All posts by shazawalid

Reading is my salvation. Audio is my infatuation. Faith is my inspiration. Success is my destination. And this is all hallucination.

A Tale of a Drum and a Song: Exploring the Mesaharaty

Perhaps the first thing to come to your mind when you think about Ramadan is family gatherings, syrupy desserts, colorful lanterns and of course … the mesaharaty.

In this episode, I will take you on a journey to explore the history of the mesaharaty and his iconic drumbeat and special songs. But it’s not the story of a man this time, as it has always been over the past decades. Listen to my feature to know about the story of the most prominent female mesaharaty in Egypt.

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Chronicles of a Writer in USA: Second Rising Action

DAY 2:

Friday, 8 April, 2016

My alarm went off at 10 am. I still can’t believe I’m actually at the US, all alone. It felt weird and exciting, all at once. After the extremely long day I went through yesterday, as elaborated in my previous blog post, I decided not to wake up for breakfast at the hotel and eat anywhere else because I needed some sleep.

I got dressed and went down to the lobby to ask about a nearby diner and arrange for a ride to Southern Connecticut State University, where the conference would be held. The desk clerk, Christopher, was very helpful and said that the hotel’s driver can take me to the university, which is supposedly like 15 minutes away, at 11:30 am. He then directed me to a nearby restaurant just around the corner. I went in and people looked at me for a while, as I was the only veiled girl in the place, then everyone went back to what they were doing. I sat at the counter and ordered some Italian omelette with a side of potatoes, minus the bacon of course. The waiter was very friendly and served me with a smile, which soothed my tension a great deal.

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It was absolutely delicious and the portion was very big. Taken by: Shaza Walid

I went back to the hotel and took the hotel shuttle to the university. The driver got a bit lost but we finally arrived. It was time. I entered the university with no hassle at all and people directed me to where the conference was held. I went to the reception desk where I had to register. It took them some time to find my name. I was then given the name tag, welcome bag, and the schedule for the conference. I was so excited to be a part of this. Proud as hell as well. There was also several kinds of cookies and knickknacks on the table, yum. The sessions were today were to run from 12 pm to 5 pm. The weather was chilly in a good way, not too cold. The sky was clear. Their campus is huge. But my American University in Cairo is much more beautiful and authentic 😉

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This was the view from the hallway window. Taken by: Shaza Walid
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Making connections indeed. Taken by: Shaza Walid

Despite what I expected, I was feeling proud that I was the only international student there, and only veiled girl. Oh wait, there was one at the reception desk, but I did not get a chance to talk with her. The conference ran as a series of concurrent sessions. The sessions were quite informative. They were lots of interesting professors and professionals who were keen on benefiting the students and delivering worthwhile information. I wanted to take all the details in, to benefit from every word I heard. I took notes and did my best to ask meaningful questions.

There was a session about student journalism and how it’s perceived. During this session, I had the guts to tell them about AUC Times and the incident with our issue about sexuality and how the university students perceived it. I told them about our fight and how we persisted in the face of disdain and criticism from society. They applauded my efforts and advised me to keep going. As for the controversial issue with AUC Times, review this link here and here, in addition to this video to know the whole story.

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Photo from the session on student journalism and how it shapes history. Taken by: Shaza Walid

As incredibly interesting as the sessions were, the day went by with me going from session to session but I did not really make any acquaintances (yet). I couldn’t wait till the awards ceremony tomorrow!

Before I leave the university, I had to take a selfie to commemorate the unique moment.

 

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Would you look at me now? I looked all giddy.  Taken by: Shaza Walid (obviously)

I called the hotel to send me the shuttle bus to pick me up. The woman who picked up was the first clerk I met while checking in, whom I cannot her name. To remember my incident with her, check my previous blog post about my trip.

I went back to the hotel to put my stuff then, it was time for lunch. I was starving. I asked the reception about nearby restaurants, ones that were a walking distance. She recommended several ones, one of which was Italian. When my mouth started to water in hunger, I decided that this was the one I was going to head to.

Connecticut is such a quiet state, at least the area I was staying at. It was not like the busy, metropolitan America we saw at the movies. It was more suburban and local. The typical two-story houses with the mail boxes and all. No sight of international brands or well-known retail stores. I enjoyed taking a walk down the streets of the city. This is really happening. I, Shaza Walid, at the United States of America, solo. Even though I so wanted to explore the city, I tried to avoid taking many detours so I don’t get lost on my way back. Before travelling, I did some research about the state and the interesting places to go, and I found a bunch of museums and sightseeing places. Unfortunately, the conference finishes late on the two days and most of these places close at 4 pm. I wish I had more time to explore the city.

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A government building that I cannot recall its name… Taken by: Shaza Walid
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More from my walks. Taken by: Shaza Walid

I arrived at the Italian restaurant after about about 20 minutes of walking. Fortunately, it wasn’t crowded. The waitress welcomed with a smile and directed me to my table. I was having lunch solo in a foreign city. How grand! I ordered a mushroom ravioli, which comes with a side of green salad with vinaigrette dressing, in addition to a cup of apple juice.

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Some delicious greens. Taken by: Shaza Walid
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This was the most mouthwatering mushroom ravioli I’ve tasted. For real. Taken by: Shaza Walid

There was free wifi at the restaurant, so I sent mom some photos of my lunch and assured her that I was doing great. For a moment, I marveled at how means of communications have advanced to the extent that two people can share the same moment, even if they’re thousands of miles apart.

I took the rest of my lunch as takeaway and started walking back to the hotel. The thing about Connecticut is that it can quiet at night, which is not the safest thing, especially for a veiled, girl strolling down the streets of the state. On this whole trip, my motto was, “better safe than sorry” and it was so spot-on. Because think about it, if anything happened to me, whether I lost my money or my phone was stolen, for instance, no one would be able to reach me. I was alone in a big city. I know no one and no one knew me. That was thrilling and frightening at the same time. I loved the feeling of independence and freedom, but these come with a price. So that’s why I was extra careful.

As the sun set, I decided to head back to the hotel. The city was getting quieter. When I arrived at the hotel, I found an email from my professor checking on me and making sure everything went well. How sweet of her! She gave me the idea of live tweeting the event and using their hashtag, which I thought was a great idea. She’s truly amazing.

On a side note, one of the other cautionary measures I took was not allowing room service at my room. I was only staying for three nights, so there was no need for someone to get into my room and go over my stuff, especially with the hotel staff seeing that I’m here alone. You might think this is me being a bit paranoid, but cautious is better than reckless.

I spend the last couple of hours of the day chilling at my room. I turned on the TV to watch some local channels. I had plenty of knickknacks with me, cookies, biscuits, juices, and others. Tomorrow is the big day, the awards ceremony. Can’t wait.

Wanna know what this next obviously remarkable day entails? Stay tuned for my next blog post.

–  All images are hyperlinked to their original sources unless otherwise stated.

 

Confessions of a Curly Gal: Deep Into The Curl

I wonder why a natural physical attribute in a human being could be perceived as “not good enough”? I wonder why a natural physical attribute in a human being would be perceived as “not professional” within the workplace? I wonder why a natural physical attribute in a human being would be perceived as “not feminine enough”? Yes, I am talking about curly hair, which I had talked about previously in another post.

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I wonder how in the world would this not be perceived as feminine.

My hair journey (ongoing btw) has started since I was almost 10 years old. Mom thought it was a good age to start chemically straightening my hair. One reason was because she had just given birth to my little sister and would not have time to properly take care of and tame its wild strands. The other was that she did not really know what to do with it. So I started concealing my naturally curly hair with harsh chemicals to have it pin straight. I was very young back then. I was happy my mom did not have to spend hours detangling my hair after every shower. I was happy I was able to style it easily. I was happy it looked healthy (not for long though). However, there was always something gnawing at me, that I was concealing a major part of myself…

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Yes, the process was agonizing. And the chemicals smelled horrible. The fact that they made every effort not to leave the chemicals for more than 5 minutes on the hair always left me dubious.

When I reached around 16 years (of chemically straightening my hair every 4-5 months), my hair was falling out. It was weak and fragile and far from healthy. It was then and there when I decided to stop the chemical straightening for good. I need to find a better, less damaging alternative. I still want the straight hair but without the harm. Almost all my friends had either naturally straight hair, or slightly wavy hair. No one had a huge head of curls like I did (and still do). All the dolls I loved to play with during adolescence (Barbie, My Scene, Bratz, you name’em) had straight hair. All actresses on my favorite TV shows had straight hair (Miley Cyrus, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Raven Symone…etc. I was a hardcore Disney kid). All models, TV hosts, and celebrities in magazines had straight hair. I wondered why I was the only one who had to suffer with her hair, why was it such a burden?

Why would I want to keep my curly hair then? It was the mere-effect, or the familiarity effect, a known concept in psychology, which means that you tend to develop a preference, liking, or convincing about something just because you happen to be exposed to it quite often. It was that simple and complex at the same time. That was one of the reasons why a huge majority of people preferred straight hair and thought it to be the better-looking.

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The never ending struggle.

A while after, the keratin treatment emerged and made a huge boom. It was marketed as being able to provide the straight look without the chemical damage since keratin was already an existing nutrient in your hair. It was all the rage in Egypt and most girls wanted to try it. I was one of them. I tried it two times. Once at a salon near my house. It was a nightmare. It lasted for 5 hours, of tears, steam, and headache. It did not do much really, as far as I remember.

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The process looks quite smooth here. But trust me, it was terrible.

The second time was at one of the top-notch salons in the Middle East. I said they would definitely know what they were doing. I paid 3k then. It did not do much as well. But they told me it was not a straightening treatment, so it was expected. My hair was way less frizzy, more tamable, and less curly. But not the straight look I had had in mind.

At this point, I had given up on these hair treatments. I mean, nothing was really working. It is either I get the pin straight hair with tremendous damage or merely less curls for a thousand pounds. I was quite disappointed at this stage. Then it hit me! A simple idea that had been right there the whole time: why don’t I just leave my hair the way it was originally created, no chemicals and no treatments? *Gasp* Do people even do that? Do I know any girl with naturally curly hair (not curled, as this mix-up really gets on my nerves)? But as I said, I was desperate and this was the only option I haven’t tried, so I might as well give it a shot. And that’s when my curly hair journey started.

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Quite a long journey indeed.

I was clueless. There was no one around me with curly hair to refer to. No one in the media to follow through her steps. How will I look like? Will I like my curly hair? But here’s the thing, I was not going to see my full-fledged curly hair before 2-3 years. That is the hardest part to endure. The infamous transitioning phase, where a woman stops chemically treating or heat straightening her hair and switches back to her natural hair. Your hair needs its time to recover from all the chemicals that messed up its original texture, to grow properly and naturally without interruptions. So it means I have to keep heat straightening to a minimum to give my hair a chance to relax and recover. It is a hard phase that requires much patience, effort, determination, and persistence. At this point, my hair was exhausted, weak, frizzy, and depleted. It was half curly (from the roots) and half straight (from the ends). This is the worst phase that any woman can find her hair in. You do not know how to style it. It falls out quite a lot. And again, it is very weak. Bur you have to wait, your hair deserves the recovery.

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It starts out something as irregular and messy as the first picture, then with the right care and love, it flourishes into the beautiful ringlets in the second picture.

My knowledge of curly hair started to accumulate when I stumbled upon a phenomenal website called NaturallyCurly.com. It is loaded with stories from inspirational women who managed to transition safely and are happy with their natural texture, giving you just right encouragement and motivation. You will find an abundance of useful articles about curly hair types, maintenance, hairstyles, and tips. I never knew curly hair had types! I’m a 3B by the way.

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I owe the revival of my curly locks to you.

This was a gateway for me to learn all about the ins and outs of curly hair. I watched a hundred videos and read a thousand articles. I was genuinely eager to learn about my natural hair. I wanted to know it well so I can love it the way it deserves to be loved. It is a normal physical feature in my body the same as my eye color, body shape, and hair color are. I was doing all this out of love, not out of hate and refusal as before. I was excited to try all sorts of tips, products, hair masks, and hair oils. I did not even get upset when one of them did not work. I just knew it was a chance for me to keep trying until I found what my hair preferred the most. Honestly, I haven’t felt this positive about my hair since forever.

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I was mad about DIY masks and treatments. Tried numerous ones, from yogurt and honey to olive oil and bananas.

However, it was not all rainbows and unicorns. My hair looked like a mess and I had to leave it like that if I wanted it to grow out healthily. At this point, I had self-esteem issues. I went to school everyday without liking how I looked. At this point, I felt way more confident when I had my hair straightened for an event. When I look at my pictures during this stage, I find that I looked terrible. But I had to keep going and endure all this, so as to have the beautiful head of curly hair I am dreaming about for a while now. On a side note, I had the courage to show up on the picture day in grade 11 in my transitioning-phase hair, even though I had usually straightened it for this day. The picture does not look particularly pretty, but I am very and wholly proud of it.

After three years of struggling, low self-esteem, and perseverance, it was the fist time to see my full-fledged curly hair. My natural hair. 100% chemical free, from the roots till the tips. This stage did not come all of a sudden. It was quite a gradual process. I remember feeling ecstatic. This was actually the first time ever for me to meet my curly hair face-to-face, or head-to-face to be exact. And the good thing is, I liked it. No, loved it. I felt very comfortable at the thought that my hair looks gorgeous without any external factors (excluding the leave-ins, hair oils, and deep conditioners, but these are complimentary ones). There was a fixed hair regimen I had myself committed to. I was happy and satisfied about my hair for the first time in years. Now I can say that I feel equally confident with my hair either curly or straightened.

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My hair looks a lot like this texture, but in light brown.

But then came society and started to ruin it for me. Egypt is a country where a considerable percentage of its women have curly hair. But you do not see it because almost all of them straighten it. Curly hair is perceived as wild, untamed, unprofessional, playful, and not feminine enough. If you had a big event or an engagement party to attend, you had to straighten your hair. If you are the one getting married, you had to find a way to permanently straighten it because, “all men like straight hair.” Straight hair is less trouble and less maintenance, so this is what you should stick with. You have to pay heaps of money to have it chemically straightened. If you cannot do that, you have to head to the salon every week and have it straightened. Of course, it is not that absolute. But that’s the majority.

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Imagine a curly-haired girl in the middle of this picture, with less angry faces, and you have the regular situation.

People will not make direct comments about your hair. They will say things like, “You must take forever to style your hair,” “You look more beautiful with straight hair, why don’t you straighten it more often?” and things of that sort. I had just come out of a long and tiring hair journey and two of the most important women in my life, my mother and maternal grandmother, criticized me for leaving my hair curly. They both thought (and still and will forever think) that I look way more attractive with straight hair. I did not like that. I was comfortable with my naturally curly hair. I did not want to showcase something that was not inherent in me. I did not like the idea of adhering to a standardized and skewed version of beauty. I did not like the idea of narrowing down beauty to a single physical attribute. I did not like the idea of straightening my hair just because other people liked it more. I still do straighten my hair, but only when I want to and feel like it. I did not like the idea of killing the wonderful diversity Allah bestowed on us by possessing the same head of hair. I did not like either of this one bit.

I got mixed opinions from my friends. Some applauded me for my decision. Some preferred it straight. But no one was adamant about as my mother and grandmother were. I remember going through long and heated arguments, mainly with my mother, as she tried to convince me to straighten it more. As a result of these arguments, I sometimes would return home and look at myself at the mirror and cry. Was I maybe oblivious to the fact that I looked terrible in curly hair and that I needed to straighten it more just like my mom says? Did I really not look as beautiful as I perceived myself?

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Maybe I did not look as beautiful as I perceived myself?

Despite these transient moments of weakness, I managed to sort of build a wall around this aspect of my personality. I was genuinely convinced with the fact that I looked beautiful, sexy, and feminine with curly hair as much as I did  with straight hair. As poetic as this might sound, I felt that both textures of hair represented two facets of my personality. The straight hair represented the introverted, quiet, posh, and shy side of me, while the curly hair represented the passionate, driven, playful, and laid-back side of me. I liked having both options to do my hair at basically any given time. Henceforth, mom’s comments never really got to me. We would still argue from time to time, but nothing she said convinced me to hide this part of me again.

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Keep on rocking those locks.

On a not-so side note, there was one time I went to my grandmother’s place to get something (she lives in the same building). I was wearing my hair curly. She looked at me for a while and said, with all seriousness, “You can never wear your hair like that when you are married. Your husband will hate it. It is far from feminine.” I was appalled. I still remember the way she looked and the way she sounded when she said it. I remember feeling very wounded. She was not just talking about the way I looked in general; she was talking about my sexual appeal, shattering it into a thousand pieces. I remember being very angry and dismissing her hurtful comment (I am pretty sure she never meant it to hurt, though) on the grounds that her ideas about beauty are outdated and that no matter what I said, she’d never change her views.

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True that!

A couple of years later, I decided to put on the veil elhamdoleAllah. Arguments with my mom decreased to a great extent since my hair was covered. However, she would look at me questionably when I decide to go to the salon to have my hair straightened, even though there is no upcoming event. But that’s just the beauty of it, mom. I am free to wear whatever I like whenever I like. I am not adhering to any standards but my own.

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That’s right!

Now the journey has not (and I don’t think will ever) come to an end. I am 22 going on 23, which is the optimum age for suiting and marriage in Egypt. The topic of my hair still arises. I am still adamant in my opinion and so is mom. She is convinced that when it’s time for me to get married, I have to find a way to straighten it because, “that’s just what all girls do.” This does not seem right to me. What I do with my hair is such a personal and intimate choice. I don’t wanna go down the road of hair treatments again. I don’t want to hide this vivacious part of me again. As for my future spouse, I want him to accept me the way I am, accept the diversity within me, accept what I feel comfortable in.

I have written this lengthy post as a reminder, to the world and to myself. I am reminding the world that beauty is such a fluid term. No one has the right define it based on subjective opinions. No one has the right to shame someone else because of how they choose to look. And certainly no one has the right to deem a specific physical attribute “not beautiful enough.”

I am, as well, reminding myself that what matters first and foremost is how I view and perceive myself. People can say whatever opinions they want, but what I actually do is out of my free volition and beliefs. Femininity was never about looks, but attitude. When beauty resonates from the inside, all people will see and notice. I am leaving this here to constantly remind me of the love and appreciation I have for my curly tresses. They’re unique and special and they’re a part of who I am. And I am not willing to give that up.

And finally, I leave you with this amazing video from Dove, which reminds women to love their curls so they can pass on that love to their daughters. It is something I am planning to do with my daughter insha’Allah one day.

– All images are hyperlinked to their original sources.

Chronicles Of A Writer In USA: First Rising Action

DAY 1:

Thursday, 7 April, 2016

Yup, seems like I would be stuck in Newark for a while, as you have probably read in my previous post about my first solo trip to USA, Chronicles Of A Writer In USA: Exposition. After I got off the turbulent plane and collected my luggage, I had to find the Amtrak train to get to Connecticut. Supposedly, it was prepaid by the GAPP school, but for some reason, the train info and number was not written, and I did not have an identification card (specifically a credit card) to be able to check my name on the system and print my ticket, so I had problems printing my train ticket…

I went around trying to find the a place to verify my train reservation, and then around again to find the proper platform. All this while dragging a big luggage bag, carrying a backpack, and holding a cross bag and my papers at hand. After several trials, one of the personnel told me to just wait for the train as usual and maybe the conductor will have my ticket number on her list. So I dragged my heavy luggage down almost 30 stairs to reach the platform. I cannot believe how they do not have a slope for people with luggage! Anyway, I kept waiting and waiting then I had doubts if the train will ever come. So I dragged all of my belongings up and down the stairs AGAIN to make sure I was on the right platform. This was my first time to smell the USA air. The weather was a bit chilly, but not too cold.

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Here comes the train. Place: Amtrak station, Newark Airport.

When I went down again, I saw an Arab veiled woman with her husband and children. She looked maybe Syrian or Iraqi. For some unknown reasons, we both smiled at each other without saying a word, then she hopped on her train and left. I don’t know if it was because of my veil or my Arab-looking self, but I felt this bond of solidarity that made this long, long day a bit easier.

The train finally came and I hopped on. I told the woman conductor the whole story. She tried looking for my name but in vain. She apologetically told me that I’d have to get off at the next stop, since we cannot document the payment of my ticket. I began to be a bit worried because it was getting dark, I was exhausted from the long trip, and I didn’t know what the hell I’ll be doing in New York Station.

I got off the train with all my luggage and I was incredibly overwhelmed. Masses of people running around in every corner to get to their trains. Wide diversity of individuals: those wearing casual, those wearing formal, those wearing Hindi, young people, old people, middle-aged people, those with luggage, those without, simply every kind of person you can imagine. I felt that I was the only person who did not know where to go. And the station was huge. I was stupefied for some moments.

I struggled until I found the Amtrak desk. I tried asking the clerk for my ticket number again but no luck, so I had to buy a new one. It was almost 6 pm then. My train was to depart at 6:45 pm so I had some time to spare. I walked around the station to get a sense of where I was. Again, I am in complete awe by the tremendous diversity of people there. I kept wondering about what people thought when they saw me, a solo veiled Arab young lady. Were they afraid? Were they curious? Who knows?

I bought myself an iced macchiato from Dunkin’ Donuts to calm myself down a bit. I got my drink and stood in front of this huge black screen where platform numbers and train destinations appear. Apparently, the platform number only presents itself just 10 minutes before the train departures. So people are just gawking at the screen until the number is shown, then they rush to the gate as quickly as they can. I decided to do the same.

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You just cannot take your eyes off the big black screen, or your train will leave.

I FINALLY got on the train heading to Connecticut. The trip was to take approximately two hours. The train was very neat and clean. Chairs was spacious and comfortable.  Everything was organized. I really wished we had such amazing public transportation. It would save so much effort, money, and petrol. The times I used public transportation in Egypt are almost close to null, which is unfortunate indeed.

Anyway, the tranquil train ride gave me a chance to relax a bit. A great advantage was finding free WiFi almost everywhere I go. I was able to research anything I wanted at the blink of an eye and call and text my mother to assure her that I am doing okay. The minute you get on the Amtrak and open your browser to connect to the internet, you will find a detailed schedule of the train’s route, with the exact time at which you will arrive at each station. Fascinating!

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The iced macchiato wasn’t the best thing I tasted but it was okay. Taken by: Shaza Walid.
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America, you have your unique ways of impressing me. Taken by: Shaza Walid.

I finally arrived at Connecticut at 8:15 pm after almost 24 hours of travelling. I was dying to to change my clothes, take a shower, and lie on a bed. Simple demands, eh? I had read there would be a hotel shuttle bus with specific timings, so I waited for 15 minutes before realizing that I had to order it beforehand. It was getting late, streets were getting emptier, and I was getting a bit worried, so I took a cab to the hotel. The driver seemed quite nice but I was on the edge of my seat. I tried to memorize the licence number just in case. I also paid great attention to my surroundings and the roads we took. I’m not gonna lie to you, I was a bit paranoid riding a taxi in a foreign country alone at night. But I finally made it to the hotel, Clarion Hotel & Suites Hamden-New Haven (notice how many ‘finally’ I said so far, I was dying to reach the hotel after such a long day).

The hotel’s main entrance was under renovations so I had to enter from the back door. I was so looking forward to checking in and throwing myself at the bed. But another bump on the road was waiting for me. I had booked my hotel through Booking.com with no prepayment. I put my dad’s credit card as a prerequisite in case I do not pay at the property at the designated date I chose. This is pretty much the dialogue that took place between us:

Hotel Clerk: Could you please give me the credit card you entered on our system?

Shaza: I’m sorry, I do not have it with me. 

HC: Do you have your credit card?

Shaza: Sorry, I only have cash. 

HC: Sorry, the hotel’s new policies state that we only accept credit cards and never cash. I cannot check you in. 

Her words were like sharp poles thrown in my face. What was I to do now? It was 10 pm already. I did not know any other place to go. There was absolutely no one to call. Even if I tried going to another hotel, they’d still want a credit card. Since it was almost 4 am in Egyp, mom’s worried because she wants me to call her from my hotel room to make sure I arrived safely. Oh my God, this was so unexpected and uncalled for…

I had to think fast. I flipped through my printed reservation to see if there was any hotel policy I missed about only accepting credit cards. Then I read my savior line, “Cash deposit or credit cards accepted.” When I showed it to the hotel clerk, she told me they changed the policies. I told her it was not my problem and that I should have been informed beforehand. She kept apologizing and telling me that there was nothing she could do. I thankfully stood my ground and told her that I came all the way from abroad, that I’m on my own, and that I’m here to attend the journalism conference nearby. A really nice lady sitting behind me offered to pay my hotel room using her credit card and then I pay her n cash. But the hotel clerk refused saying that it was not possible because the card’s info would be different from the one I put on the system. After several negotiations back and forth, and calling the hotel manager twice (I talked to him on the first time and explained my situation), she finally agreed to make an exception, as supervised by the manager, and accept my cash this time only. I breathed a sigh of utmost relief as I paid her the money and received my room keys. This utterly exhausting day is finally coming to an end.

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HALLELUJAH! A BED AT LAST. Taken by: Shaza Walid.

Being in a physically stable place (given that I’ve ridden two planes, two trains, and a taxi in one day) made me quite happy. The room was great for a short stay. All the essentials were available in the bathroom. The bed was comfy. The room was warm enough. No proper kettle, a bummer. Other than that, it was just right for a person staying for three nights. The room did not have a balcony, but rather a huge glass window overlooking the hallway. Given that I’m travelling solo, I had to be careful. I closed the curtains really well so no one could see through the window. I locked the door well. I took a shower and FINALLY changed my clothes to PJ’s after 24 hours of travelling.

I needed to rest as soundly as possible. Tomorrow is a big day. Tomorrow the first day of the Region 1 Mark of Excellence Awards and journalism conference at Southern Connecticut State University. It is supposed to run for two days, Friday 8th and Saturday 9th. I leave on Sunday 10th. Crazy, right? But I hope it will be worth it insha’Allah. I need a good night’s sleep now. Can’t wait for tomorrow and after!!

Wanna know what went down during that conference and whether it was worth this hubbub? Look out for my next post to find out.

-All images are hyperlinked to their original sources unless otherwise stated.

Chronicles Of A Writer In USA: Exposition

DAY 1:

Thursday, 7 April, 2016

It really hit me when I found myself dragging my luggage, papers and passport in hand, backpack on my back, and waving goodbye to my parents then disappearing into the airport without them. I am travelling solo (for the first time) to the United States of America (for the first time) to attend a journalism conference I was invited to (for the first time as well) and receive an award in my name (you guessed it, for the first time). Too much information to handle at once, right? Now allow me to tell you the story from the beginning.

This is how it all started.

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“Placed what and invited where?” That is what I said when I received this email.

Oh my! My audio documentary has received a second place on the category of Radio In-Depth Reporting for the Mark of Excellence Awards and I am invited to attend a journalism conference at Connecticut to receive my award, organized by the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ). This is something I would have never dreamed about. EVER. Even in my wildest dreams. But it is true and I need to do something about it.

So what about this documentary, you might ask? It was the final project for an Audio Production course at university, just one of the toughest and roughest courses I have ever taken. It used to consume all my energy, time, and ideas. I used to skip other classes and submit late assignments just to finish work for this one. Nevertheless, I got introduced to the fascinating world of radio and how captivating and powerful it is. I found a part of me behind the mic. It allowed me to talk and express myself minus the awkward social interactions and pressures, what could be better?

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Behind that mic is one of my favorite places.

I produced my audio documentary as an attempt to shed light on the sentiments of Egyptian youth after the revolution. The youth talk about their fears, aspirations, and doubts about the current state of Egypt in addition to their reminisces about the revolution. You know what? I’ll let my documentary speak for itself.

Now back to the award, my dearest professor Kim Fox was the one who encouraged me to apply and saw my work capable of competing at international competitions. When I first saw the email, I was dumbfounded. I did not know what to do. I even left it lying in my inbox for a couple of days. I emailed Professor Fox and she sent out an announcement to the entire department informing them about my award and asking them about possible funding opportunities. That was when my journey starting unfolding.

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This email was sent me less than a month before the conference date. During this very short and hectic period, I was supposed to finish my US visa requirements, apply for funding, actually acquire funding, make flight and hotel reservations, finish college work before leaving, and inform my professors about my trip and adjust my deadlines accordingly.

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Yeah, I probably looked something like this.

All these aforementioned tasks took out much effort, time, organization, and thought on my side. I wanted this opportunity so bad. It is a once-in-a-lifetime thing that cannot be missed. I am not gonna bore you with the details of how I got through all this at such a short notice, but to sum it up, I thankfully managed to get them done on time (and by on time I mean 2 days before my departure date).

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the School of Global Affairs and Public Policy (GAPP) at AUC and the Office of Undergraduate Research Fund for agreeing to graciously fund my trip.

And here I am, at the airport alone for the very first time, at 2 am sitting at the airport lounge, waiting for my departure. I was having mixed feelings about this. I was excited yet afraid. I kept thinking about all the possible negative scenarios that could happen to me while alone abroad. But then I reminded myself that mishaps are inevitable. That every trip has both its glorious and upsetting moments. And this was part of the whole experience. I also reminded myself that I am strong and savvy enough to deal with any problem that comes my way insha’Allah (and Oh I will face plenty!).

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I can and I will do it, insha’Allah.

My trip was supposedly going to be as follows: Cairo to Frankfurt to Newark to Connecticut. The trip to Frankfurt was pretty smooth. Travelling on Lufthansa was very comfortable and seamless. Frankfurt International Airport was quite huge. I had to take trains inside the airport to get to my terminal. As soon as I arrived, I asked about whether I’ll take my luggage and check it in again for my next trip. The attendant told me that since mine was a connecting flight, it will automatically be on the next trip to Newark. Good, less bags for me to carry around, I thought.

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They have quite a huge airport. Place: Frankfurt International Airport.

There was still about two hours until the next flight. So I had some coffee and a sandwich and sat there observing what was around me. It is always really interesting to watch people in airports, all gathered in one place for various different purposes. Some dread their trips because they are going to a place they’d rather not be, while others have been waiting so long for theirs. And don’t commit the mistake of thinking that people who travel alone are lonely, for you could be around people who make you feel the loneliest.

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Drinking coffee at a different country is always endearing. Place: Frankfurt International Airport. Taken by: Shaza Walid.

Honestly, I was afraid I would be stopped or questioned at the airport because of my veil. But thankfully, none of that happened, only some routine questions about the reason for my trip and accommodation and a casual check, nothing more.

Now it was time for my next flight to Newark, which would yet take eight hours! I bought myself one of those comfy travel pillows so I can sleep whenever I want to. This time, I was flying on United Airlines, which was amazing. Chairs were very comfortable and spacious, even though I booked an Economy class. The plane was not very crowded so I had an empty chair beside me to place my bags.

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Cool ride, huh?

The food was also great. And the flight attendants never left us to be hungry, giving us food and knickknacks every two hours or so. There were many Indians on the plane and it was interesting to see the flight attendants handing them vegetable dishes and fruits as snacks. How considerate of them!

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Cheese and crackers as appetizers. Taken by: Shaza Walid.
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Sorry for the blurry picture but the pasta was great. Taken by: Shaza Walid.
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This ice cream was heaven in a cup. P.S: It was dark because they had turned off the lights for people to sleep. Taken by: Shaza Walid.

Apparently, I am not the kind of person who can sleep soundly on planes. I actually sleep better in a car or a bus, a moving vehicle. Anyway, the flight was incredibly long and I was starting to get tired of flying. I had some Anthropology readings to do, in addition to The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, which was such an exquisite and eloquently written book. One of the few books that touched me to the core.

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They also had a wide variety of movies to watch. Yay! Taken by: Shaza Walid.
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This pretzel roll was everything. Or maybe this was what got me nauseous towards the end of the flight. Taken by: Shaza Walid.

Near the end of the flight, I started to get really dizzy. Because of traffic at the airport, landing took an extra hour. I usually get nauseous during landing so this delay was not to my best interest. I could really feel my stomach turning. I was afraid to throw up because I was alone. If I got tired, I would not find my beloved ones to my side. This thought was terrifying. However, I tried to distract myself by reading in my book, which to my fortunate luck, was at a part where Amir was vividly describing how he suffers from motion sickness and he knows for sure when he is going to vomit. What a timing! Moreover, I started hearing one or two people throwing up in bags because of the terrible landing. A baby to a Jewish couple also started crying nonstop the whole hour! Again, I exerted a tremendous degree of self control to prevent myself from vomiting, but I still kept the bag at hand in case I could not help it anymore. After an hour of dizziness and stomach-churning, I finally landed at the United States of America (particularly Newark Liberty International Airport).

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This is the sign I saw the minute I landed. It sent a shiver down my spine that I was actually at the States now.

Stepping foot at the United States of America felt enthralling. I was at the country that is considered one of, if not the, most powerful countries of the world. I was at the country which influences several aspects of our daily lives, restaurant chains, clothes, music, movies, series, politics, and more. I was at the country which my school and university, and thus my education, is affiliated with. It was a glorious moment, to be honest.

On a side note, it felt quite weird that I started my trip at 4 am from Cairo, a four-hour flight to Frankfurt, two-hour transit, then an eight-hour trip to Newark, and it was STILL noon. The day felt soooo long.

We stood in long lines for the passport check. No cell phone use was allowed, as you can see in the previous picture. When it was my turn, the airport personnel asked about many details that I was starting to get nervous. He asked about the reason behind my trip, where I was staying, how long I will be staying, how did I fund my trip, my parents’ occupation, and my invitation to the conference. He also asked me to take off my eyeglasses to match my visa picture. I was getting anxious and started to doubt if something was wrong with my papers. But then he gave me a warm smile and said, “Welcome to our country.” That was amazing.

I received my luggage and now it was time to take a 2-hour train to New Haven, Connecticut. Luckily, the Amtrak station was inside the airport and it was already paid as part of the flight ticket by the GAPP school. All I needed to do was print my ticket and catch my train. Boy, I was tired now. However, apparently Newark loved me so much it did not want me to take off until the evening…

Wanna know what delayed me so much? Wait for my next post to find out.

-All images are hyperlinked to their original sources, unless otherwise stated.

Sugar, Spice, & Everything Nice.

Moments of sheer joy, merry incidents, happy souls, fleeting looks of admiration, sweet taste of anticipation: all this and much more envelope the joyous festivities of matrimony. Even though we often fear and sometimes even criticize relationships, but when they do take place, we just cannot contain our happiness. And I am speaking from the perspective of someone who is witnessing such unison occurring with one of his/her loved ones, not if it is happening to you my single friend!

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Well, not exactly like the guy in the middle 😀

When you are observing someone just getting into a relationship, especially if it is someone very dear to you (in my case, it is my beautiful cousin), you immediately notice the allure of beginnings and first times. The short subtle looks that say plenty. The jokes and teasing. The sincere hearty wishes of fulfillment and happiness for the couple. The joyous gathering of beloved family and friends.

Then you think about yourself. Who would be the person whom your family and friends welcome and celebrate? Who will you look lovingly at? Whom will your family invite to lunch and dinner at the terrace? Whom will your grandmother stuff his face with her mouthwatering food? Whom will your grandfather converse with about politics, culture, and arts? Whom will your brother and sister tell funny jokes about you to? Whom will your mother love from the bottom of her heart but simultaneously keep an eye on if he ever thought of hurting you?  And, who will take of your heart? Just a thought.

It is all very novel, ain’t it? A new person entering the family, sharing your meals, jokes, gatherings, photos, and love. It seems a bit awkward in the beginning. You feel like you cannot be entirely yourself because of this new guy (You are like, who is he and why is starting to take my cousin away from me?). But leave the insecurities aside, you are happy. Genuinely and truly happy for her. The gleam in her eyes when he is around is priceless. The way he looks at her as if she were (and truly is) the most precious thing in the world is out-of-this-world. The way her mother is walking lightly from happiness and joy. The way her father looks lovingly yet jealously at the couple, wondering how he let that guy have his little girl.

Oh my, I cannot believe we are at this stage already, when we are greeting each other on relationships and engagements and not grades and graduations. May this new stage bring us all happiness, joy, solid bonds, and satisfaction.

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God bless our eternal bond insha’Allah! ❤

A Note To Self.

To the shy twelve-year old with glasses,

It doesn’t seem like such a bright time in your life now, does it? You are not as outspoken and outgoing as the other girls are and you often hate yourself for it. You think way more than you speak. You are among the few who wear glasses in class and it is not exactly good publicity. You are among the few with unruly curls and a boring ponytail all the time. You are not as slim as the others are. You never complain about family visits and always find warmth in them, unlike your peers who prefer the company of their friends. You are different and it many times you just wished to be a “typical” adolescent.

But trust me, it only gets better since then. You still may not speak much, compared to your peers, but the words and articles you write speak loud and clear. You may not be as outgoing but with the right people whom you trust; you let your inner self roam without restrictions. You wear your unique curls with pride until you decided to cover them with the veil. I know it has crossed your mind a lot. You lost the extra weight. You still cherish family time with all your heart but now have several circles of close friends to double the good times. You are not “typical” (because what is typical anyway?) You are yourself. And that, my dear, is unique enough.

Ten years ahead, your life will turn upside down. Ten years ahead, you will be a completely different person. You will be proud of yourself. You will enjoy having your thoughts and opinions appreciated. You will travel places. You will check some items off your bucket list. You will be more healthy. You will be more appreciative and you will be more…you know…out there.

I know I may not have yet exceeded your expectations on many of the things you wish I did/have. But remember I accomplished other feats you never even dreamed about. But hey, no need to worry; I still have immense energy and will to continue exploring new paths, to kick myself out of my comfort zone, to speak louder, to love more, and to polish my character shinier.

I hope you are proud of what I have become. And hopefully, in 10 more years, I can receive such a heartwarming letter from my older self as well.

Happy birthday!

With love,

Your 22-year old self.