Trudging to work through fresh snow. Doesn’t feel like a chore, though.
Newspapers aren’t the only common sight on Seward, Alaska driveways.
On the van to Seward, I struck up a conversation with the driver and the passenger riding shotgun.
I offered the passenger a stick of gum and we made our introductions. His name was Jim.
He asked if I had ever met a real Eskimo before. I said I hadn’t. Now you have, he said.
He said he was of the Yupik people native to Alaska.
“Welcome to my country,” he said.
I could feel my throat closing up and tears begin to sting my eyes. I thanked him and then sat back in my seat.
How many times had I heard someone yell out the side of a car, or walking down the street, “Go back to your country!” or “Go home, terrorist!”?
I had always wanted to retort, in some shape or form, “Go back to yours, squatter.” But I never had, because squatter is really awkward to pronounce and they probably didn’t know that word anyway.
“We’re the real people,”Jim said.
It was nice, after 25 years, to finally get a real welcome.
My first story in The Seward Journal.
After I accepted the newspaper internship in Seward, I decided to do some research.
I was pretty sure there were Muslims in Alaska. I had seen them at the Islamic Society of North America’s annual conference a few years ago. They’d had a booth.
I searched for a Muslim Student Association or Islamic Center in Anchorage on Facebook and sure enough, the Islamic Community Center of Alaska page popped up.
I saw a girl named Suhaila was a frequent and intelligent-sounding poster. I said a prayer and sent her a friend request and a message.
She responded the way I was afraid she wouldn’t, with enthusiasm and warm welcome. It turns out, she was a journalism major too.
Who would have thought I would find a fellow Muslim, female journalism student in Alaska?
Suhaila graciously picked me up from the airport and welcomed me and my over-sized bags into her home for the three days I stayed in Anchorage before I left for Seward.
She works and lives in an assisted living home with four clients and another employee. I remember the next morning waking up and going up to the client kitchen with her. She basically rolled out of bed and almost immediately went upstairs to make pancakes for the clients. She treated them with such kindness and respect, asking “You want some more, mama?” when one of the clients was done with her pancakes.
Suhaila’s coworker is Christian and was very interested in the headscarf, or hijab, that I wear. She asked me a lot of questions about how and why I wear the hijab and said she felt like God wanted her to dress more modestly so she’s been covering her hair and wearing long skirts. I showed her a few scarf styles and did her hijab for her before she went out with a group of friends. Her daughter was so sweet as well.
Suhaila made me chicken tikka and biryani so I would feel at home (awww!) and we talked about anything and everything: her conversion to Islam story, college, being Muslim in the United States, marriage, girly talk and more, like we had known each other our whole lives.
She was so generous and opened her arms and her home to me when she really could have just ignored my messages and decided she didn’t have the time or the space, but her heart is really, really big.
She showed me around Anchorage, and I got to see the mosque, or masjid and the halal meat and grocery shop (it’s like the Muslim version of Kosher). I got to meet some of the other Muslim sisters as well and it’s comforting, frustrating, and amusing to see that no matter where I go, we as a Muslim community have the same hopes, problems, joys and issues.
We said our goodbyes at the house and Suhaila’s friend dropped me off at the bus line a few hours before my bus to Seward left.
I was sitting in the cozy lobby making small talk with the receptionist when Suhaila walked through the door. I was so pleasantly surprised to see her, and relieved. I was pretty nervous.
Right before the van left, Suhaila reached out and we embraced for a long time. I felt tears prick my eyes. I had made a friend for life.