Personal essay

Finding myself in a foreign country

DESTINATION: Liberia, West Africa.

Travel distance: 7,690 miles.

Mission accomplished.

604 pages of the Quran, memorized

AT 4 A.M., MOST TEENAGERS are usually sleeping in their cozy beds. I was 12 and wide awake. Memorizing the Quran.

My journey to happiness

I STARE INTO the antique body-length mirror mounted on the wall in the bathroom.

Turning my disappointment into a high note

IT FELT AS IF bandits had banned me from lead clarinetist in my high school band ensemble.

Discovering the power of language

I NERVOUSLY STEPPED through the classroom door­way with my father trailing behind me.

Finding a voice through sports

“WHAT SIZE ARE your shoes?” the man asked.

“What?” I turned to see the only person waiting at the bus stop.

“Your shoes,” he said, gesturing at my feet.

The act of helping

I LURCHED FORWARD in the backseat of my mom’s green minivan, restrained only by my seatbelt, so she could see me in her peripheral vision while driving.

Loving myself

“WE WANT ‘THUNDER Thighs’ on our team,” shouted a classmate.

All the girls in gym class darted their eyes toward me. I had no words. And while most laughed, I ran to the bathroom.

Learning from my mother’s sacrifice

THERE SHE WAS, the woman who carried me in her womb with every inch and every muscle of her body for nine straight months, exasperated on the couch next to my 4-year-old sister.

Grandmother is a friend, role model

MY 69-YEAR-OLD grandmother, Jamila, is part parent, teacher and best friend.

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