Letting Nicole Go
For a parent with a child in the Middle East, worry becomes a constant companion
That evening, we met Nicole’s host family. When Nicole opened the front door to their apartment, their 5-year-old son ran to her, squealing, “Neecole, Neecole, Neecole!”
Nicole crouched down. He wrapped his little arms around her neck, squeezing tightly and speaking excitedly in Arabic.
“Oh, Foo Foo, I missed you, too,” she said, first in Arabic, then in English.
We gave her hosts small gifts to thank them for caring for our daughter—Virginia peanuts, Old Bay Seasoning, a dinosaur Lego set for Foo Foo—then squeezed into their car to go to an Arabic restaurant.
Afterward, they insisted on driving us to our hotel. I held Nicole’s hand in the backseat, knowing it would be awhile before I could do so again. Outside the hotel, I hugged her and tearily told her that I loved her. I reminded her to be strong and that only seven weeks remained until her homecoming.
As I walked through the lobby, my iPhone dinged and I looked down to see Nicole’s text: I miss you already.
Two weeks after our departure, the post-prayer service demonstrations grew to include protests against the government’s end of fuel subsidies, and rumors circulated of a possible Arab Spring in Jordan. Classes were canceled, and foreign students were told to remain in their apartments until otherwise notified. They were to keep their phones charged and loaded with minutes so they could be reached in an instant.
During that time, I developed sties on my eyes and rashes on my arms. My iPhone never left my side. In the morning, I’d wake to find Nicole’s friendship bracelet twisted around my wrist, evidence of another restless night.
Nicole and I Skyped on the second day of her five-day confinement. Temperatures in Amman had dropped into the 50s and there was no heat in the apartment. But cold was the least of our concerns as she listened to gunshots just blocks away.
Finally, classes resumed, and before Nicole knew it, her stay was ending.
Thirty-six hours before her departure, she was walking with two male friends, heading to say her goodbyes. The final evening call to prayer had just sounded when a car approached from behind, its headlights off. A man reached through the passenger-side window and grabbed Nicole’s long purse strap, dragging her down and through the street before she managed to let go.
When she called to tell me, assuring me she wasn’t badly hurt, I reminded myself that the mugging could easily have happened in Bethesda.
A day and a half later, Nicole was back. For the first time in months, I could breathe.
That’s when she said: “I can’t wait to go back, Mom.”
Desirée Magney lives in Chevy Chase. Nicole is a senior at Vassar College, majoring in history with a correlate in Arabic language and culture. To comment on this story, email comments@bethesda magazine.com.