Mina gazed across the playground—over fifty children her age were scattered in front of her, but not one of them would be her friend. It wasn’t that they were unfriendly; three of them had already asked her if she wanted to eat lunch with them, but it was Mina who had vowed not to make a single friend at this school, or any school in the entire United States for that matter.
What was wrong with Jordan anyway? thought Mina. Looking at all the other students though, she did half wish she had been friendlier when first introduced to them.
Mina would have stayed at the edge of the playground scowling, wishing the bell would ring, if the girl hadn’t approached her. “Hi, I’m Hannah… you’re the new student from Jordan, aren’t you?” said a girl who looked to be about eleven, with dark brown eyes and a gentle smile. “I saw what you painted in art today, it was really good. I wish I could paint like that…” Mina just glanced at Hannah and then went back to scowling. “I just moved here from Boston a month ago… actually, I think I live across the street from you…” Here Hannah trailed off, looking expectantly at Mina as if waiting for her to say something. If Hannah was expecting a gracious “Nice to meet you” or “Hope to see you around the neighborhood,” then she was going to be disappointed. It wasn’t too late to say any of these things, but Mina was obviously not going to. Seeing this, Hannah looked at the grass beneath them and muttered, “I think someone’s calling me,” and sprinted off. As Mina looked at the strong, mature trees around her and the clear blue sky above her, she thought wistfully of how she could paint this place.
Mina was not boasting when she said she could paint. Apart from Hannah, only her parents had commented on her work, but she knew she had talent. Mina’s favorite things to paint were the mosques and the gold souk, both of which she knew well from living in Jordan. She had come to the United States thinking her painting days were over, that there would be nothing interesting to paint here, but to find such beauty… no, she thought. In fact, she would paint even more pictures of the sand dunes and the Hajal mountains that were Jordan. Seeing Hannah’s pale blue top in the distance, Mina started regretting her cold behavior towards Hannah, but stopped almost as soon as she started. She was going to stay strong on her vow, not to make a single friend. And besides, she liked standing in the shade of the trees, all alone.
“Have you made any friends yet?” asked Mina’s mother, at dinner.
“No, and I’m not going to. I hate school. I want to go back to Jordan,” answered Mina.
Her parents looked at her, the disappointment shining in their eyes. “We came to America for your future. And now you say you hate it here?” asked her mother, even though she knew the answer.
“What was wrong with Jordan?” asked Mina.
After a pause, her father answered, “Think of the opportunities you will have here. You will have twice as much as you would in Jordan.”
“But everything is different. I prefer my old life to this one,” said Mina, thinking her father couldn’t possibly have an answer to that.
But seconds later, he put his fork down and, changing his tone, said, “Mina, habibti, don’t you see? No matter what country we are in, we are ourselves. The only person stopping you having your old life is yourself. “
Enraged by his words, and somewhat offended, Mina shouted, “You say you came here to make my life better. All you’ve done is made it worse.” Before she knew it, she was running down the road, away from her house. As she ran, she thought about what her father had said. Though they were in a new country, they still ate lamb, okra and saffron rice, they still spoke Arabic and, most importantly, they still prayed to Allah. Though their lives had changed, how much had they changed? She slowed down as a chilly breeze swept in, and by the time it left, so had her anger. She turned around, and started running back home. As she ran, she started composing what she would say to her father. She ran in, going straight to her father and, kissing his hand, apologized, saying she “hadn’t thought before speaking.” After being forgiven, she asked if she may go somewhere, and although they were puzzled, her parents told her to go, but to be careful. “I won’t be far,” said Mina, “I’m just going across the road.” She smiled to herself; she knew what to do, and that was to apologize to Hannah.
* * *
Mina found herself in front of a one-story, brick house with Hannah’s shoes by the door. Mina couldn’t believe such a simple house could be so beautiful. The whole section was bathed in shade supplied by a huge oak tree. The tree’s bark was cracked, and though it looked very old, it also looked very sturdy As for the house… Mina just couldn’t stop looking at it, with its rustic red bricks, and dark green vine crawling up the side. Mina gave the house one more look, then rang the doorbell. After waiting a few seconds, she was greeted by a woman with dark brown eyes and a gentle smile. It could only be Hannah’s mother. “Um, hi… I’m Mina, Hannah knows me from school… could I talk to her?”
The woman’s expression suddenly changed and she said, “Oh, Hannah’s told us all about you, and how you treated her… well, I’ll go and get her,” and she walked away Mina was embarrassed by what the woman had said, but even more embarrassed by how she had treated Hannah.
Soon enough, Hannah was there looking coldly at Mina. “Hi,” she said flatly.
“I’m sorry about… how I acted,” Mina said, and although Hannah tried to look hard, the more Mina explained, the more it wore off. “I just felt like such an outsider,” said Mina, surprised by Hannah’s confused face.
After a minute, Hannah asked, “Why?”
“Because I’m so different from everyone at school… from you!” said Mina, stumbling for words.
“But… nobody at school is one hundred percent American. Look at me! My father is Jewish… and Daniel, the boy who sits behind you, his grandmother is Polish, and… and…” Hannah’s list of children went on and on, and by the time she had finished neither of them could believe how many there were.
The girls stood in the last light of the sun as evening approached. It struck Mina then, she didn’t have to be completely Jordanian, and moving to the United States of America didn’t mean that she had to be completely American in her ways either. Actually, she liked the sound of being Jordanian-American. “Can I ask you something?” asked Mina, having to stop herself from laughing, for she had just had a brilliant idea. “Could I paint a picture of your house?” And now both of the girls smiled. After all, neither of them could think of a better way for Mina to start her new life.