I had never heard such a memorable laugh until I met Amira*. Seeing her weekly, Amira taught me about patience, resilience and the emotional connections that unite us no matter where we’re from or what language we speak.
We spent our first day together navigating the bus system. I printed off maps with swirls of lines and colors outlining bus routes, and Amira packed dates for a snack. Unfortunately, all our preparation flew out of the window when we took the wrong route and discovered we had to wait an hour for the next bus. Exasperated, I turned to her, expecting to find her frustrated like me. But she was laughing! I looked at her incredulously, breaking into a giggle. Even during these first hours of our friendship, Amira reminded me to laugh, because it could always be worse.
She knew that better than anyone. Only a few years older than myself, she was pregnant, had just escaped an abusive relationship, and her family was in another country. Her words and story flowed out. We spent that hour discussing everything from food to family to feelings of the future. I knew right then she was the strongest woman I had ever met.
Practicing English was our main focus of our meetings, but some days she cooked traditional Middle Eastern foods, sharing her culture with me. During our English lessons, I asked if she would also teach me Arabic. When I used simple Arabic phrases like shukran (thank you), Amira would reply jokingly “Oh, so you speak just Arabic now, huh?” My favorite word she taught me is ohkte (sister).
One day, I came to the shelter and heard Amira wasn’t feeling well. I went down to her room to drop off a book and found her praying by her bed. I didn’t want to disturb her, but she beckoned for me to come in speaking softly: “Salaam, Hannah, how are you?” There were tears in her eyes. The bravest woman in the world was crying. My heart hurt for her; I just wanted to erase the awful things that marred her past. She thanked me for stopping by. I looked into her eyes and replied, “Ante jameala, okhte.” (You are beautiful, sister)
Since that day, we haven’t stopped calling each other sister. Seeing Amira is always my favorite part of the week. I may be an only child, but I certainly have an okhte in Amira.
I encourage you to give your time and resources to help support Amira and women like her. When I first started volunteering with Mosaic, I knew I wanted to impact others. Now a year later, I know I have received so much more than I was ever able to give.
*Name changed for safety