GAYS MILLS - Khadija Tracy Lacina left the Kickapoo Valley decades ago, but she was definitely back home Saturday night at the Gays Mills Community Commerce Center. Lacina talked to an interested crowd of 60 people about where she had been–including 10 years spent in Yemen and living through a civil war while there.
The 45-minute talk worked its way into a few hours including a lengthy question-answer period that followed her presentation.
Lacina began with a heartfelt recollection of growing up in the Kickapoo Valley.
“I have deep roots here,” Lacina said. “I’ve been away 20-some years, but it’s good to be back. I’m happy to be home. There’s no place like this in the world. This little valley is a special place.”
Then, it was time for Tracy to take the crowd back on what she referred to as her Yemeni Journey.
The publicity for the event had promised this would not be a travelogue and despite the slides and some delicious Yemeni food, this definitely was not a travelogue. It was the retelling of journey taken by Lacina and her family.
The next several slides showed some bombed out buildings and some beleaguered people.
“This is war,” Lacina told the group. “There’s a price to war…I lived in it for three of four years.”
Lacina let the reality of her words and photos sink in. Yemen is a third world country, she noted.
“We lived off grapes for a month during the war,” she said.
“You have to understand the price of war,” she explained. “It’s a price that has to be paid. The paying is done by people like this little girl.”
Then, Lacina addressed a question probably on the mind of most everyone in the room.
“How did I get to Yemen?’ Lacina asked.
The middle-aged woman, wearing a dark colored hijab, explained how it happened. A single mother in college, Lacina struggled to make ends meet and graduate.
At one point, she met with her brother Ray Lacina and noticed a profound change had taken place. The temperamental, volatile person she remembered had changed to a peaceful person. He had become a Muslim.
“I saw the change that had taken place when he became a Muslin,” Tracy recalled. “That got me interested.”
After graduating from college, she was married to a man whose father was from Benin in West Africa.
Lacina and her husband took up a nomadic life with stops in Boulder and Denver, eventually they wound up in East Orange New Jersey. Lacina volunteered that the family lived in the ghetto.
The family decided to move to Yemen so they sold everything and moved to Yemen, where they believed it would be easy to live. They sold the house and some possessions and thought they had enough money to live on for a year.
Lacina wanted to learn religion from the wife and daughter of Muslim scholar.
The family flew to Yemen and each family member brought four books, two toys and four sets of clothes.
The first thing Lacina noticed in Yemen was that everyone was armed.
However, the family had no intention of living as tourists. They were determined to live with the common people.
“It’s hard to condense 10 years into 45 minutes,” Lacina told the crowd gathered in Gays Mils. “Yemen is a beautiful ancient land.”
Then, the girl from the Kickapoo Valley took the audience on a stream of consciousness ride through 10 years of living Yemen.
Having a baby and not being able to get a taxi to the hospital–rejecting one taxi driver and who wanted $50 for another that wound up taking no money, but driving very slowly.
Being adopted by a woman and her relatives when they discovered the young mother had no family.
Experiencing trouble at the armed checkpoints and witnessing gratuitous violence.
Learning through email that her sister in her 40s was ill and then learning she had died, while Tracy remained in Yemen. Then, learning after the fact, that her father had died.
“I started to realize that I had gotten into something that was more than I had thought,” Lacina recalled.
Her husband was arrested for traveling to areas without permission. The family moved back to the capital Sana’a and then to another village
“There was always something good going on,” Lacina noted.
Unfortunately, in the village to which they had moved, the civil war erupted when the Houthi rebels attacked. It was the first village attacked
There was trouble at checkpoints–trouble getting food and medicine into the village and violence.
At one point, Lacina was suffering from typhoid, malaria and hepatitis without her husband, who had left for the United States.
There was more, much more to the talk…
“My family didn’t give up on me,” Lacina said. “They brought me home.”
In a long question and answer period that followed, Khadija Tracy Lacina took to time to carefully answer each question. She explained the difference between the three major sects of Islam, the essence of the Mediterranean diet, the nuances of the mud brick architecture of Yemen and much, much more.
Through it all, the Muslim woman who returned to her home in the Kickapoo Valley joked about the situation in which she often found herself, during those days in Yemen.
Oh, one more thing, Khadija Tracy Lacina is a huge fan of Doctors without Borders, who made their way through a Houthi rebel blockade of the village to deliver needed supplies and assistance.Of those enemies, the Houthis, Khadija said, “I hate them. But I’m very biased. I’m sure they would tell a different side of the story.”