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October 10, 2012 Posted by admin in Blog

My Trip to Bay Ridge!

Since I have been in the US, I have developed wonderful relationships with my roommates, dorm mates, professors, and new friends at Bard College, something that has helped me fit into this new environment. Still, at times I feel overwhelmingly like an outsider.

After two months in the US, the mayor of Mas’ha, my village in Palestine, Nedal Amer, came to my college to reaffirm Mas’ha’s relationship with Red Hook, the town where Bard is located in upstate New York. Mas’ha and Red Hook are sister towns, so Nedal decided to come to New York when Red Hook was celebrating its bicentennial.

I had a remarkable time translating for the mayor, but this pleasure was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it gave me the opportunity to be a part of the important relationship between Mas’ha and Red Hook, but on the other hand, it opened a forgotten wound in my heart, and made me miss home more and more as I escorted the mayor of my village around the town.

All of this instantly changed when I took a trip to Bay Ridge in Brooklyn to visit the Arab American Association of New York. The Arabian hospitality I encountered, the Islamic traditions, the Mosques, the Arabian shops, the konafa, and the kebab we had at dinner made Bay Ridge like my very own paradise in America. My feelings of isolation disappeared as I learned that there is a place in Brooklyn that I’m part of, that I belong to: Fifth Avenue, Bay Ridge.

While I was in Bay Ridge I was lucky enough to have a wonderful tour guide. Doctor Ahmed Jaber, the Board President of AAANY and a retired Palestinian-American physician who has converted his former office to house AAANY, showed us around the neighborhood, introducing Nedal and me to other Palestinian immigrants, including someone from Mas’ha! It was a real treat to meet so many fellow Arabs, and I truly felt welcome and at home on the streets of Bay Ridge.

The Arab American Association has a great story itself. Finding people who dedicated their lives and their time to help Arab immigrants to live, flourish, and overcome the hardships they face in the US was extraordinary. The effort the AAANY puts forth for Arab society in Bay Ridge is definitely one of the main reasons why the Arab population in Brooklyn grew and maintained its genuine traditions. The AAANY helped keep personalities alive in a different culture and community, one that is very liberal compared to Islamic communities.

Now I know where I’ll head when I feel homesick: Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge, first stop AAANY, the friendly and welcoming home of Arabs in New York State.

-Ameer Shalabi

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