Post Graduation Developments, New Beginnings

May 23, 2010

‘These are girls growing up in a post 9/11 America,’ I think to myself as I listen to them share their stories with the group. ‘Their faces, demeanor and words tell me this is a world where there is little room for weakness.’

Dear Papaito,

It is past midnight, but I haven’t the slightest desire to go to bed. Instead, I wish to be seating on a wooden bench somewhere, looking out to a familiar lake, waters sparkling with the last rays of a setting sun. In lack of better means to transport myself there, I write.

Papaito, for the past four days, my mind has been occupied with a couple of new developments. Let me tell you about one of them this evening, and the other may have to wait till a next letter. So will join me on this bench? Nothing would please me more than to enjoy the silence as I anticipate an immaculately dark night, free of city lights. The honesty of an unambiguously dark sky would suit my spirit tonight.

Last Thursday I visited a Muslim school in Queens. My roommate, the religion teacher, invited to come speak to her students. I readily accepted the offer. Sharing some of my personal stories with middle school and high school students is something I have contemplated doing for a very long time. Hence, when Karima first brought this up, I immediately saw it as an opportunity to finally start working more seriously on shaping these ideas into a project. I would prepare one story, and see how responsive the girls were to the experience I narrated in it. Hopefully, we would also get a discussion going about these girls’ dreams for their future, and what they perceived as some of the greatest challenges and obstacles to accomplishing these dreams. We did not have much time, so my goals for this first encounter were simple, straightforward, and limited in scope.

I believe the sessions went well (four of them, and I spoke for about seven hours straight), and the experience was eye-opening to me. I think the groups that impressed (or should I say affected?) me the most were the seventh and the eight graders. It is one thing to read about the challenges of Muslim minorities in the West, and quite another to hear a twelve-year-old narrate a story about being called a terrorist on the subway train.

And yet, perhaps the most unsettling story of the day was one by another twelve-year-old, who had been asked by a random stranger in a park what she wanted to be when she grew up. The girl replied she wanted to be the president of the USA one day. The woman mocked her, saying she’d never get a vote dressed in the rugs she was wearing (the veil). Upon finishing her story, a few tears rolled down this young girl’s cheeks, which she promptly brushed away, her facial expression turning inscrutable and surprisingly hard[ened] again.

‘These are girls growing up in a post 9/11 America,’ I thought to myself as I listened to them share their stories with the group. ‘Their faces, demeanor and words teach me this is a world where there is little room for weakness. And they know.’

I left that Muslim school with a heavy heart, but inspired and strengthened by these girls’ stories. I wished to have conveyed a message to them as well; albeit in a different context, my childhood and teen years had been very challenging as well. But I wanted them to know that obstacles can be turned into opportunities, and that chasing our dreams, even our wildest dreams, is possible. Once upon a time, I wasn’t even sure I would go to college, but the person talking to them that day had just graduated summa cum laude from a very competitive graduate program in a good university, with a full tuition scholarship. I had also gotten to travel around the world, when at age 13 I was sure I would never get to leave my house to hang out at the mall, let alone leave the country to pursue my dreams! And this morning, I wanted to encourage them to believe, and to aim high.

I’m inspired Papaito, but I am also aware of all the challenges lying ahead of me. I know that to start the project I have in mind, I will have to start taking some decisions. First, I will have to make a decision about the place where I want to live this year. I need to commit to a place. Right now, it seems that place will be NYC, because I don’t feel I can start this project in Ecuador. In Ecuador I do not have access to the resources I have here. Etc. And Egypt is not even an option. But the main challenge about starting this project here is the fact that I did not grow up in this country, and I lack the experiential knowledge others have. I have lived here for the past two years, but I am still a new comer, and I know this will pose some difficulties. However, while I take this challenge seriously, I guess I should also say that I am not terribly intimidated by it. I have been new to other places before, and I have caught up quickly. InshaAllah, I can do the same this time.

Oh, I’ve written a lot more than I had planned. It is dark now, so it is perhaps best to end this letter here. It’s been a pleasant time. Thank you for joining me, Papaito. I appreciate your company, however silent it always is.

J.

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2 Responses to “Post Graduation Developments, New Beginnings”

  1. amira said

    and may I ask about what ur project is ? 🙂

    • janandd said

      Salaam Amira! I’m glad to find you here in my blog:) The project is to work with young Muslim girls, and find a way to collect their experiences and share them with other girls their age. I’m still developing it, but I will keep you updated iA!
      Reply

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