The children were still asleep when Ali returned to the flat the next morning. He looked as if he hadn’t slept and his clothes smelt of smoke; not cigarette smoke but more of a petroleum smell.
“I have to meet some people, stay inside until I return,” Ali quickly changed into a light yellow Polo shirt and khaki pants.
“But it’s so hot inside the room; can’t we at least walk to the sea…for awhile?”
Ali lit a cigarette. “Okay, but make sure you let someone know…forget that I’ll send someone with you,” Ali grabbed a leather satchel and looked inside.
“Okay,” I agreed.
Ali had many people who watched us during the day so it was useless to try to go anywhere without Ali’s permission. Ali stuffed two Rolex watches inside the satchel and left.
Ali returned six hours later. “Since you have been behaving yourself I am going to send you back to America,” Ali waved several pieces of paper in the air. They looked like tickets.
“Are you sure, I mean you promised me before that I could leave Libya and return home but…”
“But of course you can go, I am not a monster. I do care about your feelings.” Ali did his best to appear sincere. “Although you will have to leave Anthony behind,” Ali blatantly added.
“I can not leave him…I…he is my son…”
“He is your son but he is my insurance that you will return,” Ali lit a cigarette. “If you continue to be good I will let you and the girls go to America on a ship…”
“Ali, I will not leave Anthony,” I fought back tears and proudly kept them from surfacing.
“Whatever,” Ali flicked his ashes on the floor. “Hurry and get the children ready, I’m taking them swimming…but not you, you have to sit and watch.”
I quickly dressed the children and smiled slightly as they gathered their swim toys. Ali picked up Kali while the older children and I followed behind him as we walked towards the outdoor pool.
“Ali,” hoards of men greeted Ali and ran to embrace him and all three of the children. Ali motioned for me to sit and wait outside the fence at a table; I nodded and walked quietly to an empty chair. I was actually looking forward to the solace. I couldn’t help but notice another lady sitting by herself, and I assumed that she was simply an observer and was also not allowed to cool off in the pool. I smiled at her and greeted her in Arabic. She looked at me oddly and her face looked flushed. I thought that it was the heat that made her flush because she had on a white and black scarf and a long dress that resembled one of Sakinah’s. In contrast I had on an ankle length lightweight cotton skirt, a tee shirt and my hair in a ponytail. After summing each other up, she finally smiled and nodded. She looked foreign but acted like a Libyan.
I looked back at the pool to watch the children. A well dressed man I had not seen before was in an excited conversation with Ali. Ai pointed at me and the other man pointed at the lady, and both of the men started to laugh. Ali looked at me and pointed toward the lady, I had no idea what he tried to tell me so I shrugged my shoulders. He tried to mouth words to me and I shrugged again to let him know that I truly did not understand. He became angry. I could feel his wrath about to explode as he stomped over to me, “Are you stupid?” Ali grabbed my ponytail and gave it a slight jerk. “That lady over there is an American and you may talk to her,” he released my ponytail. “But do not shame me, tell her nothing of our family and our money,” Ali stared at me so hard that I had to look away. “I am sure she is a good wife and obeys her husband, look how she dresses…look how she behaves.”
My mind raced at the thought of someone to converse with in English. I became so excited; I could hardly contain my enthusiasm. A chance like this happened so rarely. Ali turned and walked back toward the pool. “Ali,” again masses of men and older boys ran to greet him. I could see his chest puff upward with pride.
“Hello,” I introduced myself to the woman in Arabic.
“Alo,” she greeted me coldly.
I asked her what her name was and she replied, Adah. It was not an American name, and I wondered if she too had gone to the court and been forced to speak. I shuddered and tried to force the images of that day out of my mind.
After the men were far enough away that they could not hear us she finally spoke in English in a whispered tone. “Hello,” Adah looked uncomfortable. “My husband has told me that you too are an American and that your family is very well respected.” She glanced at my t-shirt and ponytail. “He said I must talk with you,” Adah stopped speaking in English and then began to mumble some of the Koran in Arabic.
“Are you truly a Muslim,” I asked in English. I had learned to get straight to the point and not waste precious time. I had no idea when Ali would return.
She whispered back, “Oh yes, I am a devoted and good Muslim. Are you not Muslim?” Her round light brown eyes questioned me; her eyelashes were almost non existent.
“No, I am Christian” I replied, and my response was greeted by a gasp from Adah and her eyes squinted. I couldn’t help but wonder why she had no eyelashes. Maybe if she wore a little mascara it might help bring out her eyes but then I guessed Adah probably wasn’t allowed to wear any make-up.
“Your husband is Muslim you can no longer remain a Christian; it is forbidden in the Koran.”
“Oh,” I had been told this numerous times but I pretended that I was interested in what Adah had to say.
“If your husband desires you to convert than you must…it is your duty, not converting to Islam can be very dangerous for you.” She sounded sincere. “Why didn’t you…don’t you convert?”
“What?” I had started to tune her out; my ears had begun to act funny lately. Sometimes I deliberately tried not to hear but other times the sudden deafness came on without my assistance.
Adah repeated herself.
“I didn’t convert…well,” I had not expected our conversation to be about my conversion. “I don’t want to convert, it is not my husband’s decision or anyone else’s for that matter,” I tried to keep the anger out of my voice. “Why did you or others convert?”
“I converted to Islam…to please my husband, as did many other women.”
I snorted at the last statement. Adah appeared upset. “What is your real name?” I tried to change the subject.
Adah wouldn’t answer.
“What part of America are you from?”
It was apparent that Adah was not going to go into specifics. “Oh, how long have you been in Libya?”
“I live in Tripoli…three years and two months.”
“Have you been back to America?”
“No,” Adah answered.
“Will your husband let you go back to America without him?”
Adah looked at me as if I was crazy. “I stay where my husband is…it is my duty to serve him and Allah.” She stated as if there was no alternative.
“I’ve only been here for six months or so…” I honestly could not recall how long I had been in Libya. Days and weeks had begun to emerge into a blur. I tried to smile but couldn’t. “I am going back to America without my husband…well I want to go back, somehow,” I fought to keep my voice from quivering.
“Why don’t you want to be where your husband is…and his family?”
“La,” I shook my head. “I’m going to go back to America with all three of my children…without Ali.”
“You can not leave without your husband it is forbidden.”
“So, I was promised…well I mean I was supposed to travel to Malta,” my voice began to squeak.
Adah started uttering in Arabic; I couldn’t understand her so I continued talking.
“Well I was betrayed…somehow and that is how I ended up here,” I nervously began twirling my hair.
“What about your children?” “You know they belong to your husband and his family…the Koran…”
“No they don’t,” I answered. My ears were fluctuating and trying to hear was becoming difficult so I turned and looked directly at her and forced myself to stare at her lips.
“But your children belong to your husband…”
“My children belong to me and to my God…not my husband,” I couldn’t help but glare at her.
Adah clicked the back of her tongue as I had heard The Old Woman do so many times before. She spoke with conviction when she said, “A good Muslim wife is always with her husband.” Adah started to quote the Koran. “At one time I was Christian but my husband and his family showed me the true way, the truth…Allah says…”
In frustration I interrupted her, “I know that I am not Muslim and never will be.”
Adah clicked her tongue against her throat again; that sound irritated me so.
“I will never be an obedient wife like you Adah. I wont convert and worship Allah but aren’t you afraid? Aren’t you afraid for your soul?”
Adah thought for a moment and replied, “Allah is the one true God, and Prophet Muhammad teaches that the man you worship is only a prophet…”
I cut her off in mid-sentence. “You mean Jesus, why don’t you just say his name? “You know he wasn’t just a prophet he was…”
At the mention of Jesus’ name, Adah’s eyes became huge and she began to look around to see if anyone had heard our conversation. She looked like she was prepared to flee. I realized why and immediately knew the danger I had put us in. First I had spoken out against my husband, then my conviction about Jesus.
“Haram,” Adah whispered and subconsciously covered her mouth and nose with her scarf. She got up to leave.
“I’m sorry,” I grabbed her long cloak. “It’s just I miss my home, my country and…I know my God will save me…He just has too.”
Adah brushed my hand aside but sat back down. “Your belief in your God can bring death to you.”
“Yeah, but your belief in Allah and not Jesus can bring your eternal death,” I began to kick sand with my leather sandals; I avoided eye contact with Adah for a moment. I had come to realize there are many things worse for a Christian than death; and yet I felt dead inside already. Adah gasped and acted as if I had slapped her in the face. I wanted to apologize but knew I had spoken the truth. “I know that my belief in,” I wanted to reach out to this woman and not scare her so I didn’t mention Jesus’ name again. “I’m just so confused, my life here is meaningless…I have no freedom…”
Adah was becoming obviously more uncomfortable with our topic of conversation as she kept looking over her shoulders to see who was watching. “My life has meaning when I serve Allah…my husband and his family,” Adah firmly spoke to me through her cotton blend scarf.
I sighed. Adah was I considered, “Libyanized’. Many, if not most foreign woman quickly learn the survival technique of becoming more like a Libyan to keep their husband and his family happy; they willingly convert to Islam and wear the traditional dress. When the family and husband are pleased; life becomes much easier for the women. Adah had the mannerisms of a Muslim and Libyan woman. I could feel my face becoming hot; not from the Sahara sun but from anger bottled inside me. Adah had lost herself and had given up her identify, sold out, and professed Prophet Muhammad as her savior just to make her husband happy. At first I was irritated with her but as I looked at her closely I detected a deep sorrow and sadness in her. I couldn’t help myself and began to feel sorry for her. A sea gull squelched and darted over my head. I watched as the bird landed and began to flutter its wings. It appeared that one of his wings was torn or shredded. He squawked and tried to fly but it was evident that his wing had been broken. I watched in sadness as he had no choice but to hop around on the hot Sahara sand. I watched the bird wobble and wondered if he would ever be able to cross the sea or would he too remain a captive to the Sahara as I was. Compassion touched my heart; I was in no place to judge Adah. Life in Libya was very difficult and hard especially if you were a foreign woman. A very uncomfortable silence fell between us.
Although Adah did not move away from me, I was alone once more in silence and allowed time to meditate on the things at hand.
Adah finally broke the silence, “If your husband and family is pleased with you, life is good. You will be in favor with your husband and Allah.” “You must forget about your God about your prophet, the one you call Jesus” she whispered and held her scarf firmly over her nose.
“I can not,” I shook my head in defiance. “I will not…no matter the consequences.”
Adah shook her head in contempt or was it sorrow; she then fell back into a sullen silence.
I knew whatever I had to say to Adah would fall on deaf ears. Adah had made her choice to follow Prophet Muhammad and for whatever reasons she made that decision I knew that my heart would never let me. My stomach started to ache as a knot formed in the pit of it; I held my tongue and waited for Ali to return.
Adah sat quietly and stared at her hands. I continued to act as if I was fascinated with the sea gull. Ali returned shortly and had a look of surprise on his face when he told me it was time to leave, and I did not object. The silence between Adah and me had been suffocating and the air thick with hostility. We said our good-byes formally and I watched as she left. Her cloak flowed smoothly in the light breeze just as I imagined or hoped the rest of her life would be.
Later that evening and long after the children were asleep, Ali returned with several of his friends. He had the smell of cheap perfume and whiskey all over him. He stumbled toward me and mumbled into my ear.
“You stupid woman, can’t you keep your mouth shut about your God?” Ali spat in my face as he spoke. “For this you will never return to America…”
Ali’s words and threats meant nothing. In my heart I knew the tickets were a fraud and besides I would never leave Anthony or any of my children behind.
“How could your God save you…love you?” “Your own mother left you, she didn’t love you…she was a whore and you’re a whore…you had two children with that dirty Persian and you weren’t even married to him. Allah commands us to stone whores…your Bible even says to stone the whores…so tell me Olivia how can your God love you?”
I sat there with my head held down in shame as Ali belittled and tried to chasten me. Maybe Ali was right, how could my God love someone like me?
“Do you think your God will listen to your prayers?” Ali snickered. “Your God doesn’t care about you…he laughs at all of your prayers…if you pray to Allah…Allah might listen but only because I am your husband and how many good deeds I have done in his name…”
This is a chapter from Forbidden Prayers; I am so thankful that I am allowed to share it with you dear people. God bless you and may my words find you well.