Summer of a Lifetime

May 24, 2011
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Nineteen days. No cell phone. No television. No computer. No connection to the world outside of a small town college in Meadville, Pennsylvania. The first thoughts that entered my mind were doubts of how exactly I was going to survive. I tried to seek the reason within my head that had forced me to fill out an endless application to go to Al-Ummah, a summer camp where I would meet a hundred other kids from around the nation with personalities that I had no guarantee of even liking. Despite the hesitations and uncertainties I felt within myself, I learned to welcome the individuals that I encountered with wholeheartedly and openly understood their stories of regrets and pain.
After the apprehensive plane ride across the nation, I shuffled through the chaos at the Pittsburgh airport and found an enthusiastic counselor who greeted us with a friendly gesture and led to an area where the other participants were waiting to load the bus. As I approached a large group of teenagers who shared a similar faith and culture as me, I could not help but judge them by their appearance and actions. It was hard to imagine that they would be the ones that would help me to develop a new personality in just a matter of nineteen days. We all sat in a huge circle and took turns reciting our names. I was overwhelmed by all these foreign faces and could not comprehend how I would learn a hundred new names, associate them with faces and build friendships that would last for the rest of my life.
As we loaded the bus, everyone seemed to sit next to people that they already knew, unwilling to give up their comforting reality for an unexpected surprise. Slowly, throughout the two hour bus ride, we shifted seats and attempted at small talk which gradually led to teenage jibber-jabber. My memories of the bus ride slowly fade, but I will never forget the peppy girl in the bright yellow t-shirt who talked to me on the bus. Her cheerful and confident voice vibrated in the air. Despite the positive energy her personality emitted, all I could think about was how I probably was never going to see or talk to this girl again in the nineteen days at camp. It turns out she became my first roommate and one of the best friends I made at camp.
As one day turned into two days which turned into ten days which turned into nineteen, I was presented with so many different personalities, so many different talents and so many different stories that soon became apart of my life. Through the various activities in workshop, I met people that used a simple #2 pencil to create extensive sketches of their emotions, people that spoke their mind through the art of cultural dance, and people who used their talented vocal cords to create a heart-melting melody. Through the intellectual discussions about our similar faith, I was exposed to how each individual interpreted parts of the same religion in drastically dissimilar ways. Through our sports hour at the gym, I was able to join forces with athletically challenged people just like me and play unsuccessful games of chasing the volleyball around the court, while the more physically trained athletes watched us and could not help but let out a slight chuckle. These differences brought us closer together and opened our eyes to a more diverse and pluralistic society.
In addition to all the cultural shocks we received, there were many more to come. Small experiences such as eating with chopsticks during dinner, learning the Cotton-eyed Joe and watching movies in foreign languages seemed to expose us to a whole new array of ideas that we were ignorant towards. Our inability to properly hold chopsticks and our attempts at trying to read subtitles before they disappeared seemed to provide us with the realization and respect for the diversity around us. When attending the camp, I was hoping on finding people that would share similar interests, interpretations, and life styles as me and could not imagine anything else to be tolerable. To my surprise, each of our unique thoughts and abilities served as an individual puzzle piece that would together create a complete puzzle that represented our acceptance of diverse talents, ideas and beliefs. Each day, each activity, each meal built a bond between us as we began to trust each other and tell each other secrets that we kept deep within us. I felt as if I had known these people my entire life. Whether they were from the eastern or western coast or a small rural town or a large urban town, at Al-Ummah none of these differences came into play.
Looking back at my encounter with the people that I thought would be exactly like me and living the most incredible phenomenon, I came to a realization that our different perspectives and personalities molded our unbreakable bond. I am more than fortunate to have experienced the value of nineteen days to understand the beautiful nature of diversity, even among an undeniably similar group of people.





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