Long Distance Love
On the morning of February 17th, Rafia woke up and prepared a feast for the arrival of her husband, Abdinasir. But when an unprecedented snowstorm hit the Mid-south, Abdinasir’s flight was canceled and he got stuck in Chicago. Rafia, however, was undeterred.
The next morning, she woke up and cooked another welcome-home meal for her long-awaited husband. But again, for the second time, his flight was canceled.
For five years, Rafia and Abdinasir had communicated only by telephone calls. The two met as refugees at a camp in Nairobi after fleeing their home country of Ethiopia. When they were married in January 2015, they never imagined that the first years of their marriage would play out like this.
“I loved and married this person, and this person was leaving me,” Abdinasir said through a translator. “It was very hard on me to grasp the reality of it, but in everything, it’s God’s will, so I did not have any control.”
Rafia’s resettlement paperwork had been filed separately from Abdinasir’s before they were married. There was no time to change it between their wedding and her departure 11 months later, so when her visa was approved, she left for the United States, and Abdinasir was left behind.
Rather than spending the honeymoon period together, the couple found themselves in a long-distance relationship. Moreover, when Rafia arrived in the U.S., she discovered she was pregnant.
“Everything kept twirling in my head,” Abdinasir said. “My life was just one surprise after the other. All of the sudden she got there, and she was pregnant.”
A Baby on the Way
From a distance, Abdinasir watched as his wife carried his child and suffered through six months of morning sickness in a completely new country, alone. Her pain was so great that Rafia considered terminating the pregnancy. Thankfully, a new friend from her home country of Ethiopia stepped in to provide support, and Rafia was able to carry the baby to full-term. But her difficulties didn’t stop there.
Due to labor complications, her baby was delivered through a cesarean section.
When she was sent home from the hospital in Atlanta, she was unable to care for herself or the baby because of the strain it would place on her wound. Eventually, she was forced to return to the hospital due to an infection.
This time, another friend took her under his wing, giving her lodging and helping with her newborn when he could. His job as a truck driver, however, often took him away from home for weeks at a time, and Rafia struggled to care for herself and her baby in his absence.
“Even though I laugh about it, sometimes I don’t even want to remember it because it was a very painful experience,” Rafia said.
Meanwhile, Abdinasir was still in a refugee camp on the other side of the ocean. With no news of when his visa would be processed and approved, he could only watch his daughter grow up through a phone screen.
“Her leaving me behind, and me being alone, was hard enough,” he said. “The fact that she was here, pregnant, alone and going through all of that was just another heartache for me. I was not here physically, but I was just feeling all the pain.”
Hope on the Horizon
Slowly, Rafia regained her strength and was able to meet others within her community. Eventually, she moved to Memphis, and with the help of a friend, she contacted World Relief’s local office to start the process of bringing her husband home.
“Life was getting better afterwards, and I am grateful for everything. Even though once upon a time I thought this was just the end of me, that I was just going to rot and die alone,” Rafia said. “But once I got [to Memphis], I told them all my story. They were able to process the visa for Abdinasir, and now he’s here. In many, many, many ways, my survival was because of World Relief.”
In March 2020, four years after their wedding, Abdinasir and Rafia received the news that his visa was being processed. For the first time in a long time, the couple had hope.
“I heard a lot about World Relief, and the fact they would do everything in their power to reunite families,” Abdinasir said. “That gave me the biggest hope that they would do anything and everything to unite us.”
Each time Abdinasir called his family after that, his daughter would ask the same question: “Daddy, when are you coming?” And each time, the truth that he would soon be with them became a little more real. If Abdinasir could have had it his way, he would have grown wings and flown out at that moment.
Instead, he and Rafia drew strength from their faith and maintained hope in God’s plan for their lives, counting down the days to when Abdinasir would arrive and they could begin life as a family. After five years of waiting, a delayed flight in Chicago was nothing for the couple.
On the morning of Abdinasir’s arrival, Rafia eagerly awoke. But this time, she didn’t cook a welcome-home meal. Jokingly, she said Abdinasir could eat what was left over from the other two meals she made. Instead, she and her daughter waited patiently at the airport, giddy with excitement.
When Abdinasir finally landed in Memphis his first thought was who should he kiss first — the daughter he was meeting for the first time or the wife he had said goodbye to five years ago? Overwhelmed with emotion, he embraced his wife first then turned to hug his daughter for the very first time.
“It’s my turn now since she’s been through all this hardship all this time alone. I just really want to be the anchor for my family and be the man of the house for everything going forward,” Abdinasir said.
A month into his new life with his wife and daughter, Abdinasir is working hard to learn English and find a job. His prayer is that this is just the start and not the ending. He is filled with hope as he thinks of the future that lies ahead of his family — one that he had never thought possible when he was forced to leave his country so many years ago.
“Coming from all the horror stories and everything else, you come here and you’re a human. You have rights,” he said. “To me, I have left all the troubles and everything right there where I came from. Nothing but the best moving forward, and that’s all my hope.”
President Biden promised to reopen the refugee resettlement program but has thus far kept the refugee ceiling at 15,000. Because of his delay, many refugees like Abdinasir remain in limbo and their safety hangs in the balance. We must hold this administration accountable. Raise your voice and take a stand today. Sign our petition to President Joe Biden and urge him to keep his promise!
Bailey Clark serves as the Communications Coordinator for World Relief Memphis. With a background in journalism and advertising, she is passionate about storytelling and its power to make a difference.