I always wanted to fly abroad and I always imagined how it would be like. How silly of me to wonder if the air smells different from one country to another, or whether the street noises are different. I always felt trapped in my own bubble like a feather floating aimlessly through life, going wherever the wind blows, not knowing where it belonged or whether it belonged at all in the first place.
When I was invited to the conference, I did not even have a passport. Heck! I had to read the invitation 10 times to realize what it was about and make sure I was not dreaming the whole thing. It took me a few a more days to believe it… well, I guess by now you get where I am going; it just seemed really farfetched. I was scared, nervous, anxious and excited all at the same time. Granted, negative emotions dominated more because I was facing the unknown and my anxiety was not about the miss out on all of the fun. I thought about canceling the invitation and letting someone else who deserves this chance better than me take my place.
I thought I would be very scared to go anyway, and I’ll end up wasting everyone’s efforts. I thought that I would probably go and be of no use, no added value and just another floating feather that no one would take time to look at more than once. I spoke to my friend and colleague, Tlaytmass, and said “my only regret would be if I go and not be able to make a single friend or talk to anyone”; this concern came from previous awkward attempts at socializing in events which ended with similar regrets. However, on the day of my flight, before leaving, Tlaytmass met me and gave me an envelope with strict instructions not to open it till I was on my plane seat.
After the nerve wrecking check in and passing by the customs at the airport while trying to contain my obvious panicking, I finally sat down on my airplane seat and took out the envelope. The content of the envelope can be summarized in the following words: “just be yourself, because you are interesting”, I kept that with me throughout the conference.
These words were firmly reinforced on that one dinner time I had with our beloved coordinators. Thank you all for listening to me and allowing me into your nice cozy conversation. For making me feel comfortable and warming up to me, and for being the supportive amazing people that you are while sharing your struggles.
By the end of my journey, what I experienced in the conference was far beyond my personal worries: it was an intense fusion of culture and perspective that blew away all my worries and allowed me to be myself while interacting with amazing individuals. I learned a great deal about them and from them. I fell indeed in love with the atmosphere that was filled with beautiful souls. Every lecture was an enlightening chance for discovery, every assignment was a step toward creativity, and every lecturer was the embodiment of unheard life lessons.
I was among amazing youth – coming from different countries creating a richness in backgrounds and cultures – who had so much up their sleeves, so much more in their hearts and even more wits for display. Everyone was warm and friendly, a little wary but nonetheless smiley. I felt like I was in a different world, a world where I felt like I finally belonged; in a salad bowl of mixed cultures in which Israelis, Palestinians, Tunisians, Moroccans, Iraqis and Syrians all co-existed as a family. An atmosphere where we could all exist in peace and where no one had to be afraid of what they say or do. It was a sample of what the world can be like with less conflict and more love, and a delicious one at that.
I could go on and on about all the great things that happened: the girls cheering me on as I take my first step on the plane, swimming in the DEAD SEA (they call it dead sea – but it’s not dead whatsoever because it brings much more life than any sea I swam in before , the interesting and amazing dinner/lunch time chats, the new friends, the “Dabkah” dance, Tel Aviv Habibi Tel Aviv, the Ramada™ food, the frantic pacing before the presentations… and all the fun I never imagined I would ever have. And with this abrupt ending I have only one thing to say… thank you to my Yala family. I am changed HIBA now… A Hiba (which means talent) that is more open to exchange and to putting myself on the front lines and being okay with being me. After all, as Jeff Moore puts it “Being yourself means shedding all the layers of looking good, wanting to be liked, being scared to stand out and trying to be who you think people want you to be. Being yourself means being naked, raw and vulnerable.”
*Image by Hiba Bachiri