Ten thousands kilometer away from home, I took this photo. South West of Washington, DC. I love this photo because it tells a story, and it encapsulates and symbolizes most of the things I want to say in this post; a boat that has sailed to start a journey, and a free bird that has finally found the courage to fly.
My trip started hundreds of kilometers above the ground; a plane travelling from Egypt to Frankfurt. Like all journeys, mine started with the feelings of excitement and adrenaline rush. Do you know this moment when you lose sight of shore, and finally your comfort zone becomes an unknown zone? I had a window seat in the flight, I was lucky to witness a beautiful sunrise, a reflection of my name; Shorouk; which means sunrise in Arabic.
I believe in signs as you can see. But I don’t believe in luck. Yes, I asked the lady at the flight agency to book me a window seat. And yes I chose to start a new journey here. After arriving to Germany, I heard someone calling my name at Frankfurt International airport; Hasan, this amazing guy from Jordan. What can you ask for more than someone to laugh about the beginnings with you? How can I possibly think of someone more hilarious than Hasan to do so!
Thirteen hours is the time I took to reach Washington, DC. I passed the time watching cartoon and eating. I was excited yet tired. Thirteen hours were enough time to contemplate, I recalled scenes from departing. I recalled Habiba; my younger sister. Hugging me at the bus station and crying her heart out because she was afraid she won’t be able to see me before I go. Are thirteen hours enough time to make you forget the ones you love? Are 10,000 km enough distance to make you forget who you are? They say home is where the heart is; I think I left part of my heart in Egypt.
I arrived to DC on the afternoon of May13th. It was cold, my hands were shaking and my heart wasn’t sure. I entered the hostel to meet Najoua and Beltina in my room, a Tunisian rebel and an Albanian charm. We talked about controversial issues, taboos, and topics strong enough to make you cry. We talked about youth, war, and the amount of strength you get from the ones you love. I can’t believe how diverse Washington, DC is; a vast cross cultural arena, full of people from different ethnic groups, languages, and beliefs.
On the next day we started the orientation. 22 name cards were set on the tables, names with flags from across the world. I was happy to finally put faces to names I friended on Facebook. We were encouraged to learn tips and tricks; like how to find your way home, or where to buy groceries from. I just didn’t know: things like avoiding home sickness and missing friends and family, are there any tips and tricks for these? Well, apparently there were; we had a session about homesickness and how stepping out of your comfort zone is as hard as jumping in the middle of the ocean.
I thought that I might get rejected by the DC community because of being Muslim and because of my Hijab, in my first day I went to the supermarket, and an Indonesian lady with her kid smiled at me while waving “Salam”. I had to step out of my religious comfort zone, on a beautiful Sunday morning, I joined my local ambassador in her church for Sunday Mass. It was the first time I ever entered a church. I was so scared, I was scared people would judge me because of my Hijab, or if big security guys are going to suspect me. The church door was open, and it was warm inside. People smiled at me, and some hugged me afterwards. It was breathtakingly beautiful, for me to see how international the love of God is. People were singing from their hearts, words that I can remember. I politely asked if I can take a video of Amanda singing Amazing Grace, her voice was heartwarming enough to make you tearful and happy simultaneously. In different ways we pray, asking for the same things. The exact same things I hear in Egypt at Muslim Friday prayers, I heard at St Dominic Church.
While losing sight of shore, you meet familiar faces. The first time I met Sara; a Pakistani girl who lives all the way across the world, we clicked instantly. I posted a picture of the two of us on Instagram, and one of my friends commented: “You look very similar.” We did. Both of us were excited, yet afraid and homesick. I met Natalia; a lovely Chilean who looks exactly like my sister, and Aymen; the hilariously funny Tunisian, who jokes with me in Arabic and French as if we knew each other for years.
While losing sight of shore, you understand better the notion of family. I can’t be thankful enough for the kind people in my neighborhood like Carlos and Amira, the cool Peruvian, who’s place is always open for people, the day I moved he invited us to his house for pancakes and ice-cream. And Amira, the beautiful Sudanese girl who invited us to a Pakistani tea party. It feels like a family, a big family of people who met in the middle of the ocean, and had no one but each other.
In my first month, I met youth change makers from more than forty countries and six continents. I toured DC; visited most of the significant monuments and entered the White House. I joined the Memorial Day parade, went to my first baseball game, and had my first jubilee ice-cream and Cava Salad. I experienced going to a church, Sunday Mass and an international Ramadan Iftar.
I went running, fell from my bike, and enjoyed both the sunny days and the summer rain. I visited both Alexandria, Virginia and Annapolis, Maryland. After one month from staying here I have to admit the fact that I moved. Apparently I moved to a city that has a sportive energy, a culture of theaters and monuments, and people who hustle hard enough to change themselves and the world. I didn’t jump in an ocean, I didn’t travel to a mythical place, it is real and it is called Washington, DC.
Stepping out of your comfort zone is what makes you who you are. If you tried it before, then I know you’ve experienced some version of fear. A kind of fear that makes you wonder. After one month I still ask myself daily: what legacy do I want to leave here?
I took the caption photo of this blog from where I live; Southwest of Washington, DC; where the Potomac River hugs the Atlantic Ocean; the same ocean I had to cross to arrive here, the same ocean to which I lost sight of shore.