Being born and raised in a small village in Indonesia made me wonder how life and people out there, in other cities and in other countries, could be. What language do they speak? What food do they eat? What do they look like? Oh, I wanted to know everything and I wanted to see for myself.
Who knows, years after God answered that little girl’s wish. Not only did I visit, but I got a chance to live there for some time. And yes, I learned lots of life lessons from that.
Ankara, Turkey – Comfort in differences
Can you imagine coming to a country where almost everything is different from yours? That’s what I felt when I arrived in Turkey for the first time. Different faces, different seasons, different languages, different food, different cultures.
I felt like a chocolate chip on whipped cream. Well, that was what I noticed about the people there. They’re all white. Not only that, mostly they’re taller than me. I felt like an ant. Tiny. 😄
I went to Turkey and stayed there for 7 months to learn Turkish while doing an internship as an English teacher.
I can’t forget how cold the winter was in Ankara. I came there in a thin jacket, but I needed a proper one in a few days. It still lingers in my memory how beautiful my first snow was. I woke up in a friend’s house, and when I opened the curtain I saw everything was covered in milky white snow. The snow was falling so gracefully that I couldn’t stop myself from watching it.
One of my flatmates and I posed like in the Titanic movie. The snow was so heavy that blurred the camera lens.
After staying for one night there, I moved to an apartment. All of my flatmates were Turkish and the bad news was that no one was able to speak English. I was so depressed in the beginning yet I could learn Turkish quickly. Well, that’s the benefit of it. Okay, so that’s a bit of good news now 😁.
Talking about the food, it was hard for me to accept the taste of Turkish food. It didn’t suit my taste at all. The taste of yogurt was so strange to me. I couldn’t accept how they eat rice with it. However, years after my time there, I love Turkish food so bad.
Despite all of the differences, I could feel that I was very welcome there. I received so much love there although from strangers in the street. I’d be a millionaire if I had a Turkish Lira for every time I got invited for meals at their house. They were so generous, I thought they would give everything to me if I asked.
That what made my first journey abroad was so much meaningful for me. I remember a piece of song lyrics that says, “Don’t worry about leaving your family when you go to another city. You’ll find a new one there.”
And that was what I felt.
Boston, The USA – Respect and Tolerance
Having an experience living in another country before made me feel less worried about differences I might encounter.
However, there’s one thing that I was worried about before coming to the US. Islamophobia.
I learned a lot that after the 9/11 attack, Muslims have faced lots of difficulties there. I’m a practicing Muslim that obviously shown because of my clothes. I wear a hijab.
Feeling so grateful to be granted as a Fulbright scholar, to teach Indonesian language in a top university, deep in my heart I felt anxious. How would my life be there?
I’m standing in front of the main gate of Harvard University.
The answer is …
In fact, I felt safe from my first day there until my last one.
That was beyond my expectations.
I still remember when I first arrived in Boston at 1 am. No one could pick me up, so I took a taxi whose driver was African American to my accommodation. The street was very empty as if the city was sleeping. I kept praying and wishing to arrive safely there.
Unfortunately, my landlord who was sleeping didn’t hear my knock. However, the black driver didn’t leave me alone there, even he let me use his phone to call the landlord.
He was there until the landlord opened the door which was almost 30 minutes. From that night I was sure that I would be safe in this country and can walk freely and proudly as a Muslim.
And yes! I felt respected there. On public transport, in my class, in stores, in airports, anywhere. I didn’t receive any assaults, in fact, I got lots of kindness.
There were touching moments when I was there related to my beliefs.
One day after celebrating Eid Adha, one of the Muslim important days, I was standing on a platform and waiting for a subway which was called the T in Massachusetts.
The subway stopped and one white American man walked out. He smiled at me and said that God would be with me two times. It was a kind of nice prayer for me.
Another story was one day after the attack on the Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand. I was sitting on the train on my way to university. Although I was a bit sleepy, I realized a girl across my seat sometimes glancing at me. When our eyes met, she smiled.
I just thought she might be wondering about me. Apparently, when I got out of the T, she approached me and said that she was sorry for what happened to Muslims in that attack.
Oh, I was very touched by her sympathy. I could see that she really meant it.
Having nice experiences like that makes me not believe the stereotypes. Well, I don’t deny that some people do those assaults, but many others respect and tolerate us also.
I could say I was lucky and blessed there.
Manchester, The UK – Love to All Moms
Being a mom was always my dream before I got married. It never ever crossed my mind that I would experience one in Manchester.
I came alone to Manchester when I was 7 months pregnant with my son. My husband was already there at that time. Both my close and extended family were really worried about how I would be on the journey which was about 24 hours long.
I told them that I would be okay. What I worried more was how to take care of my baby later.
And yes, that was tough! There were only my husband and me and we both hadn’t had any experience yet.
The first three months were overwhelming. I was loaded with happiness to see my little angel every time, but at the same time, I felt frustrated.
Putting the baby to sleep was not easy. He could easily fall asleep in my arms, but once I put him into his cot, he would be awake and cry. Sometimes I just slept while leaning on the wall for some hours at night while holding him in my arms.
Breastfeeding? It was not easy for me. I almost gave up breastfeeding him, but I was lucky to have a nurse who kept encouraging me. And here I am now still finding how to stop. Yeah, that was harder apparently. 😄
Going through those experiences and other untold ones, I can feel about other mothers too. They must face difficulties in taking care of and upbringing a child.
In the past, I sometimes saw a baby or a toddler crying or throwing a tantrum. His mother’s reaction was to let him do that or scold him. At that time, I would think why that parent could do something like that. Couldn’t she soothe her child nicely?
However, now I understand. As a stranger, we don’t know what someone has been through that day. I know it doesn’t mean we can tolerate it if something bad happens to the kid. But, rather than criticizing or blaming, I think it would be better to help her.
For instance offering a help, like carrying the baby for a while, so the mother can take a rest. Or, if it is in public transportation, we can give a seat to her. Or at least, don’t glare at her, leave that space, or just do our business pretending there’s nothing happens.
Being a mom is hard, so let’s not put more burden on her.
Well, now it seems terrible to have a child. No, that’s not what I meant. Those are only the challenging parts. Nonetheless, to have a child is a blessing.
It doesn’t matter how hard my day is, but when my son smiles at me, and gives me hugs I feel all problems disappear. Particularly, when he can do something well on his own or do what I have taught him.
My son is trying to open the book.
I also felt blessed when I got him. Although there are only my husband and me, we’ve gotten much help around. Frankly speaking, we didn’t really buy stuff for our baby until he was 8 months old. Many of them were from our friends and other moms from a WhatsApp group.
In addition, I feel supported in raising my son in Manchester. There are many free baby activities in public places, like libraries, museums and children’s centres. They’re really helpful for us. The activities help my son to grow well and help me to stay sane. 😁
I can say that those are the examples of love that I’ve received here. I am very grateful for that and I’m proud to be a mom.