Letting Nicole Go

Letting Nicole Go

For a parent with a child in the Middle East, worry becomes a constant companion

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We were on the Dulles Access Road, just a couple of miles from the airport, when we heard that 11 Jordanians had been arrested for plotting to bomb hotels in Amman on the anniversary of a similar attack seven years earlier. I turned up the volume on the car radio.

“Did you hear that?” I asked my husband. 

John nodded, his grip tightening on the steering wheel. 

“At least they caught them.” My words sounded shallow even to me. 

It was Oct. 21, 2012, and we were heading to Amman to visit our daughter, Nicole, who was there for a semester abroad.

Our fears about Nicole studying in the Middle East had shadowed us for more than a year. She had switched from studying Mandarin to Arabic in her sophomore year at Vassar after taking courses on the Middle East and becoming fascinated with its culture and history. Home on break that fall, she announced that she wanted to study there. Her Arabic teacher thought Jordan would be the best place to go because the dialect was so similar to the Standard Arabic she was learning.  

I could hear the excitement in her voice as she told us about it. But John was noticeably silent. 

On the last night of Nicole’s break, we took her to Bethesda for dinner at Assaggi, her favorite restaurant. White twinkle lights encircled the trees, making for a festive evening. But during dinner, John began peppering her with questions, the attorney in him treating her like a hostile witness at a trial. She teared up but held firm in her desire.

And as time passed, we came to accept the inevitable. She was an adult. We had to let her go.

Less than a year later, Nicole was preparing to go to the University of Jordan in Amman. We were preparing for her departure. We talked with friends, listened to the news, tried to foresee every eventuality she might encounter. 

I took Nicole shopping for long-sleeved blouses and long skirts to cover her 5-foot-9-inch frame. I gave her sunglasses to obscure her green eyes, and scarves for her blond hair, recalling Lara Logan, the beautiful, blond CBS correspondent who was brutally attacked in Cairo.

“Cover your hair so you don’t stand out so much,” I implored Nicole.

She flew to Amman on Sept. 1, 2012. But before leaving, she gave me a finely braided friendship bracelet that she had spent days making—a circle of love to bind us.

“I have to knot it around your wrist,” she said. “You won’t be able to take it off, you know.” 

As if I would.

From the beginning, Nicole and her fellow students were warned to avoid the mosques after prayer services on Friday afternoons, when weekly demonstrations were held. But that September, the Innocence of Muslims, a movie trailer on YouTube denigrating the prophet Muhammad, created a furor in the Arab world. Then militants attacked the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, killing the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, and the political climate throughout the Middle East became increasingly volatile. 

Whatever tiny bubble of hope I had that Nicole was safe quickly burst. 

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