My View: Reflecting on Alexandria

My View: Reflecting on Alexandria

By Sher Alam Shinwari

When I arrived in the beautiful City of Alexandria more than two months ago, I found myself in a dreamland. The very look of the city spellbound me. The lush, green and serene atmosphere welcomed me. Everyone that I bumped into responded as if I had been an acquaintance for decades rather than a foreigner visiting the city from another country.

As I got to know the residents of Alexandria, I grew more and more fond of them and this city. I fell in love with the culture and lifestyle here. I adored my new neighbors’ love and respect for law, nature and peace. These traits erased any stereotypes I might have held and also gave me a glimpse of the American people and their society in general. Their humanism, decorum and dignity are just a few of the qualities that I am happy to admire. I found almost everybody on the Metro, at the market and on the sidewalk to be cooperative, polite and generous.

I met schoolteachers, students, journalists, retirees and local writers. I found them wonderful and inspiring as I discussed a variety of issues with them, including education, literature, culture, music, art and global politics. Every debate left me wiser than I had been beforehand. Initially, I struggled with slang and local accents, but in general I felt quite comfortable with professionals and could get myself across during my conversations with others.

Life in America is fast and mechanized, but spirituality creeps in and imagination encourages people to explore new ideas. This shapes the society and its people. More and more work is the secret behind the incredible success of America.

I always longed for a society where one’s color, race, religion and belief matter not. I yearned for a place where only hard work and tolerance — the willingness to recognize and respect the religious beliefs and practices of others — speaks for you. I was born and raised in a society where the great Gandhara civilization flourished, where peace prevailed for centuries, but, unfortunately, is plagued by militancy and religious bigotry.

I am a Pashtun by ethnicity, which emphasizes tolerance and dialogue. Therefore, my soul soars in a land of perfect peace, a place where people humbly work and serve; admire the ideals of democracy and human values; and exercise patience while standing in queue for their turn. As an example, one day I forgot to take my handbag, which had my wallet in it, from a taxi near a Harris Teeter store. I stood for a while, not knowing what to do. But after three minutes, the same taxi driver came over to return the handbag and my wallet. At another place along Duke Street, a young lady directed my attention to my passport, which had almost dropped from my pocket.

These incidents are minor, but in my view they make a big difference to individuals. The City of Alexandria, in a way, transformed me. I felt more at home here than in my place of birth.

The writer is a teacher and freelance culture reporter with Pakistan’s national paper, Dawn, on a cultural trip to the United States.