What I Learned In D.C.

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Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C.

My friends asked “Why are you going to D.C. a week before Trump’s inauguration?”

I asked myself the same question, but perhaps, too late.

I hadn’t been on a plane since my family came to this country. To say I was scared was a major understatement. Prayer, medication, and mediation alone got me to the airport that day. Lucky for me, one of my friends was also a flying newb so we clung to each other as the plane raced to takeoff and once again during landing. Somehow everyone around us managed to get some shut eye while we instantly grabbed at each other at the slightest bump or sound.

I decided before even leaving that no matter what would happen, I would be happy. No person, experience, or thing was going to take away my joy. While we waited an hour for the train, I was happy. When our uber decided to play games, I was happy. I found out the first day that I lost the scholarship I was counting on. I wanted to go home. After an hour of sulking, I said to myself “There’s nothing I can change about it now, the only thing I have control over is what I do.” I made a promise to myself that I would be happy, not even losing my scholarship was going to make me break it.

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We went out the first day we landed, rushing to our hostel to shower and glam up before we hit the town. The day after, we went to the National Museum of African American Culture and History. I felt uncomfortable taking pictures of shackles and other artifacts, remembering constantly that they belonged to someone and that this was someone’s life.  I walked through the lower levels of the Museum in somber remembrance, anger, helplessness, and familiarity. The mood changed when we hit the upper levels, learning and absorbing the resistance, the role of Black media and art, and culture.

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One morning, I headed out by myself. My sneakers hit the pavement in search of city life. I almost got lost by staring at buildings and streets when I should have looked for directions. I ended up at the Botanical Gardens which holds over 65,000 species of plant and spent the day capturing pictures. I felt the realization hit me on the way home. As I walked through strange city, not knowing where to turn and knowing only a handful of people, it hit me. I can make it anywhere. I had been worried for months, and in truth, continue to be without effort. I’m the on the cusp of graduation and like so many others, have no clue about what I will do after I get my diploma. Grad school? Work? Travel? Work on my novel? Where excitement and curiosity should be overflowing, I felt anxiety at the certain future.

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But in D.C. I realized I would be okay. It is not about the location. It is not about the people. It’s about what I make it. I chose Minneapolis. I chose the people in my life. I can make those decisions again. More importantly, I can fret over not knowing where I will be in 5 months or 5 years, or I can get comfortable in the uncertainty.  I can see excitement where I might interpret threat. This isn’t an attempt to avoid the very real societal constructions of inequality or oppression. No, it’s admitting that I am not infallible and that it is not reasonable to anticipate where life will take me. All I can do is work on what I can control and let God deal with the rest.   As long as I am grounded in my faith and values, nothing can touch me.

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Everyone asked us if we were sticking around for an election and we gave an emphatic “hell no”. The whole city felt like it was bracing for the inauguration. At the Lincoln Memorial, we saw POC construction workers working on structures for the special day. Maybe I was reading into it, but people everywhere just looked tired. I felt for them but I was glad I wouldn’t have to witness it. At nights, my friends and I would stay up playing board games and complaining about the shitty wifi. The perpetual stress and fear I lived in seeped out of me with every step. No work, school, or stress. This was the first vacation I’d ever had and not checking my email, phone, or social media about some bullshit was extremely foreign. But it was something I could get used to.

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On the very last day, I woke up before dawn. Finally, the moment I was waiting for. That day I met my hero, Yasmin Yonis. I squealed the week before when I found out. If you’re not familiar with Yasmin, you should stop right here and get to know her. You know that saying about not meeting your heroes? If your hero is a Black woman, 9/10 you should meet her. Yasmin was even more beautiful in person than I imagined and I had to fight myself from fangirling. I brought my notebook because I didn’t want to forget a single thing. Talking about dhaqan, deen, gradschool, writing, family, relationships, activism and everything in between just reaffirmed my firm and unwavering conviction in Somali women.

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I came back from D.C. with an invigorated hunger for happiness. I refused to let school consume me like it did last semester. I refused to spend hours stressed out about shit I can’t control. I want to take steps every day to be happy now, not just in the future. I’m the type of person who pours their heart, mind, and soul into something. If I don’t receive instantaneous results, then I drop it. I will actively work against this nefarious form of self-sabotage. For me, that means creating daily habits that work towards my values and dreams.  If I can stay grounded during the tornado going on around me, I will be okay.

 

 

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