Passion for Curiosity This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

December 24, 2010
By , Bethesda, MD
It is the alphabet that draws me here. The alphabet. It is how the letters’ curves whip and fuse to form a solitary laced line. It is how the line intricately weaves my irises and traces them through a zipping, threaded labyrinth past the meandering depths of a cryptic curiosity.

“In order for you to enter you’ll need to wear this,” a man at the door says to my mother at the front entrance of The Islamic Center of Washington, at the heart of DC’s Embassy Row. “No, thanks,” she declines, smiling politely at the folded hijab in his hands. “I will come back to pick you up,” she promises me. I could see her nervousness in her lips. My esophagus quickly swells, ears prickling upward, eyes honing across the outline of the majestic structure before me. “Please enter with your right foot first,” the doorman requests, snapping my attention downward. I frantically switch legs and thrust my foot forward. The instant my right leg thumped against the tiled courtyard, I quickly realize how little I know about the place I have just walked myself into.

Then letters. Dancing letters, whisping like threaded embroideries, found carefully etched across the finely polished stone walls, ruminating around the facades of the inner courtyard. Arches and pillars echo unfathomable thoughts gracefully above my head, their silent wisdom murmuring a passion inside me.

I strictly imitate his footwork, fearful to take another wrong step. I notice worshipers entering and exiting the prayer room, then quickly panic upon realizing I am wearing shorts while the others wear long pants. I fretfully observe other passers-by for some indication this is not a cultural offense. “Follow me down these stairs,” the doorman instructs me. I quickly oblige, again careful not to take a wrong step. At the bottom of the stairs is a crammed room with an array of seats, grouped mostly across two separate hemispheres of the room. The two seating portions are cut by an aisle, at either side of which the aisle’s ends span the front entrance to a looming chalkboard parallel to the entrance, hosting a loom of woven letters across its surface. Toward the front, right -hand portion of the room, a group of teenage boys, probably my age, are seated and scattered in a small clump toward the front of the room. I reflexively sit toward the back, left hand corner of the seating area, away from the strangers seated up front. It is inevitable. I do something wrong: “You don’t sit on the left, that is where the girls sit,” He tells me, the other boys holding back their amusement. “I’m sorry,” I apologize, desperately estimating how to best avoid more cultural wrongdoings. “You didn’t know,” he says, forgivingly. “It’s fine.”

The letters, partially clouded across the dusty chalk board, radiate a mysterious brilliance from its powdery surface. Their peculiar appearance sifts into my thoughts, ebbing to the corners of my skull. Doubts transform into certainties; fears morph into questions; cultural confusion evolves into creative, curious comfort.

I am enthralled at the sight of my new Arabic teacher, standing at the entrance to a classroom at my high school. The teacher, scarfless, smiles at each of us individually as we enter the room. “Ahlan was ahlan” she greets, in crisp, clear consonants rounded with deep, smooth vowels. Its sound lingers lightly in my head, latching its richness to the beauty of the letters. I look for a seat, and almost hesitate to determine which side is left and which is right, only to notice there is no seating pattern. “Jelooz, lo samaat.” Now slowly, now gradually, the words once again slowly transgress into a newly unfathomable richness, remaining more sensed than reasoned, now on the cusp of transcending from its peripheral mystery into something more tangible.

Fear can be a powerful deterrent from profound understanding, though just as easily is the catalyst for materializing apprehension into a passionate curiosity.





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Fayrouz This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jan. 15, 2011 at 9:34 am
You portrayed your curiousity very well in this peace. Although I am more accostomed to a place like this, I have had an experience similiar to this before. Good story :)
 
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