Friday, August 23, 2013

At times, it feels like this never even happened...

I recently returned home after the most fulfilling three months of my life to date. I was lucky enough to have my Canon with me along the way, and not only was I able to document the most memorable moments of the experience, but I feel like I really grew as a photographer. My techniques and skills still leave quite a lot to be desired, but what I did learn is how to fully experience the moments I'm capturing through my lens in that moment, which I honestly believe translate in the photos I got. I used to use my camera as a way to remember everything and realized that in doing that, I was missing out on the experiences themselves. It was an obsessive thing rather than a joyful one. This summer, rather than scramble for my camera every waking moment, I let the moments happen and captured the ones that felt right.

I don't know where this blog will go, but I know that I have a lot of pictures to share, and some that I want to paint the backstory for. Perhaps more will be posted along the way.... And maybe not. In a nutshell, this summer I interned with Invisible Children, a non-profit I've been dedicated to since my freshman year of high school. Working at IC was always the dream, and this year timing fell into place and I finally had the guts to apply and thankfully things worked out. To many, my summer looked incredible (and it was) but a lot of the growing pains I experienced likely didn't translate. Living in a house with 37 people (turned 65 at the end of July) presented a number of challenges. As someone who's always had her own bedroom and lived in a single dorm the majority of my college experience, the idea of living with 4 girls in one room (later 8 girls in one bedroom) was overwhelming. I'm an extrovert with a lot of introvert tendencies, meaning alone time is a must for me. I, as well as ever individual in that house, made a lot of personal sacrifices to dedicate our summer to IC, but the beautiful thing is that our struggles always paled in comparison to the stories of why we were all there in the first place. When you remind yourself that people continue being abducted, killed, raped, and mutilated by the LRA, you realize that a few dirty dishes and someone taking too long in the shower really aren't problems at all... 

I think a part of me is still in denial about my summer being over... At times, it feels like it never even happened. I miss living with my friends. I miss the daily hugs and words of affirmation from the 65 most loving people I know. I miss the corny jokes that only a person at IC would understand. I miss Monday night house meetings where suddenly every member of the house comes together to review the week and clean the entire house. (Lord knows that house needs all the cleaning it can get!) I miss the red vans in the driveway and the stairs behind the house. I miss our view from the balcony and the sound of our trusty guitar. I miss the noise, the chaos, the love, the enthusiasm, and the excitement. They always say that in retrospect things seem better than they actually were, but I knew days before leaving that it was exactly as good as I would later perceive it to be. I intentionally took note of the little things so that I wouldn't forget them later on. I miss the mountains, the lack of humidity, but most of all I miss the people. A lot... 

So, with that, I'll jump into the photos. Because I can't write & cry at the same time. These photos are more or less the beginning and the end because I'm still trying to process what happened in the middle. Stand-by for that blog post...

La Mesa, truly the Jewel of the Hills.

Something about photographing other photographers at Sunset Cliffs...

Friends + coffee shops + newly purchased used books = the most exquisite equation for the soul.

My heart personified. 



Hikes and walks. Anything and everything outside. 

Spontaneous night swimming...

New friends who make you forget what life was like before they came around...

Birthdays...

Reuniting with best friends...

Laughs.

"Co-workers" who became family.

Epic grafitti.

Art...

Superheros.


Nights that were food for the soul.

Actual food... For my soul. #Chipotle

Office puppies who melt your heart.

A most incredible office.

Balboa Park.

Coffee shops in OB. I'll never forget how good this day was.

Sometimes you meet your heroes in front of the whole world...

The cliche photos...

And a few heartfelt ones.

And the final goodbyes that aren't so final....

I can't wait to see you all soon.



Monday, April 22, 2013

My experience as a young Muslim Arab-American post-Boston Marathon...

It's been exactly one week since the bombs went off in Boston and I'm still not back to reality. As a young, vocal, Muslim American this week has been exhausting. 

At this point, we've all read the articles about the wave of dread Muslims felt upon finding out that an attack happened in Boston, hoping & praying that the perpetrator wouldn't identify with our faith. Yet even before any information had been gleaned, before we knew if it was one individual or a team of individuals, phrases like "Islamist militants" & "Al-Qaeda affiliates" were being thrown around (though quickly followed up with "But we still don't have any information!") The seeds were planted, the assumptions legitimized, and the hatred circulated. And aside from the fact that the media preemptively put the spotlight on Muslims, labeling these individuals as "extremists" or "radical Muslims" is not right. The media is fostering the belief that a violent branch of Islam does exist. That these terrorists are following a sect of Islam, and that is simply not the case. These people are following no branch of Islam. They are deluded individuals who are suffering from mental health problems or have been completely brainwashed by said crazy individuals. The rhetoric surrounding these situations are adding to this negative cycle, and the media has a responsibility to stop feeding into what people want to hear. To hear reporters say "extremists" "Islamists" and "Saudi national" is to further engrain the preconceived notions people have.

I woke up on Wednesday morning to tweets about the suspects being identified as Chechen & Muslim. Exhausted & unable to face the world, I went back to sleep for a few more hours. I don't know how to articulate what it feels like being a Muslim in this post-9/11 era. I remember seeing the events unfold on 9/11. I remember saying the pledge the next day & having a moment of silence. What I don't remember is the moment I put together that I was a  Muslim, that the attackers also called themselves Muslim, & that the trajectory for my life was permanently changed. I spent the majority of my pre-3rd grade education in Islamic School (save for half of 2nd grade) so coming to a predominantly white public school, I felt different as it was, regardless of 9/11. 


It can be really hard to be a Muslim in this society. I've lucked out in that I haven't had any hate crimes committed against me or my family specifically (and I PRAY that it never does), but I have experienced people telling my aunt to go back to her country; being pulled aside from a plane upon landing home from London & watching my mom get questioned by a security official as to "what our business was in the country" and "why we had spent time abroad". Those situations changed me. When they happened I felt the wind being knocked out of me. It's not merely a figure of speech to say that it felt like somebody had punched me in the gut. My heart would start beating so fast, & my palms would immediately moisten. 

The worst of all though, are the accusations & leading questions asked by those who know nothing about Islam. The individuals who don't ask out of genuine curiosity, but with an agenda. How am I supposed to react or respond when people ask why my religion preaches hate? When they misquote the Quran, slander my Prophet (pbuh), and make the mistake of labeling all people of color as Arabs, which intrinsically means Muslim which intrinsically means terrorist? Where does one even start? People ask why Muslims don't speak up against terrorism, not realizing that we do. That most, if not all, of our most prominent figures have and continue to speak against it. The media & world just aren't interested in hearing it. At least not until now. We are finally being heard just a little more. (And if you are reading this today April 22nd, I recommend you tune into CNN tonight at 9pm Eastern time as Suhaib Webb one of our most prominent Imams will be speaking).  Digging deeper though, it's problematic to ask Muslims to apologize for terrorist attacks, because it insinuates that we have something to apologize for. We condemn yes, but apologize, no. We are in no way affiliated with those perpetrators, and so apologizing is to accept blame, and thus legitimize the backlash our community faces. 

And in regards to the questions people throw at me, at the end of the day, I'm not an expert. I don't know the ins and outs of Sharia (though I certainly don't fear them), I'm taking my first class in the history of the Middle East this semester, and I haven't memorized the Quran. I don't read or write Arabic fluently, and my grammar when speaking leaves much to be desired. I don't know anything about Al-Qaeda, or the other groups that people fear. I was born in the United States, have lived in Pennsylvania my entire life, and the only time I've been out of this country was a week long trip to London for a diabetes conference. 

I am a Muslim living my life the same way every other American is. I don't understand why people do these things and call themselves Muslims. Because what they are doing is not Islam. Jihad is about the inner struggle against the nafs, & striving to be closer to God. My jihad is maintaining spirituality & faith while in college. Trying to finish papers on time, get along with friends, do my laundry before I'm out of options and thus resort to wearing jeans 8 times without washing them. 

With all of the challenges though, I have experienced the most wonderful outreach, love, and support. I have friends who don't simply tell ME that that they know Islamophobia is wrong anymore, they write blog posts about it. They tweet & post statuses about not attacking their Muslim brothers & sisters despite being Christian, Jewish, Athiest, Agnostic, etc. They are courageous individuals who not only act out their beliefs, they TALK about it too. Because until we start speaking up together, these underlying issues won't go away. My friend Austin put it beautifully when he said, "Islam is the world's most prevalent religion and terrorism is no more representative of our Muslim brothers and sisters as the Westboro Baptist Church is a reflection of Christianity." I have friends like Bronte who share stories of how my actions have allowed them to speak to others and say things like, "[I] have told a few people this week, "one of my closest friends is Muslim and she's so kind, peaceful and wants the best for others". These positive actions have touched me so deeply, because before Boston the only people I saw vehemently speaking against Islamophobia were other Muslims. A number of my friends supported me personally, but not many were willing to post their views to the world. We still have a long way to go, but people are starting to wake up. People are starting to realize that with over a billion Muslims in the world, there's no way they can ALL be terrorists... And maybe, JUST MAYBE, those terrorists aren't really Muslims at all....

In closing, I just want to ask you all to continue praying for Muslims in this country as we brave this storm. It's hard to continue on as if nothing happened, when you know that people have a renewed sense of disdain for you. I go to school in a predominantly white, conservative town, and I didn't even realize the stares I was receiving at cafes on the Mainline this week, until a friend asked if I was uncomfortable because one man hadn't stopped looking at us from the moment he walked in. Not everyone is as lucky to be as confident & positively reinforced as I am, so if you see a Muslim woman smile & say hello. Don't be afraid to tell someone that you have a Muslim friend, or compliment their scarf if you think it's pretty. I remember the strangers who have smiled at me, or said something sweet & it stays with me. It reminds me that not everyone looking at me is thinking "terrorist" or "go back to your country". Keep in mind that the Muslims you see in the States are exactly like you. Our life and actions should serve as the real representation of Islam & Muslims around the world. Because we're just imperfect people of faith living life like anyone else trying to make it. We go to work, have families, go to school, enjoy music, TV, movies, and books.  

No one is perfect, but no group deserves to be represented by the worst of the worst. Ignorance fuels anger & hate, and we have a collective duty to say enough. 

So now, I'm working on reintegrating myself mentally back into school mode. I won't be posting as much as I have this week, but I felt that it was important to do my part to say 'enough', before Boston becomes a distant memory as many stories in the news do...

Positivity breeds more positivity & after the love & compassion I've experienced, I know that there's a lot more left to go around. Keep praying for Boston & keep praying for one another.

Peace & love. 





Monday, February 4, 2013

"So... What do you even do at a diabetes conference?" CWD goes D.C.

"So... What do you even do at a diabetes conference? Haven't you already been to like a million of those?" 

When people ask me this question, 99% of the time, they want a straightforward, concise, easy to digest answer. It's a simple enough question that I've had 9 years to contemplate and come up with an answer... But truth be told, my answer is never consistent. Sometimes I keep it simple and just say 'that it's a conference for families to learn about type 1 diabetes'. Other times, 'it's a conference that my family has been attending for 9 years, that we now volunteer our time for as Staff & Faculty members'. And other times yet, 'it's a diabetes conference where I learn new stuff, hang out with friends, and work as a member of the youth faculty'

There is no simple answer, because the Children with Diabetes conference is a million and one things for me, and it's always changing. I originally intended on writing this blog similar to the ways I've written others -- a long post summarizing the progression of events and what it all meant to me -- but this time, I'm doing things in a new way. I realized that with my intention of combining photography and writing for this blog, it's incumbent upon me to do this differently. Before I write the majority of this post, I'm going to post a series of pictures (just a fraction of the 1100+ I took this weekend) that do a better job of explaining "what I do" at a diabetes conference. I've gone through the pictures over and over to try and choose the ones that personify what this conference means to me. (I'll be posting way more on my Facebook in the coming days, so CWDers, don't fret if you don't see one of you on here that you'd like to have! I guarantee I'll be flooding your news feeds with pictures quite soon). 

So here it is. 

What do you even do at a diabetes conference: A look through my lens.


You learn a lot about photography from Jeff...

You take selfies... 
You walk around in big groups looking for places that will serve 14+ people without a reservation...



In the cold... 


But you stop for pictures anyways...




You work on Staff with your friends...


And get REALLY involved in the activities. 




Like trying to keep up with Harold...



You play games with a purpose... (This was team building I swear).



You learn...



From Natalie...



From "normal dudes" who've climbed Mt. Everest & raced across the Sahara...



And from each other. 



You relax... (For a few seconds at least). 



And get RIDICULOUSLY silly... (If you can't do that, CWD will be seriously uncomfortable).




 








(Did I mention take selfies?) 




You'll play mafia... (CAHOOTS I TELL YA!) Feel free to ignore that if you don't get it. 



You'll get really into mafia & beg for help... "Help me I'm pooooor!"



And you'll laugh...




(Trust me, Abdalla's laughing).



You'll laugh so hard, you'll cry...



And then there's Maya who gets her own category...





 Divaaaa!






The best part: you'll see the family you haven't seen in a long time...




And you'll take pictures...






Lots & lots of pictures...






And finally, you'll hug. You'll hug A LOT. (If you don't like hugs, CWD will be seriously uncomfortable for you.)



You'll hug your brother...  



You'll hug while being photo bombed...



You'll hug at breakfast...



You'll even hug when it's not being reciprocated...



You'll hug to say hello...



And you'll hug to say goodbye... </3



These pictures are what I do at a conference. I don't know that this captures the essence of what goes on for everyone, but it does for me. These aren't all of my pictures, and they certainly don't include all of the people I love, but it captures the emotions. At conferences, you'll love & you'll be loved. A lot. 

I've been trying to figure out exactly what it was about THIS conference in particular that made it so wonderful. There was something about this one that left me feeling as emotional as I did when I was 11 & 12 years old at FFL conferences SOBBING in the lobby as I parted from friends. As the years have gone on, the sobbing has decreased but the emotions have not. In DC, I had tears in my eyes as I packed my belongings the night before leaving because I knew leaving this one would be really hard. I didn't know why, but I think I do now... 

The past year and a half has been a hard one for me. I love college, and I love learning, but my first year and a half was tough. I didn't adjust as quickly as I thought I would, and I dreaded every time someone asked me how school was going. I'd smile, say it was fine, and change the subject as quickly as possible. This time though, I was in a really great place going into the conference. For the first time in a year and a half, I was genuinely HAPPY with life outside of the conference, that going into it, I wasn't relying on the conference to bring me out of some sort of rut. I once heard that the word 'fulfillment' literally means 'that which exceeds capacity'. Going into this conference, and being genuinely happy, meant that everything else that was positive would be extra...a bonus. Being surrounded by the love & support pictured above pushed me over the edge of happiness. (Those tears from the night before were likely the overflow from being so happy and realizing it was over)... I had reached capacity and something had to give. I mean, I can't express how wonderful it was to be asked "How's school going?" and respond that things are genuinely going well. To be asked and know that the other person really wants to know how life is... And to know that they are so relieved and happy that you're happy, is a really good feeling. 

One of the most important parts of my experience this weekend, was the fact that I went into this conference a different person than I was at the last, and it ultimately allowed me to grasp things in a new way. Sebastien Sasseville delivered an amazing keynote speech on Sunday morning before we all went our separate ways home His words & message had a real impact on me, as he knows. (If you don't know about Sebastien -- in a nutshell that only explains a part of who he is -- he's a type 1 diabetic who successfully climbed Mt. Everest, has raced across the Sahara desert, and has competed in/is training for Iron Man triathlons. At CWD we like to focus on all the things you CAN do with type 1 diabetes... Everything.) There were two things in particular that have had a profound effect on me from his talk. One is directly related to diabetes, the other indirectly. 

The first was something he said about changing the way you perceive your diabetes. It's something I've "always known" but haven't totally implemented in terms of improving diabetes care on the daily. Too often we shoot for that perfect number, or perfect A1C, that the importance of the journey is lost. When I hit that perfect 120, it's such a fleeting victory. The way Sebastien put it, you don't own that number. You don't get to put it away forever and save it for when you're high and need to be a perfect number again. When you hit that perfect A1C, again you don't get to keep it forever. You're not done... In one of my old blog posts I wrote, "I’ve been so fixated on just getting to that number, I haven’t put any thought into what comes next. (Maintaining that number for instance.) I believe that there needs to be a shift in thinking when it comes to how we look at our numbers." That post was published on February 9, 2012... Almost exactly one year ago. I had the idea, I understood the concept... But for some reason I forgot the essence that message along the way. Hearing Seb rephrase it and put it into context was really intense for me. It was a simultaneous blast from the past, and a new lens to look through going forward. 

The other important thing that has stuck with me is something he said about the moment he crossed the finish line, after a week long race in the Sahara. He said that, at the end of the race, there was no cheering squad. There was no celebration. It was the ultimate proof that doing that kind of race can't be fueled by your ego... There's no one with you racing in the desert other than your competitors and at the end, there's no one making a big deal about you. Seb made a great point... He essentially said that natural selection has a way of weeding out the ones who do things for the wrong reasons. I've struggled with some situations where it feels like people without integrity always end up on top. That if you screw enough people over, you actually can win. It's obviously not true, but hearing it in that context at that particular time was so important for me. I can't thank Sebastien enough for opening up and sharing those parts of his life with all of us. I've known much of his story for some years now, but this time it had such a huge impact on me. 

If you're still reading this... You're a trooper. My blogs are usually organized in the sense that I know what  I want to write about, but not exactly how I'm going to say it. I find that a stream of consciousness always ends up being the most genuine and relatable. (Though it also means a lot more  typos, grammatical errors, and definitely run on sentences). 

The last thing I want to write about for the moment, are the love, compassion, and generosity of those who run the conference, who volunteer, staff, etc. 

On the first night, I saw Natalie Bellini, one of my mentors, heroes, and all around favorite people. I've been without a pump clip for a longgggg time, and I asked Natalie if & where I might get a new one. Without even thinking about it, she took the clip off of her pump and gave it to me. I was stunned for a moment, and relaxed the second. This is how things work at CWD. If you have something to give, you give it. It doesn't have to be a pump clip. It doesn't have to be a physical thing at all. The giving at CWD is deeper than that. The people at CWD are generous with their hearts. I was momentarily taken aback because outside of the CWD world & my family, I'm not accustomed to being around people who are so generous. I have great friends on campus that I can rely on for anything, but for the most part, a college campus is not the place to go if you're looking for that type of generosity. The amount of care and love freely given by anyone who's a part of the CWD family is incredible. When I'm asked how I'm doing.... I know it's coming from a place of genuine concern. (I've probably overused the word "genuine" in this post... But it seems to be the only word that fits every time). When I need help, I'm not afraid to ask because I know it's not viewed as a burden or a favor. When I call CWD my family, I don't say it lightly. I don't say it as a cute way of over exaggerating how important this group is to me. Because the only other place, the only other people I'm this comfortable around, this open around, this supported and loved by, is my immediate family. 

Coming to a CWD conference is coming home... Especially for those of us who have been here for so long. It's a home that's always expanding and always has its arms wide open... Things change and people grow. Some leave and don't come back... Others leave for a short while... Some of us never leave... No matter which category, everyone walks way having gained something from CWD.  The most important part is knowing that there's always a place and people to come back to. It's the only way I can get through the months apart from these people. The most wonderful, sometimes dramatic, dysfunctional, and loud people I know... And if I'm ever frustrated by anyone or anything, it's ok, because that's how families work. You fight, bicker, and squabble every so often, but you do it because you have that security... The security in knowing that no matter what happens, you'll still be together and still love each other in the end. To quote Natalie, you leave CWD conferences, "full and empty all at the same time." 

So to those of you who've asked, this is what I do at a diabetes conference.

Here's to FFL 2013 being the best conference yet.