the house placing my shoes in front of the door. Maha uttered something under her breath, which was a word that I became familiar during my homestay. "Haram," meaning sin. Unable to recall any previous incident, my hands trembled as I looked at Ursula. Anger spread across her face. My heart was beating faster as I followed her inside. She carefully pulled out my camera. Hatred flooded as the hot tears ran down my face while I glared at her. Maha had seen me with my camera and took it from my backpack. I had not taken pictures as I was strictly forbidden. Yet, Ursula went picture by picture looking at my memories from Brazil. Home, comfort, family. Any other day, it would had been heartwarming as I would imagine myself in the beautiful Brazilian beach with the sand underneath my toes. That day, I was Haram, and I actually started to believe it. "Haram, mama, Haram! Maha, with bulging eyes, stared at my picture at the beach.