Meet Zenab

 

IMG_1526 (2)I met Zenab while working in a classroom for medically fragile pre-schoolers with multiple disabilities. My role was to facilitate functional communication skills and hers was to assist one of the students, Sarah, with daily g-tube administered meals and medications. I perceived her to be quiet and polite. When she wasn’t on duty tending to the needs of Sarah, she poured over textbooks and studied for her nursing school exams. I assumed that she was born in the United States given how well she assimilated in the classroom.

One day at lunch, it happened naturally that she began to talk about her life. As she told stories of her tribe back in Yoko, Africa, I was most befuddled by her demeanor. She exuded a calm, peaceful, cheerful energy which completely contradicted what I would have expected in light of what she revealed about her past. I was immediately impressed with the degree to which she embraced a spirit of forgiveness and nonjudgement. As she talked, we teachers often chimed in with our disbelief at her seemingly easy-going disposition. “If that were me, I wouldn’t have lasted a day!” one teacher said. “Aren’t you upset with your family?” another asked. No matter the question, Zenab’s answer always captured a similar sentiment, “I’m not mad. They didn’t know. They were just doing what their parents taught them, and the parents before them taught. They just didn’t know.”

I felt drawn to Zenab and wanted to get lost in her life for a long time, pondering the differences in our experiences. I knew that in her life were clues to mysteries I hadn’t even thought to discover yet. I was intrigued by the events that had transpired, but even more piqued to learn how she had developed into such a calm, seemingly well-adjusted individual in light of everything she had been through. Her life as a Muslim woman born to a wealthy, polygamist family in Yoko, Africa was entirely foreign to me. Perhaps more intriguing though was how I felt strongly identified with her—despite the fact we didn’t have much in common on a surface level.

Zebab’s Memoir, Hausa Blues, chronicles her coming of age journey. Her story begins in a small, Muslim, polygamist community in Yoko, Africa. While her memoir concludes with her complete  emancipation from everything she ever knew and loved, her story is still to this day, far from over. Zenab’s journey is a tribute to her resilience and the power of gratitude to transform one’s perspective. She encounters both extremes of what humans are capable of—both the heights and depths of humanity, and discovers that her life is defined by blurred lines that she was taught to believe were solid. Her story inspires hope beyond circumstances, faith beyond religion, and the power of the mind and heart to overcome anything.

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