This is the final blog post of a three part series written by Abby Tseggai.
Moments before Fana landed at JFK airport, in New York City, she made her mind up that she would cut her hair in the days to follow; just like the two black women sitting right in front of her. Their Afros resembled liberation in her eyes.
It had been a long flight, and for the first half, Fana struggled to accept that she was actually leaving the safety and security of her parents and homeland. The burden of her family’s suffering combined with the pressure she felt to make her parents proud was intense, to say the least. But as she neared the final destination, Fana finally made an agreement with herself. She promised herself that no matter what it took, she would triumph all the tragedies she had experienced in her short 18-years of life. She was determined to adapt to a whole new world and all the things that come with it. In that moment, she found the confidence she needed.
She instantly became fascinated that an Afro was an acceptable style for women in America. Fana had long silky straight beautiful hair, for short hair on a woman was not a societal norm of beauty in Eritrea. It was in this moment she finally allowed herself to experience excitement, for she was actually going to live in “the land of the free.” She began picturing herself with an Afro, and smiled; it brought her a feeling of joy she hadn’t felt in a very long time. Fana was genuinely looking forward to having an Afro, as a daily reminder of empowerment and to symbolize her freedom from grief.
As she took her first steps off the plane, she took a deep breath and said a quick prayer, releasing her worries and fears to God. The host family she was arranged to live with, a young girl and her two parents greeted Fana with warm smiles. The little girl and her mom kept complimenting Fana’s hair the whole care ride home.
It was not until she sat down for her first dinner with the family at their home in Queens, NY, that she bashfully told them she wanted to cut her hair into an Afro, the very next day. Totally against her choice, the mother said, “I can’t take you to do that. Your mother would kill me.” Fana laughed, trying to mask her frustration, thinking it would be a form of disrespect to do it anyways. The father winked at her and whispered in her ear, “Shhh…I will take you.” This was the first time she heard his voice the whole day.
He took her to a salon two days later, after picking her up from an orientation at the school she would be attending the following week. She was so happy upon leaving the salon; she probably thanked the father ten times on their short walk back to the car. The father opened the passenger side door for her and said, “give me a hug.” She did not hesitate, however immediately regretted it when his hand touched her butt. Although she was startled, he played it off saying “it was an accident.” Perplexed in confusion the whole car ride home, her vulnerable innocence decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Much to her dismay, the father would continually stare at Fana in sexual ways and anytime he found an opportunity to be alone with her, he would say inappropriate things. It made her extremely uncomfortable—the freedom she finally found was clouded by this unexpected and unwelcome harassment. But armed with her newfound confidence, Fana knew after only three weeks, she had to leave this living situation immediately.
She did not trust anyone and felt so alone. She refused to tell her parents; she wanted to protect them from any more worry in their lives. But she knew exactly what to do – she had to build relationships, however she could. Fana remembered her father’s voice. Before she left, he encouraged her to call an old family friend who had also relocated to the States. She made that fateful call, and just one week later she was able to escape, when the family friend, Kidane, picked her up and took her to upstate New York. He attended a University that was located near a local high school, he’d already spoke with about the situation prior to her arrival. She was so thankful for him, for now she could finally comfortably get, the education she traveled so far to obtain.
Read the previous two blog posts in this series: