Sunday, June 04, 2006

Summary of first year in U.S.

Too far, too lonely…

It has been 2 years, 3months, and 12 days…That’s not all! It also has been a lot of pain, tears, travels, friendships, long nights, experiences, which all helped this girl to grow up.

When I first stepped into this country, I was amazed. Because, it was America, it was the dreamland. As much as the Hollywood movies let us know, it was where everybody was so rich, and fun.

At first, I was staying with my cousins in a big fancy townhouse, in a “sophisticated neighborhood”, we were eating at these nice restaurants almost everyday, going to Adams Morgan, Georgetown, Baltimore, sometimes Manhattan, or if we weren’t satisfied yet, we would fly to Florida , or race ATV’s in Mexico. After spending three months like this, my older cousin decided to get back together with his ex- girlfriend, who lived in Arizona. Since I was on student visa, I was not able to change schools at my first semester, which means I had to stay in Alexandria by myself. Everything happened so quickly that I couldn’t even find a place to stay. They were packing, I was crying. I was so upset, I felt so abandoned. I had this Turkish classmate at the school I was learning English, who offered me temporary housing in her family’s apartment. My “cruel” cousins left me in tears and drove to Arizona. I was in this traditional Turkish family’s house, who probably would not even comprehend the whole situation, what was I doing in a foreign country all by myself anyway? After spending three nights in a two bedroom apartment with the family, they told me that some relatives of them would be coming from Turkey, so I had to find a place in two days. That day was the beginning of those occasional days that I decide to go back Turkey so bad. But then that would ruin my reputation in my eyes and others, I do not give up that easily! I just couldn’t believe they were telling me that, in my values and theirs, totally inappropriate. I had very little money, very little English, no vehicle, and a lot of stress. I called everybody I met in three months, checked the classifieds, the ads I would see in grocery stores, internet. Finally, I found a place for a month, next to the school, furnished, and relatively cheap. I was so happy. This was a family house as well whose members from Bosnia. In a few weeks I found a job at campus bookstore 20 hours a week, 6.75 an hour. This was the only legal job I could do, and I was not very aware of illegal work opportunities yet anyway.

Although there were no more fancy restaurants, clothes and fun anymore, I was happy to survive. All the money I earned was covering the rent, and my cousin was sending me for my food. As the room I had was temporary, I had to find a new place. I thought I was getting lucky, as I saw this ad at school. My new room was located in the same building with my old room for a more affordable price. This was a one bedroom apartment. The bedroom was being shared by two Moroccan sisters, and in the living room there was a girl from El Salvador. I had nothing but my two luggages, and a couch to sleep on. At first I thought it was cool to live with people from different countries, that’s why I was in America right? Meet new people, learn about their cultures. The Salvadorian girl and I was getting along very well, but the Moroccans were disrespectful and loud. They would not care what time it was, they would turn on the Arabic TV, cook bad smelling food at midnight, and fight with each other almost all the time. These were the times when I really learned what patience meant and how it is gained. After a month, Salvadorian moved out, she said she could not put up with them anymore. She told me to go with her but it was too far away from school and I wasn’t driving (I still don’t). I kept gaining patience, and one night one of the sisters asked for my help to move her stuff at 1 am in the morning, she was leaving too. She was in tears and cursing in the elevator. I kept my silence. I had no choice but staying there, I was paying only $250, and around there it is almost impossible to find something cheaper than $500. The crazy sister got even crazier by days passed. As much as I was trying to be nice, she was torturing me, by telling me not to eat in living room, clean he bathroom, raising the rent because others moved out, and always in a bad mood, annoying attitude. One day I brought this movie, Amelie home asked her if she wanted to watch with me. Surprisingly she accepted, but when she saw a kissing scene, she yelled at me for bringing a crazy movie home. I kept silence, gaining patience was still on. The other day, somebody knocked on the door, and she told me to be quiet and did not open it. It was the building management. I asked what was wrong, and I was told to not to ask questions as I were paying very little amount of rent. Also, there were some letters in the mail boxes on some guys’ names that I did not know. We were getting close to the end. It was the hurricane day that I moved out when you are not even supposed to be out. She told me to vacuum or something out off blue, and blaming me for not being clean enough and I said OK, I am moving right now, that’s it. She freaked out! She started cursing, yelling in Arabic as I was packing. She also was checking my luggage to make sure I was not stealing anything. It was one of the most insulting moments in my life. I called some Turkish guys I knew living in the next building, and they came got me. They were living 6 people in one bedroom apartment; there was no way I would stay there more than two days. There was the hurricane outside, no electricity, no water, and 7 people stuck in a room, and I was all upset again. One door closes, as the other opens. I found a room at their building on the very next day. That was a nice Indian family. 2 bedroom apartment, parents and four boys ages, 16, 14, 12 and 7. The parents got one bedroom, I got the other one and the kids would sleep on the floor in the living room. Seeing them sleeping on the floor, (not even on a mattress) would upset me every morning. I offered the parents to put the at least the youngest one in my room, they thanked me but not accepted. So, I convinced myself to not to feel responsible about the situation. The winter came, it was cold, it was lonely…I did not have any real friends, as I had in Turkey everybody was so busy. My job at the bookstore was not very stable. They would hire me only at the beginning of the semesters. Although I was not supposed to work off campus, I had to find something else. This girl I knew from school told me that she would be going to her country for three weeks, and asked me if I would cover her shift at this nearby restaurant. I accepted. It was something I never did before, but I enjoyed it a lot. I also had a chance to observe a lot of relationships among customers and employees. It was a little place I was the only waitress, it was not very busy anyway. So I had a lot of time to think. My friends back in Turkey started working as psychologists, they were getting engaged, and settling down. It probably would be what I would do, if I did not come to the dreamland. I figured that I was doing the right thing. Having a bachelor’s degree was not enough of achievement to me; I had to challenge myself like that. I knew eventually, I would speak better English, go to grad school, and be able to travel. After those three weeks I found another waiting at a diner which was terrible. They were paying me $1.10 an hour plus tips, which I was not making enough. There were a lot of service staff and they would only let me take one person tables, and always make me do side work. Plus, I had to put up with all these dirty talks by kitchen staff and the boss’ bastard sons. These people did not see me as a struggling foreigner all by herself, but a piece of fresh meat. It was the day I quit when the boss’ son called me asshole for forgetting one customer’s coffee.

I put some ads online for babysitting. I didn’t have any formal experience; however I had a lot of little cousins that I took care of. I started babysitting for four different families. Two of them were in the building I lived in, the other was 20 minute bus ride, and one was very far. It would take 3.5 hours roundtrip, for a 5 hour job. I wouldn’t care, I was not complaining, I was very happy to be able to take care of myself, and I really enjoyed babysitting. One of those families in my be continued

july 2005, washington d.c.