My Daughter’s Namesake (a legacy of love)

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By Nicole T. Walters | Twitter: @NicoleTWalters

imageSome of the stereotypes of the Bible-belt South tend to be true. There are churches on every corner and they are divided pretty well along cultural or racial lines. Atlanta is a hub for international students and refugees, but drive south 30 minutes and you will find a much less diverse population.

While we love our hometown suburb, we committed when we had kids to expose them to a more diverse world as much as possible. We lived in the Middle East before the kids were born and we feel called to serve the international community. We want our children to understand how fortunate they are and never forget to show God’s love in word and deed, especially to those that might feel like outsiders.

Our six-year-old is the epitome of a southern American girl. All attitude, her long blond hair trails behind her as she dances and sings constantly. She is loud and bold, with a southern drawl in her voice.

But she also knows that the name she bears ties her to a world larger than her suburban school and church, her big green back yard. We make sure to tell her often of her namesake on the other side of the world.

We picked out her name before she was even a thought in our minds, knowing the beautiful Arabic name would serve as a living reminder for us, and for her, of the legacy of love we want to leave her.

Years ago, my husband and I had moved to the Middle East at the end of summer, but the temperatures were still well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. To top that off, we found ourselves in the middle of Ramadan, a month-long time of fasting. The heat, combined with the prohibition of food or water during the daylight hours, kept most people indoors until sundown. It made it difficult to meet our new neighbors, but in the evenings we would venture out as the streets came alive with feasting and celebration.

One evening, we were walking to a nearby internet café when a beautiful little girl, nearly three years old, bounded up to us in the street. Our grasp of Arabic was elementary and she spoke no English, but that didn’t stop her from smiling and holding onto us. We were outsiders–this was obvious from first glance. But this sweet child hugged us like our white faces weren’t an abnormality in our neighborhood.

We started seeing her daily. We would attempt to carry on a conversation, but mostly just smile and play. We would accept her hugs and kisses that were like gold to two people far from family and anything familiar. Through our broken Arabic, we shared our names and learned her name was Nadia.

One Ramadan evening, it was about the time of iftar, the breaking of the fast. We encountered Nadia in the street and could tell by her gesturing that she wanted us to follow her. We found our way to the courtyard of the apartment building, one over from ours, where her mother and siblings were gathered. If her parents thought it odd that she brought these outsiders home, they never showed it as they welcomed us into their one-room concrete home.

Her father was the bawab, or doorman, of their building. These men were the gatekeepers, seeing to all the needs of the tenants—carrying groceries, overseeing repairs, washing cars. Most lived in a tiny room in the basement and worked non-stop. He introduced himself to us as Mohammed.

I couldn’t even count all of Mohammed’s children as they ran in and out, examining the unusual guests in their home. We were surrounded by smiles that spoke of hospitality and joy. Looking around the small room, it was apparent that the family didn’t have much in the way of earthly possessions, but what they had, they shared willingly with us.

They didn’t have a big meal to offer that iftar, but sweets were given and one child was sent to the grocery cart down the street to bring us sodas. We noticed we were the only ones drinking them, as the children sat at our feet and laughed at our attempts at Arabic.

I don’t remember much actual conversation being exchanged but we spent at least an hour laughing together as we would make animal sounds and the children would teach us the Arabic word for that animal. We never expected our first Arabic conversation with neighbors to include bleating and mooing. But from that day forward, we would meet Mohammed and his family on the street and exchange smiles, friendly words, a soda or some tea.

When we were leaving the country our hearts had grown to love, we gave Nadia one last hug and thanked her. She would never know how grateful we were for the first family that welcomed us into their home in our new country. They so willingly shared with us, not just their food and laughter, but their acceptance and love. We walked away with tears in our eyes and said, “If we have a daughter, we are naming her Nadia.”

Our little Nadia couldn’t look more different than her brown-eyed, dark-skinned namesake. If they met, they couldn’t speak the same language. But we have seen our little girl love with the same abandon as the giver of her name.

When she joins us in refugee ministry, she plays with her Afghan friends as if she knew every word they are saying. She covers her head with a scarf to mirror their beauty. She sees an Asian face on the street and tugs at my shirt, “Momma, Momma. Where is she from? Isn’t she beautiful?”

We will probably never see the original Nadia again. If we did, we wouldn’t recognize her any more. But we pray that her spirit of loving others without questions, accepting those different than her, lives on in our Nadia–and in us.

 

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About Nicole:

Nicole WaltersI am a wife, working mom, and writer that lives south of Atlanta, Georgia. I am passionate about Jesus and His heart for the nations, and I love to experience the messy, noisy, beautiful world and cultures not my own. I write about faith and being on mission with God wherever He has placed you at A Voice in the Noise.

 

 

 

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