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Keep Your Voice

February 1, 2018

By Zainullah Elmeetknany


It’s been about a month into my summer vacation that I receive one of the best opportunities I can ask for. This morning I wake up as early as 6 for the first prayer of the day. It is a short prayer with me skipping half of it. The optional half of it. As I finish praying, the lazy side of me is pulling me back to sleep but I know that I am not suppose to at least not without reciting a little bit of Quran. The Islamic book. But lazily, I hopped back to my bed, which is just a mattress on the floor.

In a couple of hours I woke up. I don’t have much to do so I decide to watch TV and boom there is The Amazing Spider-Man 2, I decide to watch it and for the third time. I spend the day hanging around as there is not much to do hot day, that seems too hot even for summer. I have no job or much of anything else in my hands. All I have is an internship that I attend three days a week for a few hours. It is an immigration office to help undocumented Americans. Today, I leave for internship. It is not fun there because I repeat the same thing almost everyday. Nothing new - nothing challenging. 

I come back home at noon. The first thing I do as I get home is grab some mango juice from the refrigerator and drink. It helps my melted brain keep working in this fiery day. I grab my new favorite book The Kite Runner and start reading it from where I last let off. It is an amazing novel with a unique writing style and a sad story. Then my phone dings. When I opened the mail box, there is many unseen emails. One from my teacher Mr. Tony with the subject Journalism Opportunity, optimistically I open it. When I finish reading the email, I read it once more. It was a chance for students to have an article published in a real magazine. I thought, since I don’t have anything else, I can at least write something. And I love writing I repeatedly say this out loud. Yet I am not sure if I really want to do something like this with people I don’t know and I have never met before. After thinking for a while I decided not to apply. 

The next morning as I am getting ready for internship. From the window I watch the trees dance to the rhythm of the winds. Unlike me when I hear the alarm, the trees were thankful of the push that they got from the winds while they were in the humid sleep of summer. I realize that I could write about this. Such beautiful story it would be. I think to myself why miss the magazine opportunity if nothing else I can write about the neighbor’s trees. With that I put on my H&M Erdem designed T-shirt. It is one of my favorites. It is a gift from friend of mine who bought it for only two dollars from a shoplifter. As I watch myself in the mirror, the color of yellow glaze back at my tan dark skin. I come out of my room grabbing the laptop and open my emails. Once again I read the email. I say, Hopefully I will get accepted to it. Inshallah! God Willing. I open the application page with a lazy click. My heart tells me not to but my mind stick me back into filling the application out. It is a game between heart and mind. As I press submit, everything disappear. Now I know for sure that I am not meant to do this so I just put away my laptop. 

A couple days go by when I open my school account to check for new emails. There I see an email from a name I don’t recognize:

We hope you will accept our offer and make the very best use of our program.The next step in our process is to arrange a meeting. Please let me know when you can be available to talk by phone or Skype… Also, I looked you up on Twitter and Facebook and saw some of your posts that show you are probably Muslim and concerned about the mistreatment of Muslims. If you are interested, we are doing a feature package about this exact topic for our September issue. I would be more than happy to give you an assignment.

Extreme excitement and pure joy took over my body, soul and spirit. It is all I can think of at the moment. It is my day. It might be the best day I have had in years. As much as I am eager that they accepted me, I am embarrassed because they had checked my Twitter account where I have tweeted things some very political while the others were humorous and teenage like. They must have seen all the horrible things I have tweeted about Trump, ISIS or other things like them. Despite the fact of having a very mixed feeling, I reply to the director of the magazine back with a huge thank you and decide to take part in the Muslim project. I tell my inner self it is the time to rise above and beyond, I will pitch a beautiful fiction story about an Afghan Muslim Refugee living in Queens. I had developed this character long before. It is based on my Aunt and how she flew Afghanistan when her husband died in bombing by the American army in a small village in Kandahar Afghanistan. We send emails back and forth until we finally schedule a phone call interview. 

On the phone she asks me the reason why I am interested in writing and if I have written before. Nervous and shy I answer ‘I have written many small fiction stories and want to continue to write more of them. It is the first time ever, I am being interviewed on a phone and it is so weird to me that I have to wait for her to ask me questions and I myself don’t know how to initiate anything.Then she asks me if I was ever discriminated against because I was a Muslim. Now things took a huge turn. It is completely fine for me to talk about how I feel as a Muslim living in America. In fact it makes me happy that we have discussions to bring awareness. The problem here was that I have never had such encounters nor did anyone I know. I think to myself that I don’t know anything about how Muslims feel. I am a virgin to discrimination and racism. 

She goes on and asks If I had ever been discriminated in school because of my faith. I think to myself, what is discrimination? How should it look like? Then straight forward I say no I have not had such encounters in my life especially in my school because they are very aware of what’s happening. The conversation takes a while and I am relieved that it ends because I thought I was not going to get the job anyways. I told them I don’t even speak english properly and my vocabulary is weak. Overall, I thought the interviewer was so sweet. Every word she spoke to me was like a rose thrown at me. Since I have never seen her picture, I imagine her as beautiful and sweet as the flower of vanilla with her every word being the red rose that it was. With her being such a fluent speaker from heart, I myself was completely vulnerable too. 

I finally prepare to write the article, I am  so happy because she is allowing me to write a story about my experience as an American Muslim. So I sit down to myself and think about writing about the character based Aunt. The story will look like she is telling the story from her own perspective. I wanted to write something that shows why in the first place one has to leave their county. I finally finish my story and send it to the editor who she had introduced me to in an email. I sent him an email where I talked about how I was excited to be working with him but he never replied to his day. 

It’s been weeks and I have not heard anything neither from the editor-in-chief nor from the personal editor. So I finally decide to contact them by phone because and after a few hours the interviewer contacted me back saying that the editor was wondering that my story did not make sense because the character was a female. I said it was a fiction based on true events. She tells me that this magazine don’t do fiction but all true stories. She asks me if I could write anything from my own life. I am worried because I have nothing interesting or unique to share. 

She calls me the day after. We talk on the phone for a while. She is telling me how busy they were and how the editor was on vacation and could not help me with my draft for so long. Then she talks about how beautiful I write, how amazing my story and characters are. She repeats a line from my article and tells me it is one of the best line she had seen in years by a young writer. I am so happy. I burst out laughing of excitement. I will never forget and will always appreciate when she told me, “With this kind of first draft, you will become a huge star. I loved reading your story.” Now I started to think to withdraw from the program. I literally have no reason to stay because I don’t even like writing true stories in fact I hate writing about my life. But still I could not do it and the reason I could not was that by now I had told Mr. Tony, some of my friends, and family that I was writing a piece for a magazine.

I decide to stay and write something. Something that will exactly draw the picture of me living in America for this one and half of a year. I write about how it felt coming to the united states for the first time. My new home and the high school I went to now. I talk about how Trump’s beliefs and ideas have affected me. How the news was so negative about me and the people I surround. I write, even though I knew that Trump was a bigot since the first month of me living here. I never knew that Islamophobia was a thing. I thought it was just one crazy guy going around telling people that I am bad because of how I choose to dress or pray. But I was so wrong when I realized that all the media thinks of me as a bad and enemy. I learned that there is literally a network dedicated to us which is Fox News. The first time I learned Islamophobia was a real thing in my History class when we were doing a project. As I was researching for this project I see all of this data that many Americans are afraid of Muslims. It was this point that I had realized that it was not only Trump or some crazy guy, it was most of America dehumanizing us. 

Throughout the process of writing the article, I started getting support from a lot of different people. I open the draft that I got back from the interviewer and there are comments from three different people. Some from two people who are new to me. On the email the interviewer says that the others are her bosses and they have to see it too before they can print it. Alright. I am going to live with that, but it is so overwhelming. There are too many questions and comments. All I do is clarify the things that they had asked me to, but then I noticed my writing having  some unnecessary stuff and things that I did not want to write. I delete some stuff because I don’t think that they are related to what I am writing about. I delete a couple of chunks and send it back to the interviewer.

The next evening she calls me on the phone. She asks me that she was very disappointed that I had deleted things. I said that they did not make sense to me and I did not want to put them in. She says to me that the things I had deleted were the best parts of my story and she insisted that I put them back. She told me that she is going to find the draft before and I will just have to do the things that they asked me to do. She is on the phone with me. I almost don’t want to do it but she encourages me to do it and that’s going to be it. So this time as she is she helping I don’t even read anything I just read the comments and only do them. If I don’t know words that I am trying to look for to use, she helps me with it. Finally, I am done with the comments.

Days go by and no response from them. I decide to email them wondering what happened. They replied saying that they are very out of time and there is no time for me to revise it I told her that I want to read if before it’s published and she said okay. However, a week later, I get an email saying that the magazine will go to press in a couple of days. It was congratulating us for our accomplishment. I still thought that she will let me take a look at the article first before they print it. Off course I trusted them. 

Almost a month a month went by but I still had nothing from them. One day I was at a school trip to an award ceremony and there a girl I see is giving out copies of the magazine. She hands me one I was thrilled to see my article. The night of, I started to read my article and there I see some stuff that I did not feel like I put their myself or if I did it was probably a mistake but the point is I think it is not suppose to be there. I was very disappointed that they did not send me the last copy for me to check it before they printed it. I emailed them back to fix this. They said they sorry that it happened but did nothing. I email them again and then again, and then again. No response whatsoever. I asked them to at least fix the online version and update it to the one I want, but they never did.

All of this was such a teachable journey. It showed me how much needed to be stronger to keep my voice. No matter how much I trusted the interviewer and the people helping me, I should not have given all the ownership to them but should have kept it mine. Even if they disagreed a lot, I should have insisted that I won’t sell my voice to promote someone else’s agenda. 

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