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’.


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.


“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…