A shelf full of Baby-Sitters Club books sits in a cabinet in Samia Kreiser’s Safe Harbor home. She can’t bring herself to part with them. When she was a young teen, the books were packed tightly and secretly into the luggage she took with her as she escaped her father’s dominating control in Jordan, the small Middle- Eastern country bordered by Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Israeli and Palestinian territories. “I refuse to get rid of them,” she says, “because I had to work so hard to make sure they got here, dang it!”
Samia, who goes by Sam, was born in Queens, New York. Her father, a Jordanian Muslim, worked for the Saudia Arabian Embassy in New York, where he met Sam’s mother, a Puerto Rican Catholic who had grown up in Spanish Harlem. The family lived in Long Island for five years, and then moved to Ohio to be closer to Sam’s father’s family. “So I was born in the U.S., and that’s what I knew. I grew up here. I was in dance; I was in pageants… We’d ride our bikes up and down the streets, and I had friends, and sleepovers,” Sam explains. “I was raised predominantly around my father’s family,” she continues, “because he was the male. It’s a Middle Eastern thing—his culture, his religion, his language were the main focuses.” But Sam’s life was “normal,” she insists. “We lived in middle-class suburbia in Ohio.”
As she got older, however, Sam’s father became more and more preoccupied with raising his daughters as “good Muslim girls, back in Jordan,” Sam utters cynically. Despite her mother’s protests, Sam’s father liquidated all of the family’s assets and built a mansion in Jordan. “My mother didn’t feel like she had much of a choice, honestly,” recalls Sam. “She knew that if she didn’t come—well, she didn’t want to see the consequences of what that looked like. She came despite infidelity on his behalf, despite a lot of notgreat things that he’d done.”
When the family arrived in Jordan, there was a definite culture shock, but it didn’t start off as overly negative. Sam enjoyed time with her large extended family, and fondly remembers climbing peach trees, picking grapes, and immersing herself in the food and culture in Jordan.
“The issue was when I started to grow up,” Sam says. First, Sam was pulled out of her private school and sent to a local village school after being seen talking to a boy. Then, at a family wedding, Sam’s father saw her talking to a male cousin. “He came over and smacked my face—like a giant welted hand print on my face, over talking to my male cousin. Things like that changed the dynamic of what our day-to-day could look like. Things started shifting,” she explains.
Samia’s mother, who suffered from health issues, tried asking Muslim family members for help getting her and her three daughters out of Jordan, but no one would assist them, fearing retribution from the family. When she got to the point of spending her day in bed in tears, and trying to put on a brave face for the girls at night, Samia’s mother left Jordan and returned to the U.S., eventually ending up in Lancaster. “She did what was right for her, and what was right for us, because ultimately, I wouldn’t be here had she not had the courage and strength to leave us, in spite of herself,” Sam asserts.
Over the course of a few years, Samia worked with her mom to figure out how to get her and her two sisters out of Jordan. Eventually she convinced her father to let them visit her mother in the U.S. When they arrived safely at their mother’s house, Samia called her father and said, “We’re staying.” “No, you’re not,” was his response. “He was on the next flight out after he got the news. He came over here, and sat down with my mother,” she remembers. He said, “You can send them back, or I’ll kill you and I’ll kill them. So what’s the call? Because the ball’s in your court.”
The sisters were forced back to Jordan, where their lives changed drastically. “We couldn’t leave the country without my dad’s approval,” Samia explains, “I had to convince him to let us visit again. He had to sign off on that. He’s Jordanian, so once you entered the country, you had to have your father’s or male guardian’s permission to leave.”
It took two long, difficult years for Samia to convince her father to let them visit her mother again. By that point he was a changed man, firmly convinced that his daughters needed to adhere to his village’s culture of subservience. Samia knew she only had one chance to escape her father’s domination. Preparing for her “visit,” to the states, Samia secretly packed as much of her treasured possessions as she possibly could fit into their suitcases, including photos, stuffed animals, and her beloved Baby-Sitter’s Club books.
When the girls arrived, Samia’s mother called their father and told him that the girls weren’t coming back. She hired a lawyer, sent him divorce papers, and told him not to bother trying to get the girls back. “And he didn’t. At all, which is kind of amazing,” Samia laughs. Since that time, Samia’s father has completely cut off contact with his daughters. In that time, Samia has had three daughters of her own. When she tried calling her dad to tell him that he was a grandfather, “He told me not to share that news with anyone, and not to call him again. Basically that I was dead to him, and that was that,” she shrugs. Despite her traumatic escape from Jordan, Samia insists that it is not a reflection of the Muslim culture or Jordan itself: “I would go back in a heartbeat. If you have the chance to go to Jordan, you have to go. The food is amazing. The people are amazing. The country is beautiful… It was just him.”