Kadisha was the eighth daughter with seven sisters and four brothers happily enjoying life in Mogadishu before the 1990 war interrupted her life at age 8. She spent four years at a United Nations refugee camp and six months in Boston schools before Lutheran Family Services introduced her to our family. She was a child not used to a quiet home, who had lost contact with her family, and she had never been to school before her arrival.
We received her story and information about her culture and Muslim beliefs. She knew much of the Quran by heart, and she was surprised that we knew about Noah and the Great Flood. She needed to pray five times a day, and we quickly showed her east in her room. Other children in the home were Buddhists, and we were Christian Methodists. We made arrangements for her to enter the eighth grade at the local middle school. We were all grateful that a young girl in the same grade took a protective role of this fearful child. Hillary, the protector, also was the daughter of a member of the school board.
Kadisha was afraid to come to church dinners, as she had been taught to fear other religions — similar to how we had been taught not to go to a Catholic service.
The kindness in her heart, however, would give her the courage when the pastor’s African-American son invited her. When we went to their home, he had taken protective measures, as he knew not all people are welcoming to children of color. I assured her the dinner and youth drama theater were held in a fellowship hall, not in the sanctuary. There were so many things she was learning, always with hesitation and always with a kind heart.
It was fun to take these children from warm countries to learn how to ski in New Hampshire. We brought Kadisha’s friend, and it was in the middle of Ramadan. Staring outside at the skiers coming down the mountain, her fear asked to return to the cabin, repeatedly saying “weak heart” and “Ramadan.” Hillary kept encouraging her to try it. I told her that Mom wanted her to take a private lesson for one hour. She would have her own teacher who would help her learn, and Hillary would be nearby. I gave her my word she could go home to the cabin or stay in the lodge cafeteria if she did not like the sport, so off she went determined to try. It was wonderful to see her coming down the hill one hour later. She had a big smile on her face and waved.
One day she came home from school with a serious look. “Mom,” she asked, “I met some Muslim girls my age, and they were all wearing scarves over their heads, but they did not pray. I am thinking that is strange, as I do not wear a scarf, but I do pray.” I replied, “In terms of what I believe is most important if a choice is needed, it is prayer — speaking to God from your heart.” She thought that through carefully and nodded.
There were many losses in her life, so when I learned Hillary’s mother was dying from leukemia, I knew there would be a funeral and Kadisha would be invited. I sat her down for the discussion. She already knew of the illness, but the father had told Hillary that her mother would survive as she had before. I knew better.
We continued as I explained what I knew and why the father would not want the truth to be known by his daughter. I also explained there would be a funeral, and it would be in a Catholic church’s worship center. She needed to be prepared to answer Hillary’s invitation to attend. Hillary was a good friend who knew Kadisha was Muslim, and a “no” answer would be OK. I suggested she take it up in her prayers. This child who had suffered so much took the kind and courageous path and accepted the invitation. I was so proud of her, because I knew it meant the world to her friend.
They both went on to high school, and we were relieved that Hillary would help to protect and teach Kadisha about American culture.
Our home grew as a Cuban girl and another from South Sudan joined us. We were so proud of Kadisha opting for one extra year in high school, and we witnessed her graduation. She went on to complete one year at a community college before a large influx of Somalis relocated into America’s Midwest farm country. She soon married, gave birth to her first child, and she continues living in the Midwest close to others from her clan.
I raised a Muslim daughter who also raised me by sharing her strengths, cultural courage and kindness that she brought with her to America.
Jarryl Larson is a small-business consultant from Edgecomb and has served on several IT design teams.