Dreams of my FatherhoodPosted: July 18, 2012
At 5:30 am the sunlight is faint, peeking between my billowing curtains, but, outside, there’s already a cacophony of birdcalls.
I’m two months into my yearlong mission in Zimbabwe working at the largest Pediatric/Adolescent HIV center in the region, and possibly the world. We have the monumental task of handing over the entire Doctors without Borders project to the Ministry of Health by year’s end. Though my colleagues and friends here have touched my heart, my thoughts are with one special person on the other side of the world.
Six months prior, I stood on a naked bluff in California overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Walking down the makeshift aisle toward me was the woman I’d dreamed of. Like most couples on this magical day, we looked forward to spending a lifetime cherishing each other.
Unlike most newlyweds, though, we’d already planned to split up in less than five months.
My wife Nadeah had a prestigious externship to work at the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague. Simultaneously, I would be working with Doctors without Borders for a year. It would be tough to be apart, but we wanted to support each other’s dreams. We agreed to try to find a way to live together again within six months of our initial parting.
It’s a Saturday about four months into my stay and I’m sitting on our small porch, listening to the morning birdcalls again. My thoughts wander to the future. What will I be like as a husband? As a father? As a newly-married man, I have the perspective of one looking in – and ahead.
We’ve already faced hurdles together as a couple, including opposition to our union from our families due to ethnic differences, and the rigors of a long-distance courtship. As a husband, I envision that we will return to our marital vows for guidance:
Nadeah, I vow to always share with you my dreams, my desires, my fears, my food, my home, and maybe even my bank account. I vow to share everything with you for as long as we live. Wherever we go, may we be enriched by those we meet and may we always be aware of our duty to serve each other and those around us.
Yousef, I promise to be a supportive partner through the bright and dark moments of our journey together. I promise to be your protector, your confidant, and your dance partner.
Eventually, when the time is right, we will have a family. From our travels and experiences, we’re open to the idea of adoption. Seeing an entire generation wiped out by AIDS and witnessing children being cared for by a grandmother or aunt, makes adoption even more compelling.
Sitting on the porch, basking in the African sun, I dream of this future. With intermittent electricity curtailing the distraction of the Internet and with scant other diversions on the weekends when the HIV clinic is closed, my mind coalesces our vows and my experiences.
Two themes stand out in my dreams of fatherhood: faith and travel. Faith is essential and forms the backdrop of our union. Not only did Nadeah and I meet at an Eid-ul-Adha dinner, but we both grew up with a deep connection to the humanitarian and social justice message of Islam, while also having close friendships with people of other faiths and backgrounds. Our child will be encouraged to explore and respect all faiths, not just the one they are raised in.
Yet the faith that we love does not exist in a vacuum, and that leads to my life’s second theme: Travel. Immersion into other cultures is our other shared passion, and one that we also hope to share with our children. When we met, Nadaeh had just returned from traveling in India and the Middle East for a year. I had volunteered my summers at multinational ‘workcamps’ and treasured the diverse folks I met.
Since then, I’ve watched our colleagues’ boy, Adi, arrive at 5-months-old from Bombay to Bulawayo and be showered with love by his parents. I’m in awe at the butterflies I felt, watching the three of them together. I recall my undergraduate teacher who said that the more unique environments a toddler is exposed to by the age 3, the more creative and adaptable they are as adults. I smile, envisioning our children being held and kissed by people different from us, eating food we’ve never heard of, and being exposed to languages and colors that could fill an artist’s palette.
The grey lourie, aptly called the “Go Away bird”, continues to wake me with its song most mornings. In those early minutes looking outside, I dream alone of fatherhood and the countries I’ll be visiting next.
Some months later, Nadeah and I are reunited in Zimbabwe. Now, when I glance over I can see my true love next to me, still slumbering, and look forward to sharing our dreams together when she awakens.
Yousef Turshani or ”Dr. Yo-Yo” as his pediatric patients and their families refer to him, is with his wife, Nadeah Vali, on the island of Saipan, a part of the U.S. Commonwealth. When he’s not working in the hospital, he can be found scuba diving, snorkeling or reading. Catch some of his reflections on his blog, Searching under the Surface in Saipan.