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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.
[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.
[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.
[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 purchase zithromax online not be in this neighborhood! You do http://panthercamps.com/hello-world/ 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.
[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.
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.
[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.
[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.
[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.