The Beginning of the American Journey. (Part 3)
By: Hala Alsafadi
I looked around me to find the guys in my group. Yes, they were still there, therefore, I did not really feel “ welcome to the United Stated of America!” Just having them there used to make me feel like home. However, I knew the feeling of being home is counting down since I could easily read all the confused, worried, and excited faces all guys in the group had put on.
I went in the airport and headed to the luggage belt to pick up my one and only suitcase. If you are wondering why I had one suitcase only, here is the reason. I had decided from the very beginning not to have more than one suitcase for two reasons :
1) Since we are from Gaza, we all knew that we were going to go through hell on our way to the States; I do not know about you, butI am not a big fan of carrying stuff around for a long time. I mean, it is not like all we needed was a couple of flights. ( check part one and two if you don’t know what I am talking about)
2) Well, I knew I was going to spend a year there. I will get all I need from the USA. So why have my luggage over weight from day one? I was pretty sure that my luggage will SO be over weight on my way back.
Anyways, back to “ Me in the Airport” scene! So, I easily found my suitcase and then Iwaited till the others find their own luggage. Steve had told me while we were on the plane that the entire group would spend the night at a hotel in Washington DC and the next morning each one of us would leave to their own host families; all of them had to take other flights the next morning to get to their host families living in different States except for me since my host family lives 30 minutes away from the airport ;therefore, they are going to welcome me at the airport and pick me up to their house the next day. The plan sounded really great for me till he let me know that the plan had actually changed! The new scenario was that my host family is going to pick me up from the airport and take me along with them to their house. I didn’t really like that plan, but hey I could not do anything about it. Consequently, All that occupied my mind while waiting for the group was that I am going to leave them and meet up with my host family after few minutes since my host family lives in Virginia around Washington DC area. I was so scared and I turned yellow. I remember going with Lama to the WC so that I can wash my face and fix my makeup before the “ nice to meet you” kind of conversation with my host family is on the show. I told Lama that I was not ready to leave them now and that I wish I would spend the night with them at the hotel. Well, I was saved by the ring since Steve informed me that my host family ran late and that they were going to pick me up from the Hotel. Ummm that means I was going to spend a little more time with my friends; I assure you that I got so happy as if I were going to spend the entire year with my friends. I didn’t care that it is only 20 more minutes with the guys. Twenty minutes seemed enough for me if compared to the old scenario of picking me up right from the airport.
We crossed the threshold of Dulles Airport. I looked around me but this time I knew I was not a “ citizen” no more. I knew I am the “ odd one out”. People are not speaking Arabic all over the place. They don’t look like me anymore; I am an outsider now! A white bus gave us the ride to the hotel while all of us were looking around us. We wondered, where the hell is New York? Where are those skyscraper we used to see in movies? I looked to my right and found trees, I looked to my left and found more green! Pardon me, but this is not what I actually signed up for! I mean, I had lived in the United Arab Emirates for 11 years and hey, there were skyscrapers all over the place as well; what does make USA so special then? I remember how all of us started saying “ Is that the United States everyone talks about?” They soon started to tease me because I was going to be the first to leave them and that I am living in the “ State of Trees”; poor guys, they didn’t really realize back then that they were not going to “ New York” either!!
We arrived to the hotel to find a red Ford Jeep parking in front of the hotel. I didn’t need to be so smart to know that it is my host family’s Jeep. Sooner than I actually expected, my eyes were full of tears. It is time to go…But I don’t want to go! Can not they just pick me up tomorrow morning? With no doubt, that made me hate the fact that they live in Washington DC area. I was so terrified and worried. I had to say good-bye to my amazing friends. It felt worse than saying good-bye to my family back home. My memory flashed back to every moment we had shared together while hugging each one of them. Lama and I started to cry and that did great job in breaking my heart. I went to the Jeep but then I came back again to my friends to say bye once again. Trust me, I am not exaggerating, But when you are 15 years old and you go on such a journey with people from your age and country, those people easily turn into your own family and home. My host parents got out of the Jeep and hugged me so warmly. I looked at them, I knew I had the sweetest and cutest host mother. She was wearing that blue Hawaiian dress, she looked adorable. Then I wanted to see my host dad, he was so tall and handsome. Well, looking them in the eyes made me realize that I would be safe with them. “ Let us go now, Hala!” Jonathan, my host dad, said.
I got in the Jeep with tears in my eyes and worries in my heart. I tried not to look so worried or sad so that my host parents wouldn’t feel anything. I looked back at my friends, who were still standing by the hotel gate, realizing that I need one more year to go by in order to see them again. My host dad asked me to put my seatbelt on which made me think of those weird Americans who are too worried about the seatbelt while thousands of Palestine are dying on a daily basis by the Israeli Terrorist Forces; are they really convinced that this “annoying” seatbelt would really save my life from an Israeli bombing? Nevertheless, I just put it on because I know I can not break a law and that seatbelts in USA are a serious business. My host parents had prepared me many flyers and brochures of places they want us to visit together during my year, which was so nice of them. They were so sweet with me that I could effortlessly feel that I am blessed to have them as my host family. They started asking me about my flights to the US and they talked about many things I can not actually call to mind. They were talking and talking but all I was hearing was blah blah blah because my mind was drowning in its own deep-sea of thoughts. “ We are going home.” My host mom said. I couldn’t help questioning her sentence though. “ Home?” what home is she talking about! I had left my home! Would I ever call their home “ my home” ?
In a moment of silence, I looked at my host parents and just remembered my own parents that are so worried about me by now. What did I do to myself? What am I doing right now? Who are these strangers I am going to live with for God’s sake? Am I really in USA without my family? Is what I am doing worth it? How am I supposed to handle not seeing my mom and dad? I could have just spent this year in my country and my school with my family and friends! I could have waited till I am done with my high school before going through such experience! I started regretting being on this exchange program. I remember looking out the window and trying to convince myself of the fact ( I am now in the USA with my host family). I became conscious at that instant that I am no more Hala Alsafadi ,a citizen in my country; I am the “foreigner Exchange Student” from Palestine. I was acquainted with the truth that my year has just begun; I am here for the next year. No way out!
“ This is our house,” she said, “ this is our driveway and yard.” There were a couple of deers running across the yard and the colorful leaves brought the trees’ branches on both sides of the driveway down to draw that shadowy path all way to the brownish house on the top of a hill. The lively image right in front of my eyes looked so amazingly breathtaking that I failed to remember all my worries for a bit!
The Jeep parked. I got my suitcase and walked behind my friendly host parents to the front door. They opened the door and I finally saw the house I have been thinking about since May,The house that should be my “home” for the next year! Would it feel like I am in my own house? Would I feel that my room is actually my room? The moment I set foot in the house, I felt that it does not smell like my own house, but would it feel like my own house? I was so excited and worried. I wanted to take my “tour” around the house; I wanted to get to see every corner of my “new house”.
To Be Continued …
Part 4: ( My New Home)