An AIESEC Touchdown in Texas

“Why do they call it football?” I asked. It had been a nagging question ever since I had been little, but never induced enough curiosity for me to ask someone or to look it up. It had only bothered me once before. The New York Giants were on the Penn Station platform several years ago surrounded by NFL fans, and I had tasted some of the excitement. Savored it. But the lights and pace of New York City had soon driven the question away from my mind. The attention span of a tourist.

“It’s called football because the ball is one foot long,” said Nirav, over the buzz of voices. It was a crowded Saturday evening at Torchy’s Tacos and the Houston Texans were playing on TV. The NFL season had kicked off and fans around me were glued. Cheering on their home team. To me, football had always been the universal game, the beautiful game, where all you needed was the round ball that you could kick around. Of course, America called it soccer. “It’s the shape of the ball that gives the name,” he added. Football here was another interesting phenomenon.

“Ohhh,” I said, finally connecting the dots behind the name, unable to hide my surprise. “And I always used to think, why call it football? The ball was not round. The players don’t even kick it about.”  We laughed together, the five of us, eating away our tacos. I was fresh off the boat, exactly two years ago. After I landed in Houston, a really hospitable family hosted me for a few days until I could find myself an apartment. On my second night in the city, the local AIESEC chapter came all out to welcome me. I was surprised.

They drove half way across the city to welcome me, picked me up from where I was staying and then took me out for dinner. Torchy’s apparently had the best tacos in town. Everything felt like summer that night, an American summer. Festive, bright, celebratory. The cheery voices over drinks and food, all above the din of football. It was the first glimpse I had of the city. I was a stranger in a new place, but was embraced and welcomed like kin.

There will always be some constants in life. Some things that always stick with you no matter what. Some can shine and fade away for a while, like moon behind clouds on a dark night, but they always come back. AIESEC – a global, student-run powerhouse promoting diversity and cultural experiences across borders, has been one of those constants in my life. I had the chance to be a part of AIESEC when I was in college in Pakistan. Although I could never get a chance to go on exchange abroad, I managed to reach out to AIESEC Houston for help before permanently moving back to the United States.

I came in with a crazy plan. Living in, I eventually learned, was a lot different than being a tourist. And resettling in a new city where you don’t have any family, job or college constructs to help you find your footing, AIESEC turned out to be a blessing. It was an uncertain time for me when I landed, I had little sense of my surroundings. And that night, it felt good to know I was surrounded by fellow AIESECers.  You don’t need introductions when you are in AIESEC, it happens to be one big family.

They were enthusiastic to show me around. It was delightful, it was beyond my expectations. We spoke about the differences between football and soccer, and discussed the soccer World Cup in Brazil that past summer. About Houston. Texas. Food. On what was next. About the things they loved to do and what I loved to do. About AIESEC. There was just so much to talk about.

For me, it was the cultural exchange program that never happened while I was in college. A huge help to make sure I started off on the right foot. It felt like I was already meeting people I knew from before. Just getting to know them better across cultures and borders.

AIESEC has been a constant. Disappearing, fading, then coming back strong with a big bear hug. This organization is truly global. They made me feel at home, a stranger who was alone in a strange city, in a far-away country.  They made me feel belonged when I needed it most. This photo is two years old today. It’s one of those things that life made me push aside as I had to row on. But it’s always been one of those memories that I will cherish. That bright touchdown in America.

An AISEC Touchdown in Texas (2)

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Rocky Transitions

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You are stranded so far from home only so that you can learn to find your way back.

A rocking chair is the perfect island to stop and sit and think. It’s a refuge. Although I have never sat on this chair myself, but I fell in love with it the moment I saw it and took a hurried photo in the few elongated seconds I had. A rocking chair like this gives you ample space and shelter and shows you many things. When you push back, you can see bits of your past that you miss, bits that hurt. And there are bits that you want to push back and live through again and again. But the chair pushes you forward, always asking you to see what’s ahead. And it’s always overwhelming, much like the sunsets out here. The Texas horizon is a vast and endless spectacle – not once, not twice, but every single day. I always see a sky show with mountains of cloud and fiery supernovas of light. And it is blinding and it is beautiful. Is this what they used to talk about? About stories of the old west and cowboys riding into the sunset? Were these the sunsets they spoke about? My, oh my.

It’s like I’ve been sitting, dreaming and thinking on a rocking chair ever since I landed in Texas over a year ago. I’ve been sitting but always in agitated motion. It takes some strength to rock a chair like that, sometimes you can hurt yourself if you push too hard. Sometimes the chair goes out of control.

Night takes its time to fall in Texas. The horizon here is a limitless canvas that will slowly fold its covers away, the colors breaking down into every shade of the spectrum before night envelops in graceful embrace. And I think that kind of made me take my time too, soaking it all in and sitting in the same place for over a year. You see, change can be tricky. It can be painful and uncomfortable. Even though it felt like I was moving on the rocking chair, I was only moving back and forth in the same spot. A rocking chair like that can lull your soul to sleep. It’s a big chair because everything is bigger in Texas, but it’s a big chair mostly because it’s a big change. I want to push back and dream of days gone by, but I am thrusted forward into a new emptiness where I have no idea about home. What is home? Where is it?

I respect this rocking chair year that has helped me transition. But all refuges must be let go of sooner or later, the trick is to let go when the chair is moving forward. And I feel the chair might have tried to brand that lone star on my sore back as I sat there, under the creases on the back of my shirt. But I can’t be sure, for I am merely a wanderer seeking passage. Yes, I’m going to follow the sun into the west, perhaps hoping to discover something. I’m going like a courageous fool with some last words left in his pen. But I’m just a humble wanderer trying to reach home.