Monday, December 17, 2012

Huda's Story of a Lifetime

When Huda Shanawani left her homeland,  her school, and her family -- supposedly for only three years -- she carried with her a dream that has taken her four long decades to fulfill.
Huda Shanawani, college prof at last
So now, as many her age are looking back on careers or are packing them in, she feels as if she’s only just arrived.
I met Huda over a cup of coffee in a hotel lounge where both our husbands were attending a meeting. As often happens when you meet a stranger, her story came pouring out. It’s much richer than this – and she promised me she’ll start writing it for her children – but here are the Cliff Notes:
It starts when Huda was 16, a schoolgirl in Syria. A friend of the family -- a medical student studying in the U.S. -- comes home to visit. His parents tell him he cannot return to America without taking a wife.
“It was a semi-arranged marriage,” Huda explained. “I did have a choice.” Her husband-to-be asks her, “What are your dreams?”
She says, “I want to finish high school.”
Arriving in New Jersey as a newly married 16-year-old was not the life that Huda had envisioned. “As a kid, kids dream," she said. “This was not my dream. My dream was to have a home, have children, and if I could, get an education along the way."
In Syria.
She thought that after medical school, she and her husband would have to – would want to -- return home, but “in the 1970s Syria was no longer a good place to raise children," she said. "And in the ‘80s all hell broke loose in Syria and we couldn’t go back.”
Because of her husband’s profession the couple were able to get U.S. citizenship early on, “which made it easier to live the life we dreamed of,” Huda said.
"We wanted to give our children the freedom of education, of thought, and of speech -- everything we were denied in Syria -- and the chance for them to pursue their dreams."
As she raised their four children, Huda remained determined to fulfill her goal of getting an education.
Her husband said he had no problem with her quest,  as long as she also managed the home front.
“I graduated from college when my youngest went to college,” she said. “I took one course at a time. I stuck it out.”
By Huda Shanawani
Along the way, for 30 years, she translated and interpreted for the New Jersey courts. She also painted and made ceramics. Finally, in 2008, she received a masters degree in art education.
Today, Huda is a college teacher, teaching Arabic at Union County College in Cranford, N.J. She has no plans to stop.
Many of her students have never left the city. Huda says she loves introducing them “to a world they’ve never seen.”
For sure, she’s not doing it for the money. “My teaching has nothing to do with money. You’d be shocked at how little I make. It’s getting out of the house and creating something.”
Here, in a land where she never expected to live out her life, she has clearly created more than something.

Said Huda: “One of the things I’m proud of is how proud my children are of me.”
Her age? “I’m turning 60 next year. I never hide my age. I have a child who is 40.”

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