When Muhyidin came to Chattanooga in 2016, he made a decision. If his wife couldn’t join him within five years, he would go back home.
He had left his country, a newlywed, in 2013 as one of hundreds of thousands fleeing ongoing conflict and ethnic struggle in his home city of Darfur.
He and Arafa had known each other through family connections since childhood. And while sometimes family-arranged marriages don’t sit well with the children, in this case Muhyidin and his parents agreed on the choice. But they did not have long to enjoy their lives together. Muhyidin left the Sudan, headed to Indonesia from where he hoped to end up in Australia.
In spite of his mother’s pleas, he attempted to travel there by boat, but was unsuccessful.
“I was separated from my family. I ran out of money. The (Indonesian) government doesn’t allow you to work. I was waiting for the process,” he says. He didn’t think coming to the U.S. was a possibility.
Then he learned he would travel to Chattanooga.
“It was a big surprise,” he says. “I didn’t know about Chattanooga. I didn’t even know about Tennessee.”
Some couples separate after one moves to another country, he says, but that was not an option for Muhyidin. Shortly after he arrived, he began working for Arafa to join him.
“The first thing that Muhyidin mentioned when he arrived was, ‘I have to bring my wife. She is in Sudan and she is not safe. I have to bring her here,’” says Marina, director of Bridge’s Chattanooga office. “After that for three years he did what a ‘good husband’ would do—took a job two months after arrival, never turned down an overtime and stayed in touch with his wife daily. He saved as much as possible for the future, so that she needs for nothing when she came.”
After getting a job with Pilgrim’s Pride, he moved her to Khartoum where it was easier for the two to stay in contact. Then, in 2018, he traveled to Egypt to meet her and his parents as part of the final steps in bringing her to the U.S.
Arafa arrived on Sept. 10, negotiating three international flights alone and eight months pregnant. A group of Bridge staff and Sudanese friends were on hand to greet her at the Chattanooga airport.
“Muhyidin has made a lot of friends, and all of them wanted to meet Arafa, a woman they heard about for these long years of waiting and hoping,” Marina says. “Even though they were separated you could tell that she was a big part of his life, a big part of his future in this new country.”
Scarcely a month later, baby girl Masajid joined the family.
All that adds up to a lot of changes, adjusting to life in the U.S. for Arafa, adjusting to a new baby girl and a marriage together after nearly six years of separation.
“The baby sleeps good until 10 (p.m.), and then she wakes up,” Muhyidin says. Baby Masajid was born away from her mother’s family, who would traditionally have joined Arafa as part of the birthing process.
But the couple has the support of the local Sudanese community, Bridge staff and each other, he says.
“It is better to be with your family,” he says.