In 1980, after I completed high school in Nazareth, I went to visit my uncles, aunt, and grandma residing in Los Angeles. I attended university there, and graduated in 1986 with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering. Soon after, I was offered a job at Sun Microsystems in the Silicon Valley, and moved there. Living in L.A. away from home was okay; I had made some friends at the Catholic Newman Club, and I had my extended family around. However, moving to Northern California to take the job was a totally new ground for me. The family support was not there any more, and my friends were a six hour-drive away. New life, new start!
In 1979, Gosayna migrated with her family from a town just outside of Nazareth to Melbourne, Australia. That was a completely new start for them. She was just 11 years old at that time.
In 1988, I went to Nazareth for my sister’s wedding. Gosayna was there at the same time visiting her relatives. We met, clicked, and had two years of a long distance relationship before we got married in 1990 in Nazareth, after which we went back to the U.S. to live there.
Gosayna began to work for HP then later worked with me at Sun Microsystems. On May 7, 1993, our first boy was born, and we named him Akram Fabian Karam. Akram was my dad’s name, and usually in our culture, the oldest son’s child (if it is a boy) is named after his grandfather. My parents as well as Gosayna’s mom came to visit us. We baptized Akram, and they attended my MBA graduation ceremony. Then everybody left and we felt all alone. There were no grandparents around to help and guide us to raise Akram, but we managed.
Then our lives changed… On the morning of October 15, 1993 when we woke up to find that our baby left us to be with God. It was SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). He was only 5 months old; he was full of smiles, and he was the light of our lives. We were all alone. Friends and relatives came to comfort us, but they came and went. Our parents and siblings were not with us. We felt alone and far away from home.
On August 29, 1994, Christopher John was born, and happiness returned to our lives once again. However, it was very nerve-wracking when Christopher overslept in the morning and we would have to check on him. On June 20, 1997, we were blessed again with the birth of Matthew John. We were very happy with the two boys, and Gosayna decided to quit her job and stay home with the kids. It was a huge decision for us, but we both thought that it would be better for the kids, and trusted that God is always watching over us.
I changed jobs; we traveled, moved to a larger suburban house and bought newer cars. In a material sense, life was good, but closer to heart; we always felt that we were not very happy. Sure I had a great job, and we had a “good” life but we always felt certain emptiness because the U.S. wasn’t “Home” to us. I would come home from work at five every evening and close the door. That was the routine in our daily life.
We never felt secure about our children’s safety even though we lived in a new neighborhood. We could never let them play outside in the front yard on their own. Even at the park, we could never let them play by themselves (If you have lived in California you will know what I mean). We would buy milk from the supermarket, and on it, there would be a picture of a child saying: “Have you seen me?” These certainly did not help us to feel safe. We were living the “American Dream,” but at what cost? What is important to us? What has a higher priority?
God blessed us with a daughter, Serene Therese, on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1999. We were thrilled. A new baby girl was a great blessing to all of us. However, when everyone was celebrating the New Year’s, the five of us became sick and bed ridden for five days. Gosayna and I could not fully take care of the kids but we had to manage somehow. We thought of how our parents could have come over to take care of us if we were living close to them. We would never feel so helpless to our kids. We had already been evaluating our lives, our priorities and where we wanted to live, and this experience made us consider more seriously about going “Home” to Nazareth. Despite the many good close friends we had from different nationalities and religions, we made the decision to move permanently back home in the summer of 2001. We started planning!
In the summer of 2000 we took a family trip home and looked into buying a house, signing up the kids for school and making other necessary arrangements for the move.
At Christmas of the same year, we had my parents visit and spend our last Christmas and New Year’s in the U.S. with us. As a surprise they brought my eleven year-old niece with them. When we arrived home from the airport, Christopher went straight to his room and closed the door. When Gosayna went to check on him and asked him why he wasn’t sitting with the whole family, he explained that he hated to get attached to family because one day they will leave. So by staying away, he was protecting himself emotionally from the difficulties that accompany the “Farewell.” That’s when we both realized how much our kids feel the same emptiness that we feel. The emptiness, that comes from the distance between grandparents, aunts and uncles and their grandkids, nephews and nieces. So as long as we remained in the U.S., our kids would continue to feel this emptiness rather than the love that comes from extended family.
We made the move on July 4, 2001. I was away for 21 years, and Gosayna for 22. We came home. We’re Palestinians and this is our land, we wanted to be home where we and all our ancestors grew and lived. In the U.S., we felt alone; we felt that we would lose our identity with every generation. In the U.S. we met and interacted with second and third generation Arab Americans. Their kids would marry individuals from other nationalities and start losing their identities. They would easily forget the language and lose all connections to their ancestors’ homes!
As soon as we arrived, we rented a house until we found one of our own. Matthew and Christopher started school in September of that year. They started making friends at school as well as in the neighborhood. I started my new job in August. We truly felt at “Home”—we enjoyed being close to relatives and having our kids safe. This was home in the true sense of the word. Other lands, while a great experience, were not “Home” to us.
We had made our decision and were confident in it. We sold everything and didn’t look back. There were hurdles to cross and many new things to adjust to and learn, but we didn’t give up. We looked at every hurdle as a learning experience and we continued. We never doubted our decision.
We made a family trip to the U.S. two years after we had been back. We had a good time, but after three weeks the kids wanted to come home! At that point we were confident that we had made the right move.
We’ve been back for seven years and can’t imagine ever moving out of Nazareth. Gosayna and I started volunteering at different places and occasions. In addition to our work and raising our kids, we volunteer at our children’s school, Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, our church, and other places. We always encourage people, especially school kids, to give back to the community by volunteering at local hospitals or non-profit organizations.
Our family was blessed with another daughter on May 7, 2006. Katrina was born exactly 13 years after our Heavenly Angel Akram was born. It was a true blessing from God.
Our lives are full of love. Even though we live in a land of no peace (politically), we are at Peace in our daily lives. The emptiness has gone away and our lives are full of family, neighbors and friends. We live in a big community where we share the happiness and excitement when couples get married and the sorrow when others pass away. The support available to us from our families has been tremendous. We even have time alone as a couple even with four kids. We never interview babysitters but rather trust them. Our kids have more freedom of movement such as walking to grandma’s house, going to shops, coming home from school by bus, playing in the neighborhood with kids their age and so on. Our children have an active and safe social life; they are rarely bored! Everyone knows everyone, so it is a safe environment for our kids. Everyone looks out and supports you throughout your good and bad times.
Every country has its good and bad. For us, life can’t be taken for granted. It’s too short and our priority is not materialistically driven but love and family driven. We want our kids to grow up in the arms of grandparents and extended family who loves them. Special occasions such as birthdays, First Communions, Easter, and Christmas among others have taken on a new meaning. They are full of fun, happiness and love.
“Why did you come back?” people ask. For love, peace and happiness! We came back to be “Home.” This is where we belong, our language, our culture and most of all our people.
Habib Karam works in a high-tech company. Gosayna Karam works at a non-profit organization.
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