By Essmaa Litim
Happy Mother’s Day. To every mother out there who continues to fight for her babies. Who works endless hours to make sure they are fed. Who flies halfway across the world for opportunity. Who sacrifices it all so that those babies can live the life she couldn’t have. For her life is sacred to the Mother Earth of which we were born, holding on with every leaf, watering each root to grow, so that the next can blossom even greater than she.
Happy Mother’s Day to my mother who left her world for another to give to her family what she couldn’t give back home. My mother, Safia Litim, the resilient woman that helped raise her brothers and sisters after their father passed sacrificed her dreams only to then sacrifice them again to build her own. She is the strongest woman I know, learning and unlearning for her children. With her husband by her side, they raised four children and when my baby brother was born in ‘02, they had to learn about something they never heard of before.
What did it mean?
I was only six when my baby brother was born but I remember wholeheartedly the fear my parents let resonate in our home. They were happy with their new baby boy, as we all were, but the fear of a diagnosis they knew little about clouded hope. I watched my mother go to every doctor’s appointment as she still does today, fighting for answers as to why her son, Mohamed, does not speak.
Moha, as we call him, speaks in his own way. Now, at nineteen years old, when I ask him a question I still don’t get a vocal response, only a facial one. We have learned to understand his form of communication; how his body allows him to live, we will accept. Always.
In my upcoming book, Speechless, I detail my mother’s resilience in emigrating from Algeria to America in the 1990s with nothing to her name, except for a fire inside her. I write about her journey through adolescence in her native Algeria sharing glimpses of her life in a country newly independent from its former colonizer, France. I invite the world to join my mother on her journey through sacrifice, hope, immigration, and autism. Speechless is a memoir I wrote from her perspective retelling her story after she unveiled it to me over the course of many months. As children, we look forward to growing up and as we grow up, we tend to forget our parents are growing too. I watched my mother happy with life and watched her cry in pain but one thing she never let go of was her faith. She allows her life to unfold, as she knows it is meant to. She always has hope. Watching her do everything for Moha is a love I have never seen before. She takes good care of her body because she says she needs to be in her best shape for as long as she can, to take care of him.
“I do everything for him.” she always says to us.
I run for him. I cook for him. I eat healthy for him. I advocate for him. I help brush his teeth for him. I help bathe him for him. I love for him. I am for him.
Everything my mother does is to make sure my brother lives the best life he can. That love is so great I always want to be in the presence of it.
She taught her family how to love and watching her love so hard inspires my siblings and I to love hard too.
Speechless is not only my mother’s journey but Moha’s as well. I want people to read this story and feel the growth; understand the beauty in life no matter what it looks like. Moha’s story is broken down by chapters, revealing both his personal and his educational growth. There is power in learning how to understand someone who doesn’t speak the same as you and I want to emphasize the importance of patience. Moha communicates differently and that is okay. We learned him as he grew, the same way he learned the world around him through his own eyes.
I watch my mother brush his teeth every night and sometimes tries to floss, if he lets her. I watch her only shop for gluten free foods because she knows gluten upsets his stomach. I watch her help him point to answers during his zoom classes online as she tries to help him understand the days of the week. I watch her take him outside to play because she knows how much he loves to run. My mother isn’t just strong, she is the embodiment of strength.
I wrote her story because I want parents, family members, teachers, and doctors too, to read it and understand perspective.
I want people who are afraid to not be afraid.
I want them to know that it isn’t just them.
With love and compassion, we can fight for the lives of our loved ones.
Moha is a very intuitive boy with a love for music. He is nonspeaking, yet I have learned his language. He loves to hum. I know he is happy when he begins to hum his favorite songs. Sometimes, the songs he hums are songs I know he hasn’t heard in many years and I wonder, is this his favorite song? Then he’ll sing another and I wonder, maybe this is his favorite song? I play all types of music for him to gauge his taste and when I play guitar-based songs, very gentle music, he is almost in a trance. He loves it. He listens and I am sure he is recording the song in his mind to sing at a later time.
Watching him grow is a magical experience I want to share with the world and through, Speechless, I will. My mother’s journey is past to present, as time doesn’t stop just as celebrating my mother never will stop. Today and every day, before and after, we celebrate our mothers, their mothers, their mother’s mothers, and so on until the celebration reaches mother earth and then,
we will thank her too.
My name is Essmaa Litim and I am a Bentley University 2018 graduate with a degree in Marketing and Law. I was born and raised in Boston to immigrant parents who came to Boston in the 1990s from Algeria. I went to Boston Latin Academy and got accepted into Bentley University where I continued my education and grew my knowledge of creating business and growing it. From there, I was offered a position to work for TripAdvisor, a dream company. I left to join a Teach English Abroad program in Thailand where I was able to not only learn about a new culture but I learned a new way of living for myself. I came back to the states with an urge to make my dreams a reality and make a change for others. With that, I started my nonprofit organization, Arabs Against Oppression with my co-founder, Walae Hayek, to fight systems of oppression and advocate for social equity within the Arab community. I am currently fulfilling my dream of writing a book about my mother’s journey, Speechless, raising my youngest brother who is autistic , which will be released end of June. I will continue to use my creative force to fight for change and use my voice to help those that can’t use theirs.
In celebration of her book launch, Essmaa invites artists and poets of Middle Eastern and African descent to send in their art and poetry. Send to firstname.lastname@example.org with the Subject Speechless and include your country of origin.