During the week, my office prepared truckloads of supplies—test kits, condoms, appointment logbooks—and shipped them to the clinics. Once every week, our doctors also treated patients at our headquarters in the city. Ndola, Zambia’s third-largest city, had a great need for affordable, high-quality health care. If at times the cityscape seemed picturesque to me—jacaranda-lined dirt roads, merchants bearing enormous bowls of vegetables upon their heads, uniformed schoolchildren gleefully walking back home at the end of day—there were always reminders of Zambia’s extreme, endemic poverty. For many of the children I saw, home was the sprawling encampments on the city’s outskirts—a maze of rudimentary, one-room structures that housed entire families.
“My family is there,” he adds. “I haven’t been able to talk to them.” He speaks in a flat, almost stoic, tone, with a slight accent to his English. “My sister lives in Homs, but she can’t go out. She’s stuck in her apartment. She can’t get to my parents’ house.”
He glances at us, then turns his eyes back to the TV. “Hezbollah won’t let Syrian refugees into Lebanon,” he says. He pauses a moment, then adds, “Syria would not do that. Syrians are generous people.”
Earlier in the year, I was a writer in residence at the Santa Fe Art Institute, which is located in Hopewell-Mann. One day, I asked a friend to drop me off at the mall downtown, where I needed to pick up a few essentials. From there, I planned to catch a bus and take the scenic route back home.
Calvin and Raul waiting at the bus stopWhen I finished my shopping, I headed over to the bus stop—which took several minutes to locate, thanks to its inconspicuous signage. When I got there, I saw the back of a white-and-blue city bus trundling into the distance. I’d missed it by seconds. According to the timetable, the next bus wouldn’t be for another hour. I was stuck. Just then, the rain began to pour.
“My friend passed away two weeks ago. I’m here to clear my head,” I tell her. Hal, a pastor, was one of the first friends I’d made after moving to Phoenix a year and a half ago with my fiancé. He had helped us through some tough times.
She’s curious about where my accent is from. I tell her I was born in Iran. “But I have lived here longer than I have lived there,” I quickly add.
It’s a cool, sunny November morning. As she’s making my coffee, the woman spots the book I’m carrying in my hand, The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay, by Hooman Majd. She asks me what it’s about. I tell her it was written by an Iranian immigrant who had left Iran when he was eight months old. When he turned fifty, he decided to go looking for his grandmother’s house halfway around the world, hoping to find his roots. He found the area, the familiar scents, the leftover mud walls. But he couldn’t find the actual house.
His story is not much different from mine, I say. Several years ago, I visited the neighborhood where my family used to live in Tehran. For the first time in more than two decades, I walked our old block, looking for the home I had grown up in. But it wasn’t there anymore.
It was the last night of my conference in Paris, and I was sitting with some new friends in a Brazilian restaurant near the Avenue de la République. We had just wrapped up a day of panels and presentations on the topic of race at the Sorbonne, and the six of us—two Dutch scholars, an Italian, a Belgian, a French woman, and me, the American—had gone out to celebrate. I felt a bit sheepish, as an American, to be eating food from the Americas in Paris, but a few drinks erased that feeling.
We had just finished eating and were sitting around chatting when the once emptying restaurant became full of people again. A young French couple hurriedly slipped into the restaurant and sat down at the table next to us. The man spoke English to us. “Don’t go outside,” he said.
The people at my table huddled anxiously around him. People were running in the streets away from something, he told us. I glanced around the restaurant and saw that everyone was already staring at their phones. Looking at my own, I saw a news alert that said that several bombs had gone off in the Bataclan concert hall.
“That is just 1,000 meters from here,” the French man said, eyes wide. Some of the women around me gasped.
The night before I'd stopped in Mazatlán, a city on Mexico’s northwestern coast, to break up the long bus trip from Tijuana to Guadalajara. Back in Seattle, the Sunday travel section had made the place sound like paradise. All I’d found was a gloomy hotel room, an ocean too hot for swimming, Gila monsters splashing in an open sewer nearby, and a couple of scrawny teenagers humping alongside a broken concrete path near the beach.
The bus to Guadalajara would arrive in an hour, but I didn’t feel like waiting in the bus station. I opened up a book and started reading on the beach.