Winding Up In Winston Salem

After quite a hectic week, I didn’t exactly know I felt about starting the NNC expedition. I always look forward to fall break as a means to escape the stress of exams and my Duke life. Yet, I knew that NNC was an opportunity that should not be missed. Ideally, the trip was to be an intense experience that would compel us to understand the deeper bonds of community and humanity in the context of Islam in North Carolina. But I welcome the change as an opportunity for myself to grow. One of our greatest fears was that we wouldn’t be able to relate to the people we meet…that they would simply smile at us and give us sugar coated answers or tell us what they think we want to hear….that we would come back with shattered hopes.

I must admit that I started the day with only 3 hours of sleep and buildup of fatigue from a week’s worth of academic demands. Eventually, early in the morning, I compelled myself to drink iced coffee so that I would be able to make it through the day. This trip is all about people and I am truly fortunate to have a strong support group that starts with Duke MSA. In Jummah, class, and Perkins, I came across so many people that wished us success and promised to follow our blog as they embarked on their own fall break adventures. It wasn’t the coffee but the enthusiasm of my peers that made me realize that I should make the most of this experience.

Winston Salem is not far from Durham and the mosque had an aura of familiarity to it…I felt that I could easily find the mosque right off of East Campus. As I write my reflection, I am nostalgic about the mosque and the feeling arises that I will return to it many times in the future. The simple décor and the abundant plants create a very serene atmosphere. The appearance of our hosts livened up the mosque and added the final touch.

Though we were emboldened by everyone we met in a different way, I must make a particular note about our hostess, Sister Crystal. I came across her when I finished prayer and said Salaam to the women next to me. She gave me a warm hug and a genuine smile. As a generally shy person, I greatly admire people who can connect to others with just a simple hug. Most of the times, I am not too fond of hugs but hugging Sister Crystal reminded me of when I was saying goodbye to my mother at the airport earlier this week on Monday.

Throughout the evening, Sister Crystal attended to our basic needs and made us feel welcome. She explained that she was from New Jersey and that her daughter had received a scholarship to study law at Wake Forest. The pride gleamed in her exuberant eyes as she hinted that her daughter was too busy caught up in grad school. As a mother of 10 children, Sister Crystal has her hands full but she loves people-whether it’s her large extended family or strangers like us. While our group was deeply engaged in the narratives of our guest speakers, Sister Crystal came over and wrapped her bright green shawl around me, remarking that she always carries around 3 scarves because “the sisters are always getting cold”. Coincidentally, the MSA keepsake that Nusaibah and I had picked out for her earlier this evening for her was also a light green Pashmina shawl. All I can say is that I’m sure she will be putting our present to good use.

Her hospitality didn’t end there and she made me a cup of tea despite my numerous refusals. The gesture reminded me of visits to family friends and relatives. There comes a point when there is sort “tug of war” between the host offering an item and the guests refusing it. Eventually, the hosts win, with a sense of accomplishment, and the guests, with a bowed head and gushed faces, accept defeat. Our final words at the mosque were with Sister Crystal herself and she surprisingly gave us last minute advice on what women’s role in society should be. I was a bit surprised for her zeal for advocacy but I’m glad that I got see another side of her character. She described her involvement in the Troy Davis case and said that it’s time that women take part in activism. Sister Crystal is one of those people that live life to the fullest and inspires others to realize the importance of cherishing every moment.

I never expected Winston Salem to be so captivating-from the people, to the atmosphere, to the bustling cafes and shops right outside our hotel. I hope this day bodes well for NNC and emerges as precursor to what we will live through in the next few days!

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