A Moment of Realization

Written By: Fatima Ali

January 19, 2017

I grew up on East Ham High Street, East London, where there are many languages spoken, a permanent smell of exotic cuisines, and an assemblage of brightly colored clothing, the most diverse community in England. It is here in our small two bedroom flat where my parents, who fled from war torn Somalia, made a home for my two younger siblings and me. It was Dixy’s Chippy that I went to every Friday after school, K Launderette that my mother and I dragged trash bags full of clothes to wash every Sunday and that rundown bus stop on Marlow Road where I stood every morning to catch the 101 bus. This was my life.
On March 14th 2010 my parents received a large envelope in the mail from the United States of America, a place that I had only seen in movies. My family had won green cards in the international lottery. I watched my parents light up as they told me, I however, burst out crying. The thought of leaving everything I had ever known behind was beyond frightening. “Tani waa mid maskaxdeeda ka wayn,” my father exclaimed, this is an opportunity of a lifetime.
Faced with adapting to a new culture and a new school system, I realized that my life would never be the same. Never have I breathed in such clean air, noticed such big houses or seen cars as shiny, everything was picturesque, even the pavements were a fresh shade of grey, and the grass a bright green, almost fake. The apartment we moved into – spotless, like a hotel. Truly, this must be a dream.
As I walked into my first class, my second week in the United States, I was surrounded by what I can only describe as snow. I had never seen so many white faces, rosy cheeks, and white teeth. I immediately felt like an outcast. I was welcomed by a group of girls who surrounded me and as soon as I spoke, in my strong cockney accent there was shock. I heard a cluster of “omg” and “wow”. The sound of my foreign voice drew in a whole crowd of people, people whom I had nothing in common with from the way I walked, dressed, the food I ate, homes I’ve lived in, and in my outlook on life.
I was different, in every sense of the word. I could have given up, stayed down and not adjusted. However as the wise Dr. Parker said “your attitude in life determines your altitude,” I changed. I quickly learned to embrace this new culture, forced myself to learn about my peers, their values, moreover realizing that there was more to life than finishing secondary school, getting a job and settling down with a family. This cycle is one that I knew too well as everyone back home also seemed to live and aspire to this “dream”. A moment of realization occurred to me in the lunch line one day, that all the children around me had big goals, hopes and dreams to be lawyers, doctors, nurses, and even the president- to really have an impact in the world. In this moment, I asked myself: “Why can’t I impact the world”?
The answer is: I can.
I am proud of my culture, background and accomplishments. I will not let where I come from define me. I can accomplish anything. This positive and determined attitude has allowed me to prosper and reach the goals I set, this is something I will take away with me in pursuit of a higher education.