Chicago

DSCN0129 DSC01537Marsh 31, 2012

Today I arrived to Chicago, sometimes in the afternoon. I don’t know when exactly, I completely lost the notion of time with the long flight.

On our way to the hotel I was amazed by the length of the buildings, the clean streets but was first amazed by the organization of the city when I was in the plane.

The people in the street resemble those who would walk in Mohamed V Avenue or Agdal at the level of appearances (clothes) except that no one would be staring at you in the streets of Chicago.

I saw a girl who was putting the veil and she was looking at me then she smiled but I ignored her unintentionally. Then I just realized that she was the first veiled girl I saw in Chicago and it might be the case for her. I turned to smile back but she was already away.

April 1st

This morning I woke up with a strange feeling of melancholy. I called my parents and started imagining what each one would be doing. I miss my family so much.

At 10 am we’ve met Melissa who volunteered to show us around. We visited Millennium Park, Michigan River, Heartland international organization, an art institute, and the bean in the park.

Ahmed, an Egyptian fellow in the program is creating a funny atmosphere though he becomes annoying sometimes. The Egyptian group members are all fun and nice.

This afternoon we went on Trolley with a university professor.  We visited the neighborhood where Barack Obama and Mohamed Ali’s houses are located. We visited china town, the Prairie Avenue, and other places. Later, Firdaous and I went North on the Michigan Avenue to look for Best buy. I hesitated before asking two young boys standing against a wall, they showed us the way then I was surprised that after 2 minutes one of them was running after us to tell us that the store was actually closer than what he told us.

I’m impressed by the politeness of the people in the street and also in the stores. They are so helpful that sometimes I feel that I need to give them money.

Before coming back to the hotel we stopped to eat a pizza. I ate cheese pizza as I didn’t have many options. While eating I told my friend ‘I wish my mom was here to cook for me’ we laughed then I started crying when I realized how much I missed her. Firdaous tried to comfort me; which worked for some time until they played a song that my sisters and I usually listen to in the car, then I started crying again.

I don’t think I can live in a foreign country. I’m used to my family a lot and I’m attached to it more than anything else. I miss very simple things that seem stupid at home, such as talking to my elder sister while drinking coffee, talking with my other sister before going to bed. Telling my parents about how I spent the day…

I also miss my nephew Adam and I think about him all the time especially when I see kids or toys.

Now it’s 10 pm I’ll try to get some sleep and wake up early to talk to my family on Skype.

April 2nd

This morning I woke up at 6am to talk to my parents on Skype I showed them Michigan Avenue from my window. Day after day I realize how much they mean to me and how important they are.

Today we spent the day in Heartland International for the orientation session. Everything was clear to me except the ways and streets in the map. I hope I won’t get lost in Chicago.

In the evening Julie organized a reception for us where we met the board directors. There were interesting discussions and also nice food from which I couldn’t eat much except veggies and cheese. Salem told me that I only needed to say Bismillah then eat. I didn’t feel comfortable doing it moreover I’m not a big fan of chicken. After the reception I walked back to the hotel with Salem and John.

 

April 5th

On April 3rd we moved to our home stays. Firdaous and I stayed at Sarah’s place. She picked us up at the hotel and was very nice. In her house we met Hershe a big cat that is completely different from what Sarah described as being ‘small and friendly like angels’. For dinner Sarah served chicken. I couldn’t tell her that I couldn’t eat so I kept drinking and talking to give the impression that I’m eating. Another cat showed up and started jumping and hovering around the table. After dinner we went out for a walk to digest the water I drank. Sarah showed us stores, restaurants, a mosque and the subway stop.

Once back I asked Sarah about the wifi password which she didn’t know but tried to call her daughter to ask her. She came to my room and was followed by one of the cats. The cat jumped on the desk and started walking on my stuff including my toothbrush I had no idea what to do to get it out of the room. I tried to tell Sarah that I didn’t need the password anymore but she seemed to take as a mission ‘finding the password’. I couldn’t sleep alone so I’ve asked Firdaous if I could stay in her room that night and she accepted. We shared the bed and in the morning I woke up at 4 am but I couldn’t step out of the room, I thought I’d definitely find one of the cats by the door. After one hour I’ve decided to get up and go to the other room to talk to my parents on Skype.

At 6 am Firdaous showed up with a red, swollen face, laughing and telling me ‘look what happened to my face’.  She seemed to have a serious allergy which she was not aware of until that day.

At 7.30 we left the house, took the subway to downtown then to Heartland International to tell Julie about Firdaous allergy and the necessity to change the house.

Julia asked me if it was ok to separate firdaous and I. I was afraid I’d go back to Sarah’s place so I told Julie I cannot live without Firdaous lol. A fact that was partly true because we became good friends and when we were together in trouble we’d react more than when I’m alone.

Julie informed us that we had to move to a new place, Megan’s parents’. Megan was an intern at Heartland international. Her parents were very nice and had no pets at home.

Yesterday I’ve started my fellowship at the Illinois Coalition for migration and refugees rights. Everyone is nice here including the director although he seems confused about what I’ll be doing here. So now I’m just reading reports about ICIRR.

May 2012

I’ve never finished writing my diary in the US. Tough there were many things to write but I had no time to do it.

We’ve spent 3 weeks at the Christophers and 1 week at the Murphys which allowed us to witness the lifestyle in different neighborhoods. At the Christophers house we enjoyed nature and calm in the neighbourhood; we experienced taking the Metra everyday to 103 Beverly. Then at the Murphys we could stay late because they live in downtown which is more secure and lively. Janet nicely called her daughter once to take us out. Elizabeth and her husband David were a lovely couple who seem to be very good friends as well.

Ellen picked us up several times especially when we were late in downtown or in a conference. she was very caring and didn’t allow us to stay out late. At the beginning Ellen suggested she would cook chicken for us but I’ve decided to tell her that I’m vegetarian so that she can cook whatever she wants without feeling the necessity of feeding me Hallal food. However later she drove us to a halal store where I’ve bought meet, then she asked ‘aren’t you vegetarian?’ then I explained to her that I’m not a big fan of meet but when I find halal I would eat it.

One day she picked us up at the University of Chicago where a conference with Tariq Ramadan took place. We were late that she came in attended the last part of the conference.

Her husband, who is a dentist, gave us toothbrushes and floss at our arrival. Both of them were lovely, hospitable and caring.

Janet and Tom were also very nice to us. Tom would make coffee for us and Janet loves to watch Fashion programs on TV. I’ve enjoyed watching documentaries on fashion and photography with her.

I’ve also enjoyed going to the gym in their building.

In Chicago, I’ve enjoyed the company of Mohamed and Firdaous who became very good friends of mine. We enjoyed Chicago during the day in the mixed and diverse streets, visits to different institutions, museums, and during the night with music performances, and bars to listen to jazz or blues.

All in all, during the four weeks in Chicago I’ve spent unforgettable moments with Julie and Julia at Heartland International, ICIRR, home stays, the Christophers and the Murphys who were very hospitable and caring. Mohamed and Firdaous who made it easy for me to live far from family.

My fellowship at the ICIRR was great. I’ve met very inspiring people and learned new things. Everyone was super busy which obliged me to take appointments with each one to learn about what they do. Everyone contributed and made it easier for me to participate. Alae, Adoebe, Monica and Sara were particularly very helpful and generous with time and information. I’ve participated in workshops where the ICIRR members assist undocumented migrants in applications for citizenship status. I recall an interview with an Asian applicant who was assisted by a young Asian volunteer who helped by translating for the applicant. The representative of ICIRR asked, among many other questions, “have you ever exercised prostitution?” the translator who looked very young didn’t know what this word meant so she asked for explanation then the ICIRR representative asked her are you above 18? Then the applicant rushed and said I understand this I understand. Unfortunately I couldn’t help because the workshop took place in Chinatown so most of the applicants were Asian.

My perception on USA changed especially regarding national policies and citizens’ rights. At the ICIRR I’ve met a Mexican man and a Palestinian girl who helped me learn more about migration policies.

Alaa, a Palestinian young and enthusiastic lady, a dreamer, who tried to realize her dream, that of being a citizen of the country where she grew up. She’s very friendly and since I’ve met her I’ve thought I’d apply for the green card lottery and if I get it I’d give it to Alaa. Allaa was 6 when she arrived to the US with her parents and brother. She grew up there but never been granted her citizenship. She grew up as an American. She went to school with Americans. She played in the street with American kids. She cannot identify with any other country but the US. Despite all that she still might be subject to deportation like thousands of other dreamers.

I’ve been always criticizing Morocco for stopping sub-Saharan migrants from staying in Morocco or heading to Europe; and spending money, provided by the European Union on security restrictions.

But there we are witnessing similar acts in a country that supposedly protects of human rights and intervenes, in a way or another, in countries where human rights violations occur.

The US also spends thousands of Dollars to deport undocumented ‘non-citizens’ and migrants.

We’ve also spent 1 week in Washington DC where we’ve met participants from different and several countries. It was a very rich and diverse space that allowed me to have new friends from Slovakia, Turkey, Palestine, and other countries.

 

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