How my aunts became world citizens

In her later years, Aunt Anisa wrote that "War robs the world of its wealth and rains havoc ... on the guilty and innocent alike."

In her own case, war changed the pattern of her life.

During World War I, when Quaker schools in Ottoman-ruled Palestine were forced to close, my grandparents, Elias and Emily Audi, decided to send their teenage daughters Bea and her younger sister, Anisa, overseas for an American education.

An American destroyer sent to "rescue" those who wished to leave Palestine whisked them and other passengers to Alexandria, Egypt. From there, they took a Greek boat to Piraeus, near Athens. A week later they boarded the British ship Carpathia, bound for New York.

Their voyage across the Atlantic came to a sudden stop when stormy seas caused the ship's rudder to break. "Our ship floundered for three days in the turbulent ocean," Anisa recalls, "before we finally made it safely to shore."

Their destination was Oakwood Seminary, a Quaker boarding school in Union Springs, N.Y. After one year of studies, Bea dropped out to work at her uncle's store in Brooklyn, and later to marry.

A scholarship and work-grant spurred Anisa to stay on at Oakwood. Despite acute homesickness, she did well both academically and in sports. A picture taken in her senior year shows her as captain of the girl's basketball team, in dark stockings and bloomers, holding up the team basketball and staring with quiet pride into the camera.

With her art teacher, Miss Otis, as guide, Anisa experienced her first suffragette meeting. Four years later - on June 20, 1919 - Anisa gave the baccalaureate speech for her graduating class, just two weeks after the Senate passed the 19th Amendment giving nationwide suffrage to women.

"Like my two grandmothers and my mother, I was fiercely independent," wrote Anisa in her memoir. "I believed even then in the power of women and equal rights for them in society."

FOLLOWING the example of relatives, Anisa and Bea began selling imported linens from house to house. They later opened shops in North Carolina and Florida, expanding their line to include "Women's Sportswear and Accessories." And despite the hardships of the Depression years, and later of World War II, wholesale houses in New York City continued to give the savvy sisters credit that they always repaid on time.

Over the years, American ships would ferry them back and forth to visit family in the Middle East. The New American Export Liners - carrying both mail and freight, and with only one class of passengers - were Anisa's ships of choice, especially since she enjoyed sightseeing whenever the ship stopped at the various Mediterranean ports to load or unload freight.

On the back of a black-and-white postcard of the "EXETER, a New American Export Liner"- with stops in "France, Italy, Egypt, Palestine, and Syria," Anisa had scribbled, "I made many trips aboard this ship."

After World War II, when commercial air travel began to replace most travel by sea, Anisa decided to book passage on her first international flight.

On her first flight back to the Middle East - and despite the discomfort of the unpressurized cabin of the plane - Anisa savored the luxury of breakfast in Shannon, Ireland, dinner and a sleepover in Madrid, and sightseeing in Cairo.

Aunt Anisa later wrote, "My life has taken me from the Middle East during an age when the only means of travel was by walking, riding horseback, by carriage, and by boat into an age in which a traveler can span the globe in a few hours by plane, or even a few minutes by satellite.

"[Yet] after visiting many countries, I am always glad to return to my chosen homeland...." and her beloved Lake Wales, Fla., which reminded her of her native city of Ramallah. "Not the Ramallah of today, but the Ramallah as I remember it from the years of my childhood."

But always present in Aunt Anisa's thoughts are her ardent hopes for peace in the Middle East - and Palestine - land of her origin.

"What hurts the Middle East," she says, "will eventually hurt the whole world, because it is one world."

Throughout her travels and her life, Aunt Anisa has become a citizen of that one world.

March is Women's History Month in the United States.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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