Eman inherited the farm when she married her husband. She had never dreamed of owning one. In fact, it was the furthest thing from her mind as a young woman. During college she studied British literature, because it came easily to her. She had never lived in England, but their literature was all her school system ever taught her. And eventually she grew to love it. I heard a lot of Oscar Wilde when she spoke and though I never mentioned this to her, I’m sure she would tell me not to think too hard about it.
The farm was an intimidating mess of trees and shrubbery when Omar and Eman first decided to buy the land. It was his dream and she would help him see it through. Her dream of becoming a doctor was tossed aside, because as her Wilde mouth would remind me, literature was a hobby and biochemistry was her calling. She devised a new dream for herself, after their first child was born.
“Omar, let’s do it again.”
She had sounded a little manic when she said it, but Omar saw that she was looking him dead in the eye. He looked down at their daughter’s wisps of hair, slowly growing back after they had shaved her head. Omar thanked God every time his daughter clasped onto his finger, fancying the determination in her eyes to mean she would not pause to consider before crushing him. If Eman did not mind braving pregnancy again, he would say yes again and again.
The farm came slowly and Omar spent many days out in the snow, helping the workers clear the area and cart away the wood. The young couple had promised to help each other through it all, but once Eman started chasing her dream, she was pregnant more often than she was not and Omar refused to let her help. She reminded him what they had agreed on and he retorted that they had not known she would be pregnant. That argument took place in their kitchen at 2AM, while he ate a bowl of chocolate cereal and she struggled to keep her dinner down.
“Habibi, I’m not just doing this out of my love for you. I’m making a sensible suggestion. Once your clinical practice takes off, you’ll need to trust me with a lot of this work. I know my limits.” She didn’t reach across the table to touch his hand nor did her face soften. She was looking at him as if prepared to pledge support to a moron. “You need to trust me, Omar. This won’t work, otherwise.”
Eman learned how to chop wood and what kinds of fertilizer to use on their soil. The neighbors often saw her walking up and down the aisles of their local Tractor Supply, expertly avoiding bumping her giant belly into the cart before her. The workers, who had initially spoken to her in brisk tones, began to like having her around. She would make informed comments (the result of nights spent on her laptop, researching), cracked some great jokes and always invited them in for tea and cookies after a hard day’s work. One of them, Ricardo, brought her some seed selections for the kitchen garden she had mentioned wanting to start, just days before. “It’s good seed! I think it’ll grow really well in that patch you lot have in the front.” Eman thanked him loudly and happily, and soon her kitchen garden was sprouting tiny peppers.
It was in the middle of their sixth summer together, a few months before Eman’s fourth child was due, that they were finally in good shape to bring in their first herd of sheep. The long shelter in the distance was still in the process of being insulated for the winter months, but other than that, Eman was confident their sheep would be happy. It was also then that Mona, their third child, fell deathly ill.
Omar tried to explain it to me. It was a case of strep tonsillitis and they had been treating it as nothing more than a horrific cold. Omar said he felt his hair turn silver overnight, and Eman shook her head and looked at me, “I had written her off. If this is how God wanted it to be, then so be it. We had tried our best.” Mona was in the hospital for a week before improving miraculously fast. She was back in school by the start of the third week.
The first winter with sheep was hard for them as well. Omar would be up early on Sunday mornings to make up for all the weekday mornings he couldn’t be out in his backyard. There was a small collection of ‘outside shoes’ (as their only boy, Saif, called it) by the back-patio door. Two pairs of large boots for the parents when they trudged through the sheep muck, and a multitude of smaller pairs for their children. Everyone was encouraged to join in on the farming activities. The cold weather froze the water in the pipes which led from the house’s main water source to the sheep’s trough, and someone had to fill up bottles of water and cart it across the long stretch of snowy ground to the shelter. It fell on Eman to do this during the weekdays and Omar, on weekends. But every single animal made it through the winter and the family welcomed their third daughter, Nisma, in April.
One of Eman’s favorite anecdotes is rooted somewhere in this time. She recalled that it had been a particularly rough lambing season for them. Marcie the sheep had given birth to two stillborn lambs the previous year and had delivered yet another stillborn lamb. Eman could not figure out what was going wrong. “Maybe she’s just unlucky, Nis.” She said softly to her fresh-smelling baby, as they looked out of the big windows lining her living room, across the pasture. The real challenge arose when Berta gave birth to three lambs and began ignoring the runty one of the trio. Eman ignored it for a few days, but then on one of her trips to check on the hay, she noticed the baby trying to latch to Berta who promptly kicked the weak lamb away. Bristling with anger, Eman marched back to the house and quickly warmed up some milk. Scrambling through her old plastic, she found one of Saif’s old bottles and poured the milk out. Outside, the lamb latched onto the bottle immediately and Eman realized it was starving.
It was after three more bottles that the lamb finally wandered off, satisfied.
From then on, one of the two elder kids was responsible for feeding Lamby the Lamb (as named by Mona) twice a day. They would heat up the milk and head out to offer the lamb the bottle through the fence, while Eman tended to Nisma or the house.
When she looked back on it, Eman didn’t pepper her story with exclamations of how long it’s been or how old she feels. She insisted that any sane person with the same goals would have done exactly as she had. “I’ve never actually introduced myself to people as having four kids, with more on the way, and a backyard full of sheep. They wouldn’t stop coming over for tea! I need them to come over because they are my friends or my kids’ friends. Not because they want to come over and stare.”
Omar’s latest backyard project is the pool. “The kids will love it, Eman! Nice blue pool in the summer, we’ll get some good old floaties.” He rubbed his hands and looked at Eman gleefully, who rolled her eyes and smiled, “Go for it.”