Dearborn is my safe haven, a city with the highest concentration of Arabs in all of America, a place for people who are just like me. Growing up, I had the best of both worlds. I was able to connect with my Middle Eastern roots and culture in a city that has the best Mediterranean food around. I could speak Arabic and not feel out of place. My days would be filled with visiting “khaltos” (Arabic word for aunts) and potlucks where we would eat our days away while playing tag outside with the neighborhood kids who were more like family than friends.
However, my city was never meant to be this vibrant, lively and diverse. Henry Ford built my town with the intention that it would be a slum for his workers of color and their families, but that backfired because he’s given me a home unlike any other. As a Muslim, I grew up with mosques and religion surrounding me. During Ramadan (holy month of fasting), our bakeries, restaurants and stores stay open until 5 a.m., but are closed during the day because everyone refrains from eating. Ramadan is my happiest month because it’s when our nightlife shines through; kids play in the streets until three in the morning, families come over and stay until “suhoor” (sunrise, when fasting resumes for the day), friends go out to hookah lounges and our mosques are the fullest they get every year for taraweeh prayer (special Ramadan prayers). I never grew up with a Christmas, but I believe Ramadan more than made up for it.
Despite all of the wonderful things about Dearborn, I spent my whole life fighting to get out of its bubble. I hated the relentless gossip and people set in their old ways from the old country. I wanted to see more than my picturesque town and I grew up with such big dreams fighting against the status quo. And despite all of this, now that I am in Ann Arbor, I yearn for my town. I become retrospective and think back to the now defunct Arab-American festival on Warren Street, my old neighborhood growing up and of my wonderful parents who instilled in me the values of family, culture, tradition and community. Even though I live only an hour away, I feel like everything I have ever known has been ripped away from me.
Back home, I would spend my days eating grape leaves, falafel, tabbouleh, fattoush, etc. Needless to say, during my first week at the University of Michigan, my pampered taste buds found the dining hall food bland, unappetizing and incredibly foreign. I saw students carrying plates filled to the brim with food I had never before seen in my life and downing it all like it was nothing. Meanwhile, I needed extra salt, unattainable lemon slices and unheard-of spices to season my food, all of which seemed wholly unavailable in the South Quad Dining Hall. My biggest realization since setting foot on campus is that I may have grown up in America, but my taste buds are 100 percent Middle Eastern. I don’t think I had a decent meal besides pizza for days. This self-inflicted “starvation” forced me to throw away my pride, call my mom and beg her to make me food I could genuinely eat, telling her I would board a bus back home to Dearborn for the day if she did. Now, as I sit in my dorm room, my supply of Arab food is dwindling and I am once again venturing out into the dining hall hoping for the best. They say you never appreciate something until it’s gone and it has never rung truer because now, I want my home back.