On Wednesday December 2, 2015, I receive an email congratulating me for my successful acceptance into the prestigious Emerging Global Leaders Initiative – Atlas Corps Fellowship tenable in the United States of America. My reaction is that of an elation influenced by two things. First and most important is the breakthrough to the new pathway i have decided to chart for myself and community through this fellowship and all the benefits thereof and second, the opportunity to visit the USA for the first time. Having gone through a grueling interview with my prospective host organization and reading about it, it comes as no surprise when my admission email indeed confirmed that i would be serving with this organization in Chicago. I have heard so fondly about the city of Chicago and chancing finally on actually visiting it is an incredible feeling. Amidst the sparkles and glints that run through my body, invigorated my heart and sparked an overwhelming energy within my spirit is the invasion of a thought. The time and season of the year; it is winter in the Northern Hemisphere. However, having lived four winters already while a student outside my home country, this warning instinct was transient and quickly shrugged off. After all, as a “Ghanaman” would say “weti man no see before, iron self man dey chew”, meaning living winter can’t be any harder than chewing iron. Little have i known that I am on my way to meeting two lovers of my life within the next six months.
It has been after about 24 hours of series of checkins and checkouts across three Airports until I finally step out of the arrival doors at Dulles International Airport in Washington DC. The outer space of the facility where i find my temporary stasis could not help but greet me with alacrity in the whispering wind presented unkindly by the bane temperature. It is an ephemeral yet per my faculties and organs – which desperately indulge in a biological process to establish some equilibrium and readjustment of body metabolism to their new environment – arduous wait until the Uber arrives. Our Jamaican DC based student volunteer escort engages me in the company of my two other fellow fellows from Pakistan in an interesting conversation about the city and its traditions, and tips on things to expect within the coming days, a much needed diversion of concentration on an unwanted welcomer who was so eagerly seeking all my attention till the on-boarding the much warmer XUV Uber.
After checking in to my lodge and room, the next thing I know is waking up on my bed the following day. It is Sunday and the agenda is free for the day until Monday Evening’s Monument Tour. As the tour begins late Monday evening, the temperature keeps falling into the negative integers so fast so that after about 300 to 400 meters into the much anticipated exploit, the number quickly almost halved (at least some of those who were sure of finding their way back left). The rest of us continues with tearing eyes, dripping noses, numb fingers and frozen feet, making the arrival at the Lincoln Memorial from the White House Garden a great battle won. It is repeatedly remarked by many Atlas Corps staff members present that the tour is the coldest Monument Tour in Atlas Corps’ 10 years of existence.
I arrive in my room later that night with almost every bodily organ dysfunctional except my heart which still kept beating and eyes that could still see. “This is the coldest of all winters”, I thought to myself. Hmmm! It turns out later to be just treats to prepare me for a distant lover that patiently awaited my arrival. Later that week, the airwaves are traffic jammed with announcements of the snow storm that would shut the city down for the entire weekend. The sounds, the repetitions, the warnings, the discussions, the reminders all make the snowstorm a déjà vu for me before it actually emerges. We, the Hostel Gang (fellows staying at the HAI International Hostel) ensure to chance on the fun of the moments in the pire of the monster storm. At the end of that long weekend, I learn my greatest lesson about the Washington DC snowstorm; the worst part of it is not the snowstorm itself, but the even longer time it takes to clear the mess it leaves behind. For more than one week after its occurrence, the city is still not completely rid of snow, till i am due to say goodbye.
To be continued…