Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The tale of a Middle Eastern reporter in Washington

This article was published in Detour Magazine, May 2013 

I have always thought that putting your ideas into words is one of the trickiest jobs one can come across. At that time, I didn’t know that I will be sitting here putting down a pen on a paper to document one of the most eye-opening experiences I have ever been through.

The first question that popped up in mind was; where do I start telling my journey in Washington? Do I tell you about the hectic flight and the airport hassle? Do I tell you how hard it was to say goodbye to my loved ones for three months?

Forget about that, it was worth the pain, “They take pictures of mountain climbers at the top of the mountain when they're smiling and triumphant. They don't take pictures along the way, because who wants to remember the relentless climb: the pain and anguish?”  -Grey’s anatomy.

And that's why I will start from the moment I set foot in the U.S. It was a warm September morning in Washington; I was sitting in cab, staring at the rear window, trying to contemplate on the next three months of my life. I was a young reporter who is about to experience life at the other end of the world. 

Let me tell you a little more about Washington, the capital of world politics. It’s where they make high profile, pragmatic decisions that would go so far to how to stop a meteorite from hitting Earth. Here where the president of the U.S. lives and the Congress holds its sessions. 

First thing on the agenda was a quick orientation session on the city, my internship and the cliché responsibilities and duties speech. After this, I thought that with a map and a subway card, everything would go as smooth as it could go, but I was dead wrong. Speaking of subways, if you are by any chance passing by Washington, the golden rule is, when the door opens, to give yourself two minutes to get on and off the train. No more, no less. Forget about the good old days when you are literally being carried away by the crowd at the Egyptian subway.

When in Washington, you would rarely see someone wearing jeans. The official apparel is strictly formal. You would go out in the morning to find people in suits, ties, skirts, heels and blazers. And if you are a causal –oriented kind of person like I am, then you would definitely feel miserable about your wardrobe. 

I have always thought that 8 liters of water is what a human body needs to survive, until I got there. In the U.S., Starbucks coffee is definitely all you need to stay awake and alive throughout a stressful day of work. 

Also, if you think that the Muslim Brotherhood owns the big businesses in Egypt and that “Al-Tawheed w Al-Noor” is everywhere, think again. Around every corner you would find the same set of shops and cafes: Starbucks, Macdonald’s, Corner Bakery and Cosi. Those people are taking franchise pretty seriously. 

My first place to visit in Washington was the Congress where I got my press pass. Well, let me tell you about what wonders a press pass could do. It is a one of many magical cards that can get you pretty much everywhere because you are in the business of reporting news.

 Regarding the Congress, It had  an overwhelming effect on me with its high ceilings and ornamented walls along with the statues of  some of the leading figures in the U.S. that seem to be guiding you through the place.

A month later, I was assigned to cover a White House ceremony where president Obama will be giving a speech. Quite frankly I hesitated before taking the job, but I would have really regretted it if I had turned it down.

So I marched to the White House, with my magical press pass and I showed it at the gates. My editor said my name would be on the list, but of course my luck wouldn’t let things flow that easily. For some reason my name wasn’t there. I thought that it was the Universe's way of telling me that the name Monica isn't the most loveable name here, since the Monica Lewinski scandal that shook the entire nation fifteen years ago. Luckily the problem was fixed, and I made it in there. 

I would have never imagined that Hurricane Sandy would be my very first extreme weather experience. It was one of the worst hurricanes to hit the U.S. in decades. As it is well known, it barely rains three times a year in Cairo, I seemed like a total newbie wearing an umbrella and rain boots for the first time ever. 

During the hurricane, I have seen nature’s wrath at its utmost. Pouring rain kept flooding the streets for three continuous days and the howling wind seemed to be breaking in the doors and the windows. The streets were completely deserted; the trees were salsa dancing until they would eventually fall off over a car or a building. 

After three months of wearing high heels 24/7, endless press conferences, numerous interviews and struggling to meet deadlines, here's an important tip about life at the U.S. if you ever think of working there; it is extremely important to show up on time at any cost. 

If you had a wardrobe malfunction, you show up on time. If you were caught up in a fight with a stranger, you have to show up on time. Even if you were hit by a bike (which actually happened to another intern) you must show up on time. “If you walk in on time you are already late”. 

That doesn't mean that Americans are all about work and stuff, because in the weekends, they can party as wild as partying can get.

Bottom line is, travel is not all about discovering new places or new cultures. You can do that over Google Earth, but what Google can’t offer you, is a new perspective of life, a journey of self discovery and self -betterment. 

My published article in Detour magazine, May 2013.

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