Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Unexpected Has Been Kicking My Ass… but Failing to Keep Me Down

“Wow! The craziest things always happen to you, don’t they?” She shakes her head, as if I purposely run after the crazy moments that fill my life.

“Yeah, SubhanAllah. I’m just always surrounded by…” I try to think of the right word to describe what I have thought were normal occurrences.

“Adventure. No wonder you’re a writer. You always have a story to tell.” She laughs.

“You have no idea.”

Maybe I knew it in the back of my head, but I wasn’t completely in tune to my “adventures” until I got to New York and it became more apparent that every step of my life is strung together in a series of unexpected, and sometimes unfortunate, events.

I believe it’s normal for plans in our life to never go exactly the way we expected. For me, it’s more than a normal occurrence. I have learned to welcome the unexpected. In reality, aren’t all of our lives just a series of the unexpected? No matter how well we plan, God’s decree will shine through and we need to learn to accept it and move forward. I have to admit that I’m partly thankful that I am no longer harshly fazed by the craziness that surrounds my life. If I freaked out about every single moment that didn’t go as planned, fell through, or even completely changed the course of my life, it would best for me to find a cave and hide. I say “partly” because I do still need to be affected and motivated to keep moving forward in pursuing what I need and want. Instead of finding a secluded cave, I have learned to find new ways to cope with my obstacles and actively work to climb my hurdles and conquer my challenges. Always keep moving and inshaAllah Kheir (if God wills it) goodness will come. That’s my motto in life.

I honestly believe that the way I choose to see my unexpected challenges in life – by doing the best I can and placing tawakul (faith) in Allah swt – has lead me to push through this risk I’m taking by being in New York and has allowed me to assimilate a lot more quickly than anyone thought was possible.

Despite this, I can’t deny that for the last three months and three weeks, the unexpected has seriously been kicking my ass. While it’s comforting to hear the support and awe in the voices of friends and family when they express, mostly in surprise, how proud they are of how well I’m doing over here, a part of me still carries a feeling of failure as I continue to hide my struggles from loved ones.

My worst enemy is myself and I know that too well as I try to control the uncontrollable in life. I’m often told by friends how stressed they are or by family how their anxiety is sometimes too much to handle, but then there’s me. Sometimes, I wish I was just stressed or facing anxiety. I know what it’s like to have a panic attack and feel like I’m suffocating and losing control; so, I’m not in any way saying that stress and anxiety are easy emotions to handle.

My greatest challenge is myself. I don’t stress as much as I become frustrated and angry… at myself. Recently, that part of myself reaches to an extent where it shuts down and I need to step back, breathe, and seclude myself to evaluate the extent to which I believe I’m failing and work to move through it to reach a point of stability. In these moments, I strive to see the light through my struggles. The blessings in disguise are usually hidden within what I view as failure but are actually little accomplishments on my way to success.

This month, this comes in the form of a reminder of the purpose of this entire life I have taken. I arrived in New York exactly three months, two weeks, and four days ago. I surpassed November 16, the three month mark, the mark that was going to define my failure or success. Of course, that didn’t include all the unexpected challenges that quickly knocked me into a completely different path than I had set for myself in San Diego.

Three months. That was my deadline. My parents gave me their support for the duration of one to three months in New York to work on my writing, make connections, and find employment. One to three, and not just three months, because New York is a completely different country to Californians and especially San Diegans. So, no one thought I would want to stay more than a month. Almost four months later, here I am, still moving forward while preparing for a winter that I have never had to experience for the first 26 years of my life.

Coming here, I knew that things weren’t going to go as planned, but I honestly never thought it would derail me in the way that it did. In my last post, I shared the adventures of my first week in New York and why I ended up in Princeton, New Jersey. While I did want to share my experiences in New Jersey, it now just reminds me of the month and a half long gap that was stolen from my trip. Commuting for four hours round trip between Princeton, New Jersey and Manhattan, New York was exhausting. This is not to say that my time was uneventful. I won’t neglect to mention that it was filled with story worthy experiences I faced walking and taking the bus everyday – from the guy who disgustedly tried to run me over on the side of the road to the old man who creepily tried to pick me up in his red car from the bus stop. I won’t go into details about the dead raccoons and deer I had to step over between my cousin’s house and the bus stop. Taking the bus in the small town to work around Princeton University wasn’t any easier – everything from the crazy bus drivers to the inconsistent bus times, rates, and the cash only rule. Princeton was nice and I was blessed to be among family, but I felt myself aging by the minute, hindered from placing all my time and energy into the goal I came here to reach.

Housing in Brooklyn, the borough where I wanted to live all along, came just as unexpectedly as everything else on my trip. I have officially been back in New York for almost two months, and it already feels both like I just got here yesterday and like I have been here forever. While I literally spent all my time balancing between applying for employment, working, and connecting with my new community, there’s this stable part of my brain that constantly reminds that I am no less close to success as I am to failure. A month ago, that voice in my head was beginning to tear away at me… Today, it’s my motivator to push forward with a constant reality check: if I don’t meet my goal of finding employment, my time in New York is strictly limited. As much as I miss sunny San Diego and California in all its perfection, New York and its endless opportunities is beginning to grow on me.

Everyone has their own understanding and measure of success. The truth is while you may believe this measurement is defined by others – such as your friends or family, or by your environment – such as your community or even economic status, or even by your past and future – both of which you have no control over, the measurement of your success is defined by your own limitations to yourself. The only thing you can control is your mindset in the present, the here and now. We must come to accept that everything else is simply not guaranteed.

My measurement of my own success is a combination of how well I am still traveling on the path I have set for myself and personal achievements. I never thought I would be where I am today. I know others will argue that this is true for everyone, and it is. Each of us is facing personal struggles that feel so unique making us ask, “Why am I going through this? Why has God put me in this position and forced me of all people to face this struggle? Why me?” We are always so focused on our struggles as being the struggles to out struggle everyone else’s struggles… Yes, I know that was quite an overuse of the word “struggle”, but I know I’m not alone in realizing this. Right? The reality is, we are not alone. In fact, we are far from it.

As for me, it was only five years ago, I had worked my entire life to become an international lawyer, never thinking I would be sitting here today holding an MFA in Creative Writing that works to overshadow my BA in Political Science (emphasis in International Relations) alongside my minors, having written a novel that I’m trying to find an agent for and publish and working on two more, and writing from a coffee shop in Brooklyn, while trying to juggle time spent on endlessly applying for employment.

Every time I wake up and think that I’m dreaming of actually living in New York, a subway trip in a train that crosses over the Manhattan bridge, allowing me to see the entire city that never sleeps and the majestic Brooklyn Bridge through the window are an exciting reminder that I’m actually here… Still struggling, but still determined to work tirelessly towards my dream.

(DUMBO Park)

I am not saying that I am not proud of my degrees and the road that has gotten me to where I am. No regrets, AlhamduliAllah. On the contrary, that slight lack of acceptance with how little I have achieved compared to how much higher I need to reach, is what fuels my determination. Growing up, I knew that no matter where I ended up and whatever career I would choose, I had dedicated my life to one goal – holding a degree that would benefit my community and especially my family. I wanted to travel and experience life, but more importantly, I wanted to make more than a difference. I wanted to create change. More than anything, I wanted to give back to my parents. I will never reach the point in which I repay my parents for their sacrifices in everything that they have provided for my siblings and I – especially their support for my move to New York, but I will spend the rest of my life trying. In the end, this is what keeps me going. It’s more than making my parents proud or happy. It’s providing for them ease after all these years of support and encouragement. I should be the one taking care of my parents and siblings. While it physically hurts knowing that I still haven’t reached that point in my life, I surge forward.

I measure my own success by my level of stability in life and independence. While I do believe that my happiness is not contingent on the happiness of others, I do live my life in continuing to emit positive energy in witnessing the smiles and happiness of those around me, even during my own hardships, which I need to remember are still filled with hidden blessings, even if I do not understand or see them in the moment of struggle. I believe in taking responsibility for how I react and work to conquer my own struggles as well as my own definition of happiness. I have come to a point on this journey where every roadblock in this course I’m taking further motivates me to continue living to my fullest, with the power of Allah swt.

I’m not one to reveal my struggles or hardships to others. I have stated this clearly in my first blog posts in New York. Although, sometimes, we do need to turn to others and loved ones for comfort, I try my best to stay positive. At times, such as when I post sweet pictures of statuses on Facebook pertaining to my time in New York, others may understand it as me having the time of my life, free of pain and challenges. You know what? That’s fine. My hardships are my own. This is not to try to mask anything and make others believe I’m living a perfect life, but rather to show that I’m still striving to take my new city by storm, one day at a time. Trying to see the light in all that I have been experiencing gives me strength and hope.

As I continue on, I will be sharing more of my photography little by little around this marvelous city, inshaAllah. I invite you to share my belief in finding the beauty and blessings in every day of our lives…

(Brooklyn Bridge)

During my journey, I do ask for your kind thoughts, good vibes, and much needed dua’.

Peace,
Haneen


Monday, December 1, 2014

Adventure Diary of a Muslim-American Hijabi, entry #9

Original entry on December 1, 2014 

I haven't written one of these entries in a while despite the amount of crazy adventures I have been experiencing on a daily basis, especially in New York.

Based on certain experiences, I sometimes joke that apparently all hijabis must look the same... Today, I was brought back to remembering winter quarter of 2009 during my studies at UCSD. One morning, I had decided to grab a smoothie from Jamba Juice on campus after my noon class. When I went up to order, the girl behind the counter gave me the oddest look.

“Weren’t you here this morning?” She asked, not moving to take my order.

“Excuse me?” I had just arrived to campus. I don’t remember why, but my morning classes had been cancelled. “No, I actually haven’t been in here in a long time.” I was confused at why it mattered if I had been in there recently or not at all.

“You ordered a smoothie this morning.” She was both confused and seemed pissed, at the same time.

“You must have me mistaken for someone else.” I laughed.

“No, it was you. I remember.” She named off my order.

“Not that it matters, but I haven’t ordered that in years.” I realized she still hadn’t asked me what I wanted to order. “More importantly, even if I had been in here earlier, why is that a problem?”

She sighed, “Whatever. What do you want?”

I shook my head, but put on a smile. “May I please have an original Matcha Green Tea Blast?”

“You’re dressed the same. It has to have been you.” She handed me the receipt.”

“I don’t need it and have a great day.” I walked off and immediately called my best friend and former roommate.

“Salaam!”

“Hey, habibti. Did you come to Jamba Juice earlier today?” I asked her.

“Yeah, how did you know?” She laughed.

“I’ll tell you later. Where are you?” I was amused, considering we didn’t look alike at all.

“I’m heading to the MSA prayer area and then to the SJP office.”

“Alright, cool. See you soon.”

I took my drink and headed over there. My roommates and I never headed to campus at the same time. Both this roommate and I always had earlier classes, but one of us always left before the other. I heard her leaving in the morning, but didn’t see her, as usual. We both walked into the prayer area from opposite ends, at the same time. Everyone in the area laughed.

“Dang! Did you two plan your outfit this morning?” One of the MSA brothers asked.

“Wow! I haven’t even seen her all day.” I laughed.

As I stood there looking at my friend, we were both dressed in dark blue jeans – she in skinny jeans and me in straight ones. We both had on identical Palestine shirts, but different colored hijabs and shoes to match. Both of us had on a black jacket with a hood. I told her what happened at Jamba Juice and everyone laughed.

“Didn’t you know all hijabis look the same?” Another friend sarcastically remarked. “Or maybe it’s that Palestinian look.” He added.

***

[Sign outside the coffee shop.]

It makes me smile to remember that day. Something similar happened to me last night and this afternoon at a coffee shop.

When I arrived to New York, a friend who is in NYC for her medical school rotations gave me a few suggestions for coffee shops in one of my favorite areas in Brooklyn, Park Slope, that make for good study spaces. I tried each once before choosing my own café to work. I saw her recently and she urged me to return to this Swedish coffee spot that she loves but I didn’t return to because the barista was a jerk to me the first time. She told me she was a regular customer last winter.

Last night, I chose to walk into that coffee shop for a quick latte after book shopping.

“Hi.” I cheerfully greeted him.

“Hey.” He stared at me. I couldn’t tell if it was the same barista.

“How are you doing?” Because after all these months in New York, the Californian in me still believes in asking people how they’re doing before I order anything, despite the blank stare and no response I usually receive.

“Tired.” I wasn’t sure how to react to his monotone response.

“Aww, I’m sorry.” I could feel the awkwardness filling the short space between us.

He shrugged, “We’re closing soon. We close early on Sundays.” He stated.

“Now?” I looked around at the café that was still full of people. “Can I still order something.”

He stared back at me, expressionless.

“Caaan I get a latte? Soy?” I smiled.

He finally smiled back, “Oh, yeah.” He mumbled, again. “I can take care of that for you.”

“Awesome. Thanks.”

Suddenly, he was really nice to me.

“So, what time do you close tonight?” I leaned over the counter to ask as he pulled the espresso shots for my drink.

“Uhm,” He pulled out his phone and fumbled with it. “Woah!” He mumbled something I couldn’t understand, then awkwardly laughed.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that.”

“I almost dropped my phone. That was close.” I thought I might have actually spotted a slight smile.

“Yikes.” I felt like his awkwardness was rubbing off on me.

He handed me my drink, “I haven’t seen you around in a really long time.”

“Yeah,” It hit me. He thought I was actually my friend. “Just been busy.” He was being so much nicer, I decided to just go with it. “Have a good night!” I jetted out of there.

Today, I decided to actually try working in there again.

When I ordered, he was nice again, joking around in that monotone voice, with a hint of jerk.

“Hey, how are you doing today?” I smiled.

“Good. What do you want to drink?” I noticed a grin emerging, like he was planning something in his head.

“Soy latte, please. And, what time do you close tonight?” I asked.

“We close at 8 tonight. You’re not going to try to come back here at 7:30 and order again, are you?” He mocked as he swiped my card.

“Nah, I’ll be nice this time.” I held back my own snarkiness. I picked up one of those buy 9 drinks get the 10th one free cards. “Hey, can I get this stamped?”

“I don’t stamp cards for costumers who don’t regularly come in anymore.”  He took the card.

I smirked realizing again he still thought I was my friend. “Don’t worry, I’ll be back often.”

“Alright, since I always see you in here…” He stamped off 8 squares for my one drink, “So you can get a free one sooner. Now you only need one left.”

“Thanks!” I felt a hint of guilt as I walked away and thought to myself that I should treat my friend to coffee for unknowingly getting me on good terms with the barista.

I took a seat at the far end of the café, next to the window, of course. I turned on my computer before realizing I didn’t have the password for the free wifi. I thought I had connected my laptop and phone the first time I tried this place, but it must have disconnected me. I asked the woman sitting behind me, but she didn’t remember the password because it had been atomically connected from the first time she used her laptop in this place. I knew I needed to ask the barista, risking him knowing I played off being a regular costumer… I felt bad about it.

I approached the counter as he was making a cup of coffee for a costumer, “What’s the password, again?” I cautiously asked.

“His brows furrowed in confusion. “How do you not have it? I thought I had recognized you for someone that’s been here a few times…” His smile dropped.

“Yeah… I don’t know why I’m not connected anymore.”

“Here you go.” He handed me the password. “Don’t forget it.” He ordered.

I walked back to my seat feeling his eyes following me. I immediately texted my friend letting her know the barista had definitely confused me for her. If she walks in later this winter, I was hoping he’d recognize the difference. I knew she hadn’t been here since her last rotation ended earlier this year, but now she’s back for another rotation this winter. If he asks me next time I’m here, I’ll confirm that there are indeed two hijabis that frequent this café.

It amuses me that he thought we were one person. Aside from the hijab, my friend and I look nothing alike. I tried to remember if we dressed in any similar way, but despite that, we are also two different ethnicities. I will say that we both fit the Californian nice, bubbly attitude, but she’s definitely so much sweeter than I am. To be honest, I was flattered because my friend is beautiful.

It always strikes me as funny and ridiculous when people mistake me for another hijabi they have met when it’s based upon the fact that we’re both Muslim and wear the hijab. This situation wasn’t any different. Although, come to think of it, I haven’t seen another hijabi in the area in all the months I have been coming to Park Slope, which surprises me considering the amount of Muslims here. Maybe it’s just the areas I go for my coffee and to work on my writing and photography. Either way, I know it won’t be the last time I experience this. It has happened to me many times before, not just these two instances. Every time, it boggles my mind that this type of stereotyping exists – when one thinks that everyone from one type of background looks the same based on ethnicity, skin color, or even way of dress. I’ll leave it at that.

On the bright side, I get a free cup of coffee soon and the awkward barista who I have watched be a jerk to every younger person that has come in is at least nice enough to me that I can be sarcastic back and feel comfortable enough being a frequent costumer. Not going to lie, he seems like a decent guy. Most importantly, he makes really good coffee!

Looks like I have found a new café to work in, and a blog post I have been working on for a while will finally be coming to you soon…


Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Misadventures of a Lost Hijabi in Brooklyn

Seeking adventure? Love getting lost in new cities??

If you need advice or tips on "how to best get lost on the subway system and wander into shady neighborhoods only to find yourself in the boonies terrified for your life" I'm your girl! Worried that you have always had a great sense of direction? No worries! I'm here to change that. (Success guaranteed due to learning from experience.)

Quick! Seek a life of experience encountering a series of unfortunate events, starting today!

***
Not even a week in NY and I can write a series of blog posts, which I will start on... Once I find my way back home.  

This is the Facebook status I posted after a few days in Brooklyn, particularly after getting lost my second day on my own and my housing in East Harlem falling through on my fourth day in New York.

My first week in New York set the tone for the crazy adventures and experiences in the months that followed.

Saturday.

[View of New York from the airplane during landing. August 16, 2014]

I arrived in New York on a Saturday, late at night, after 10pm. AlhamduliAllah, my friend – who is also my former roomie during my second year at UCSD – met me at La Guardia airport. The amazing person she is, she had already called a car to take us from the airport to her place. I had made sure to have housing figured out in New York before I left San Diego, but my new roommate wanted to move in before me since she had chosen the place and I was originally only staying temporarily if I couldn’t find employment. So the plan was to stay with my friend for 2-3 nights max.

That first night I couldn’t tell you how we got from the airport to the apartment. I was exhausted from my long 9-hour trip and anxious about my future. All I remember seeing were bridges and bright lights of a city so awake I had to remind myself that it was close to midnight by the time we arrived at my friend’s apartment in Brooklyn.

Sunday.


[The New York Public Library, Manhattan. August 17, 2014]

My second day, I was slightly more awake, but still letting it sink in that I was in New York and not on a vacation. Since it was a Sunday, my friend gave me a grand tour of Manhattan taking me to all the well-known spots. Along with her favorite food, dessert, and tea places, we hit up central park and basically walked through all the important spots all while avoiding the craziness of Times Square. I spent the day just taking everything in, not paying particular attention to street names. I didn’t even take out my phone to snap a picture until it was nearing sunset, when she took me to The New York Public Library. I had promised myself to enjoy the day and not take any pictures, even leaving my Canon DSLR back at the apartment, but the library was too strikingly beautiful to walk away without capturing that moment.

Realization: I was in New York = I was in another country. It is its own BEAST.

Monday.

[Park Slope, Brooklyn. August 18, 2014]

Monday morning, with everyone at work, I was on my own. My friend had sent me texts and an email with the best places to hit up in Brooklyn, from Prospect Park to Coney Island. I decided to go to Park Slope, near the Barclays Center, and walk around the area and then decide where to go from there. I took the subway on my own for the first time and prayed I would be on one of the “newer” trains that had the marquees to signal all the stops for me, but I still counted down my stops just to be certain. I made it to Park Slop and of course my first goal was to find coffee.

The moment I existed the subway station, I spotted a Dunkin Donuts. They’re more prominent here than Starbucks. Shocking, I know. The Californian in me was curious to finally try the famed Dunkin Donuts coffee and I figured I might as well grab a donut. Let me just say, I completely do not understand the hype at all. I could barely swallow their coffee. The donut was okay. I took my breakfast and walked around the area, called my parents to let them know I was still alive, and then began walking aimlessly.

I walked along 5th avenue, lined with little restaurants, coffee shops, bakeries, and boutique stores and the bourgeoisie looking bright, open neighborhoods filled with brownstone houses shaded by trees. I walked long enough to realize I didn’t know where I was anymore, but I wasn’t worried. I spotted a sign for Prospect Park and remembered that it was on the list my friend had sent me. I had promised myself that the only maps I would use were the ones on my phone. No actual paper maps to make sure I didn’t stick out as a tourist because I would be taking on New York as a single female and didn’t need the extra attention. I kept following the signs, making my way all the way to the park.

[Prospect Park, Brooklyn. August 18, 2014]

It was a gorgeous day. I strolled through the park, taking time to sit on one of the benches lining the path and people watched for a good half hour. I explored the area around the bridge that hides the quiet waterfall leading into a pebble stream and to a small lake. On my way back through the path, I found a spot to pray among the trees. While in the park, I didn’t pay much attention to my phone battery because I thought I was prepared for when it died. My friend had suggested I buy a small portable charger for my phone before traveling. What I didn’t remember was that since I have an older version of the iPhone, I needed to carry around an extra cord to charge it. When my phone died, I didn’t panic. I figured it was no problem. I would just retrace my steps back through the same neighborhood and back to the same subway, check the subway map, and get on the same train going the other way, back to my friends neighborhood.

[Prospect Park, Brooklyn. August 18, 2014]

One wrong turn. I took one wrong turn while walking back leading me through neighborhoods I didn’t recognize. I tried to remember any street or some type of building structure that would give me a hint of where I was headed. An hour later, I should have been very worried that I was in an unfamiliar neighborhood that didn’t look as safe as the ones I had walked through in the morning. To top it off, twenty six years of my life and I had never been cat-called like I did walking through Brooklyn – by both genders. At one point, the cat-calling turned into masked threats, “Giiirl, you should not be in this neighborhood! You do not belong here, hun!” Those were the tamest remarks I got. And I thought, “I’m definitely screwed”.

I could tell the sun was going to set soon, but I still wasn’t panicking. I was used to being the only Muslim and hijabi walking through a neighborhood. The only difference was, suddenly, I realized everyone around me was speaking languages other than English. While the diversity of people usually puts me at ease, the looks and comments I was getting started to set off red flags in my head, but I powerwalked onward. I tried to remember anything I could about certain neighborhoods in Brooklyn to figure out where I was and kept drawing a blank. Hours later, I spotted a mortuary. I started formulating a plan in my head. I would walk into the mortuary.

“Excuse me, sir (because I always imagined more males than females working with dead bodies). Hi, I have a death wish. This is my first day in Brooklyn, my phone is dead, and I don’t have a map. May I phone a friend?”

Now, the problem was that I didn’t have my friend’s number memorized. So, I needed to use the power of connections to figure out that part. I would call my mom, who would get my sister on the phone, so that I could ask her to call my best friend in California, who I had given my Brooklyn friend’s number to when she visited New York a year ago, and tell her that I was alive but lost. Flawless, right?

Passing the morgue, I felt the ground rumble beneath me and recognized that I was walking on top of one of the train lines. I focused on the movement of the train. I followed the train’s energy like Pocahontas followed the wind, just around the riverbend, and ran after the colors of the wind. I was lead to an empty space surrounded by dead nature, covered with a bridge of cars. So much for taking notes from a Disney princess. I stood at a crosswords focusing on each street name until a woman in a rush walked past me. She stared at me and came back, “You look lost, honey.” Her strong Caribbean accent woke me up. “You shouldn’t be in here streets. You need the subway?” She walked me to a safer street and directed me to the nearest subway. I don’t think I had ever been that happy to see public transportation. I wasn’t even fazed by the rat that lead me down the stairwell to the train.

Later that night, my friend walked me around her neighborhood and to an area where I could spot the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty, and the proud city in the background. It made up for my tiresome walk through the boonies of Brooklyn. My first day in Brooklyn? It was definitely a new adventure, where I got back to my friend’s house alive. Success.

Tuesday.

[Dunkin Donuts, Coney Island. August 19, 2014]

I should have been moving to my new place in East Harlem, but my new roommate notified me that the apartment wasn’t ready and that I couldn’t pick up the keys until Wednesday. After getting lost in Brooklyn, I knew what I needed. I needed to see the ocean. I decided to head to Coney Island. My friend’s husband was confused at my choice of destination for my second day alone.

“Coney Island? Are you sure? It’s not glamorous. I can give you other places to visit in Brooklyn.” The look on his face told me he wasn’t a fan.

“I just need to see the ocean, the beach. Plus, I don’t want to go far.” I didn’t want to admit how much I already missed Coronado Island in San Diego whenever I needed to run away somewhere after a bad day.

He just smiled. As a native San Diegan himself, I knew he understood.

He was right. It wasn’t the most glamorous of places, but the moment I smelled the ocean, I felt at home. I had found the ocean and my San Diego heart both soared and ached. Coney Island was not surrounded by clear waters or glittering beaches like Coronado (yes, the sand of Coronado beach actually glitters in the sun – I know, I was spoiled), but it was still ocean. The vibe and food places lining the boardwalk actually reminded me of Pacific Beach (for all my San Diego or California readers).

[Coney Island. August 19, 2014]

I gave Dunkin Donut coffee another try and instantly regretted it. Walking along the boardwalk, I spotted an ice cream hut that also made ice cream milkshakes with coffee and of course caved to more coffee. I realized that I was struggling to find any sort of appetite for food since I had arrived, but I also knew that I wasn’t quite homesick either. I had a lot on my mind, especially because my phone had been going off nonstop for the previous three days. Friends and family were beginning to discover that I had moved to New York. I was receiving continuous notifications and especially texts – some asking why I would make such a move and others giving me their support and love. I spent hours just walking around and admiring the ocean, trying to ignore my phone and focus on facing my future and the insane risk I was taking.

[Coney Island. August 19, 2014.]

When I arrived back at my friend’s place, I packed up the couple items I had taken out of my suitcase and prepared to move the next day. 

Wednesday.

August 20th changed the course of my entire move to New York.

I woke up ready to go pick up the keys from my "new roommate" and head over to the apartment to check it out before moving in. After getting wonderfully lost, I traveled from the bottom of Brooklyn to near the upper west side of Manhattan to meet her. She seemed like a sweet person and even offered to help me move my luggage with her car if I met her somewhere in Manhattan. I took the keys and went to check out the apartment.

It only took mere seconds after entering East Harlem for my body to break into a tingling sensation. It took me a moment to recognize that the feeling I was experiencing – heightened senses and calculated steps, I was turned out and feared looking down for a moment to check Google maps on my phone, I was holding my breath – fear. I didn’t feel safe being here in broad daylight. What the hell was I going to do when the sun set and I had to come home after Maghreb? An hour later, I realized that there was one corner I was avoiding like it was a cobra – a corner of a group of men cat –calling every female walking past them with disgusting leering. Shock ran through me when I realized that the doorway led to the walkup where my apartment sat. I took a deep breath and crossed the street.

When I arrived at the walkup, a term I actually had never heard until later that night when I was describing it to my friend, I stood calmly in front of the group of men before they sneered at me and opened a path for me to walk into the building. I didn’t need any of my keys, both doors leading to the building were unhinged and so was the door to the apartment. I walked into the apartment and tried to piece together what I saw.

I would be renting out the living room. The room my roommate was taking had large windows for the sun to enter. The living room had a small window that looked out to a shaft lined with four more windows. I joked to my parents that now I could meet my neighbors all at once. I wouldn’t even have to lean out to shake hands with all the apartment. In fact, they could easily climb in and join me in my living room. I tried to think positively. “Blinds. I need blinds.” The place was unfinished, which I was told was the norm in New York – dirt and bug covered floors, mops and grey water filled buckets in the closets, bathroom still not complete, odd looking moldy food left in the three cupboard in the three step hallway, which I realized was meant to be the kitchen. I kept trying to paint everything I was seeing and feeling in a silver light.

Not until my mom was on the phone with me did the hazy cloud surrounding my thoughts clear up and I started to see clearly. As I was describing the situation to her, it hit me. Nothing, absolutely nothing, that the girl told me added up with what I was seeing. I kept telling myself and my mom that I just wasn’t used to the New York life. Yet, something was still off. I could sense it. Something wasn’t right. It wasn’t just me. As I was trying to paint a nice picture for my mom, which I realized later was just me trying to convince myself that I would be okay, one of the maintenance guys walked in.

“Excuse me, sir? Are you finished with this place?” I was praying he’d say no.

“Yes, all finished. You can move in now.” He gave me a wide smile.

“Huh. Really? How about everything you have left in the apartment. I think it still needs work.” I opened the closet for him to see.

“No, you can move in.” He insisted.

“What time do you –“ I went to grab the door handle and it all fell out into my hand, parts of it crashing to the floor. “How about the door?” I held up what was left of the doorknob.

“Oh, nah. Don’t worry about that. You can move in now if you want.” 

I thanked him and darted out of there, but not before seeing the five different style hardcore door locks that looked like they’ve been removed and bolted on there over and over.

“Yep. I’m screwed, damn it.”

“What? Are you still there?” Shoot, I had forgotten that I was still on the phone with my mother.

“Yeah, mama, I’m just leaving. I need to find my way out of this neighborhood. And, I think I need to call baba. InshaAllah, I’ll update you later.”

I hung up before leaving the building. This time, I didn’t even try to check my map. I walked in a straight line, straight out of the neighborhood. I couldn’t think straight. I was frustrated. No, I was angry. At myself. If I was going to take this risk, I had to put myself in uncomfortable situations. What I needed to figure out was if this situation was worth it. Was anything worth my own safety? I remembered back to the research I had done on East Harlem when I was still back in San Diego. Was I just being too open about what I had read.

By the time I got back to my friend’s apartment in Brooklyn, I had contacted everyone that I remember that was in Brooklyn and could help ask around for open housing.

My dad called later that day and I described to him the situation, more in depth than I had told my mom. When I got to the doorknob part, he started laughing so hard, he was coughing. My friend’s husband who sat in front of me at the dining table studying was also in tears of laughter.

“You know, it’s really not that funny guys.” My voice was monotone.
As my dad continued to laugh at my entire experience, my friend’s husband remarked, “I can just see your reaction holding that doorknob.” Honestly, the moment that doorknob fell into my hands, I think that was the moment I had gone numb. I wasn’t shocked or stunned. It just hit me that I needed to step back and reassess what I was doing.

When my friend got home form work, she insisted I just didn’t know New York. She wasn’t amused. Then again, I considered her a New Yorker, but also knew she never had to live anywhere in those parts of New York on her own. Let us be absolutely honest. On top of the fact that this was my first time in my life stepping foot in New York, I’m a young and single female that is also Muslim and wears the hijab. If I didn’t feel safe walking through that neighborhood in the morning, there was no way I would be able to step foot in it at night. I didn’t believe I would feel safe being inside the apartment either.

After my friend looked up the area again and both she and her husband confirmed I would be living in the middle of the projects, another term I had to have explained to me, I had to make an important decision. My friend didn’t think it was right to just leave the housing situation, making me reevaluate the way I had to handle it. I called my dad and explained that as a Muslim, even if it maybe wasn’t the norm in New York, I couldn’t just leave. Alhamdulillah I hadn’t signed anything, but I knew I would feel guilty leaving that girl alone because she too was Muslim.  When she called late at night, I asked her if she had even seen the apartment and I never got a straight answer from her other than she had been to the area months ago and felt totally safe. I admitted to her that I absolutely did not feel safe and would not move in. She tried to be nice about it but kept repeating that I was putting her in a difficult situation now needing to find another roommate. I knew that she didn’t want me there more than 2-3 months because she wanted the place to herself, but unsurprisingly, she wasn’t happy. I told her I would meet her the next day to give her the keys back and a check to cover her a little while she found another roommate. She quickly agreed. 

I slept with a migraine that night. Less than a week in New York and the unexpected had hit. HARD. My friend was incredible, but I couldn’t stay there.

“It’s all going to be fine. You need to get off the computer and get some sleep. Seriously, you need to rest.” I tried to take my friend’s husband’s advice, but I couldn’t comprehend anything with the migraine that was making me insanely sick. I had given up on doing anything on my screen, let alone contact more people for housing, all the colors on the screen were swirling. I was sick to my stomach.

What you need to understand is that it wasn’t the lack of housing or even my feeling of distrust for the girl I was going to live with that was eating at me, my brain was spinning trying to write perfectly constructed plans for this ridiculous risk I was taking. I don’t stress as much as I tend to take things out on myself – internally.

Thursday.

[Treat yo’ self! August 21, 2014]

I got up the next day knowing I needed to forcibly pick myself up and shove my brain into overdrive.

I met the girl at her work again and handed back her keys and gaged if I could walk away without giving her a check. Despite my feeling of guilt for leaving her in that apartment and neighborhood, I didn’t like the way that she played it off like I was just too soft about the New York experience and she kept repeating she had never felt safer about her decision to live there. I took the time to ask more about her, like where she was from originally and found that this would also be her first time living in New York. Something seemed off about the entire situation. In the end, she stood waiting to collect her check before we parted ways.

Wednesday night I had contacted my cousin’s wife. My cousin’s family lived in Princeton, New Jersey. I had contacted his wife back when I was in San Diego and she was actually one of the first people I told I was moving to New York. She was the first one in the family that I told. She went to grad school at NYU and her sister had lived in New York and knew all about housing and living situations. She had originally invited me to stay in New Jersey before deciding on housing in the city, but I didn’t want to burden anyone and surely didn’t want to hassle with the crazy commute. Wednesday night I realized I had no other choice, I needed family and I was blessed to have them near. She responded just as warmly as the first time I told her I was moving to the east coast.

Coincidently, I was planning on visiting my aunt – my mother’s eldest sister – in Princeton since she was visiting her son and would be leaving soon. She called to check in on me and I told her my housing fell through. She cut me off, “Come to Princeton. I don’t want to hear excuses. Leave part of your things at your friend’s place and hop on the first train tomorrow morning, do you understand?” I didn’t expect anything different. She reminded me that my cousin was my big brother and that I was welcome in his house for as long as I wanted to stay. I knew she was right. On my mother’s side, I was the fourth oldest cousin. [On my father’s side, I may be the 100th… maybe a little less. No joke.] This cousin was someone I did consider to be a big brother to me. He was from Northern California but since he attended UCSD when I was still in middle school he was always around and my parents considered him to be a son. If I was going to turn to any of my cousins, I knew it would be his family.

I knew I was blessed to have a back-up option, but I was dreading the move. Yes, it would add to the adventure, but it would also add a lot more complications to my move to New York.

Friday.

[Cups, Brooklyn. August 22, 2014.]

I woke early to head into Brooklyn for a last minute trip. In my need for coffee, I randomly walked into Cups and possibly had the best iced soy Nutella latte in my life. In my rush back to call a car to take me to Penn station and hop on my train, I got off on the wrong subway station and chose to walk about 40 minutes back to my friend’s apartment. They had left me one of their keys to be able to grab my stuff and head out.

I placed the suitcase I was leaving on the side and left a note on my friend’s bed pillow. I couldn’t find a way to thank my friend and her husband for welcoming me into their home and dealing with my first week of New York craziness, so I chose what I do best. Words.

Present Day.

[Infini-T Café. Princeton, New Jersey.]

I promise to inshaAllah share with you a short post about my month and a half in Princeton, New Jersey along with my adventures of a commuter life and my move back to New York. Yes! AlhamduliAllah, in an unexpected way and through various circumstances, I officially move back to Brooklyn this weekend.

To be honest, I have felt like a traveler since I stepped foot in New York on August 16. I’m looking forward to actually experiencing New York and why I took this risk.

I don’t regret anything that has happened. In fact I welcome every turn and hurdle that has been placed my way as God’s test of patience for me and love in wanting me to experience this adventure to its full extent. Everything does happen for a reason.

I have no idea how I am ever going to thank my cousin and his wife enough for welcoming me into their home. May Allah swt reward them for making me feel like I was at home in every way possible. May He bless their family and little munchkins.

***
I mentioned earlier that I don’t trust easily and it is very difficult for me to ask for help or admit that I’m struggling. It’s always a struggle for me. It is the one thing about myself that I have never been able to control. Don’t mistake it for arrogance or ego or pride. Every difficult, challenging situation and obstacle in my life further reminds me that in the end I have no one but Allah swt. I know I am never alone, but I also know that all I truly have is Him. I recently told a friend that my first challenge when I moved here was to actually reach out to people and tell them that I'm taking this risk and need help and advice.

I’m blessed that I have, who I consider to be, a close friend in Brooklyn, and family nearby. As I’m preparing to move back to Brooklyn, I am starting to recognize that I do have more incredible friends in the city and New York in general that I can actually call up if I found myself in a tight situation.

I’m excited for my adventure and learning about myself, and even more excited for what I can offer the world. My future awaits.

Salaam!
Hanoon