Bassam is a former IRAP client who fled Iraq, and started a new life in New York a year ago. Today, we’re honored to share his reflections on his first year in the United States, adapted from a longer letter he wrote to his new American friends and colleagues. Bassam is not only a poignant writer, but also an incredible performer – check out his acroyoga skills here!
A few years ago I reached out for your help to get me out of the Middle East and find a new home. I’m writing you now to thank you so much for every email you sent and every move you took to push my case one step closer. I might have bothered you with my non-ending, begging emails, but thanks for taking care of me and not getting annoyed. I’m sorry because I was desperate but now everything is great and there’s no more drama.
I want to let you know what happened in my life once I moved here. I wrote this email to give you a brief highlight on my one year anniversary. I hope you enjoy it.
A year ago last week I moved to the USA. It’s been a crazy year and definitely the best year I’ve had to date. I moved out of a Jordan that wasn’t welcoming to me, but which I considered as a home since I had adapted to the illegal living and surrounded myself by beloved people in Amman. I wasn’t ready to move since my application took more than 7 years and, in that time, I had kind of gotten used to the living situation. A major part of my life ended with only 2 weeks notice, and somehow I wasn’t ready for it at the time. My plan at that point was to seek legal status in Jordan and focus on teaching Acroyoga and building a community. But then, on the 25th of February, 2014 a whole new BIG chapter of my life began, filled with all the crazy new experiences that I get to experience, moving from a third world country with no plastic money to a first world country where I can make a purchase with my phone!
If I listed the things that I have done during this year it would take me more than one Facebook status, a book perhaps! But I will highlight some major changes. Starting with the first day at 7:00 am, when I finally experienced an airport and a passenger airplane for the first time at age 27. It was a thirteen hour direct flight with 4 seats and full access to the bar and movies – fly high or don’t fly!
Every day that passes I say, “OH! This is the best day of my life,” and yet another magnificent day comes! That keeps me amused and overwhelmed. Moving from a third world country to a first world country has its own challenges but also comes with great experiences. I have never had so many first time experiences in such a short period of time. These things are probably just things you never thought of but it’s huge to me! Animals in the wild, so many types of food and drinks, technology, sports, and, of course, places. There are things that never even crossed my mind before, such as an outdoor swimming pool in the middle of the winter when it’s snowing.
The first place I visited after landing was Times Square – yes, I said it, Times Square. It was a huge thing to me but now I avoid going there!
I arrived to New York and had to experience the worst winter that had ever happened. Coming from a desert climate to this one was shocking. I had to escape it, so I decided to drive down to Florida. I enjoyed the weather changes from the harsh winter to the perfect green summer – everything in between felt like driving through the four seasons. I arrived to Florida and the first thing I visited was South Beach, Miami. This was my first time on an ocean beach and looking over the horizon and seeing just an empty space was mind blowing. After a short visit to Miami, I went to Colorado where I could experience the outdoor lifestyle that I loved! Luckily, my friend was living there and he got me to try mountain biking, hiking, water polo, baseball, volleyball, kayaking, water rafting, road tripping, camping, and of course outdoor climbing. It was crazy – CRAZY – and I spent a great month and half there, and was even thinking of living there! My 10-day road trip and rafting trip across Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah was fantastic, and I carried with me so many wonderful memories. Rafting and kayaking in a very cold river and really hot weather was little bit too much to understand.
Life isn’t always glitter and butterflies. I felt lost at some parts of this year. I was searching for a place I could call home, friends that I consider to be a family, an income source, a job I love to do. My ego was burst: since I come from a place where I was pretty well connected, coming to the concrete jungle that is NYC was a little bit harsh. It took me a while to recover. I was just a random person, and didn’t know what I wanted to do regarding a career: climbing, yoga, IT, or probably something new. I sent my CV to so many places but no one responded, and my living situation got difficult – I did more worrying and less enjoying. The jobs I found were just survival jobs that I had never had to do in my life, and I couldn’t pay the rent with the income.
My savings were fading and I had no clue what to do. Things got difficult with the friend who was hosting me, and I wasn’t sure what to do if I couldn’t stay with him anymore. He was expecting something in return, not just doing me a favor, and that by itself made me scared that I might lose the roof on top of my head.
Finally, around the end of May I got connected to a start up company for IT solutions, where I started working as a project manager. My salary was only a little bit higher than the minimum wage but better than nothing. The 9-6 office job with 1.5 hours of train/subway commute wasn’t the ideal life, but so many people do it and I needed to get used to it. Since I used to work as a climber instructor and yoga teacher, my body and mind weren’t used to this setup. I started feeling depressed, disappointed, and lost.
After a month and a half I started volunteering at a yoga studio so that I could attend classes for free. One day they offered a front desk position. Since the job that I was doing wasn’t the best job, I decided to accept the offer and quit my old job. It was the best decision that I have ever made. I made so many connections with beautiful and talented people. I felt safe and important again and no longer just a person living. I just followed my feeling towards OM factory, a place where I felt at home, a place to get all the stress out and not to overthink the future. Luckily I was offered a job there and I’m still working there now. The owner of OM is one of the most humble, generous, pure, and beautiful people on earth. He treats me like his own son and without his kindness and support I wouldn’t know or imagine what my future in NYC would look like!
I recently submitted my green card application! And I am looking forward to what comes next! I am invincible with all of the love and support that I have from people around me. I’m ready, excited and thrilled for what comes next.