Sunday, March 31, 2013

My Inspirational Bus Driver

I dreaded every second of it.

One hour every morning and another in the afternoon, forced to inhale that slight but penetrating smell of exhaust fumes, and attempt to drown the rowdiness of other students through my headphones.

Every time I took those three steps on to the school bus, an unpleasant feeling plagued my stomach. It was a combination of fear heading to a school with students still unknown to me and a hatred for every facet involved in riding Bus 123.

Yet, this same bus became my cocoon - a platform for my metamorphosis during high school - and my bus driver, Mrs. Cathy, helped drive me out of the abyss of my reticence.

A lot had happened in so little time at the start of my high school career. My father was diagnosed with kidney cancer, laid off from his job, and got into two separate car accidents. In the meantime, I was struggling to define myself in my new school. The only time I was liberated from these struggles was on the bus.

One afternoon, Mrs. Cathy broke my routine of sitting alone in the back of the bus by asking me to sit behind her. She noticed I was being reclusive for a purpose, and began to converse with me and ask about my family. From that day on, I never moved back. Every day, I would sit behind her, gradually opening up, transforming, and escaping the prison of my idiosyncrasy.

My perception of Mrs. Cathy would change from viewing her as just my bus driver to an individual who inspired me daily with her genuine compassion. It became much more than just a bus ride; it became a chance to discuss my life, thoughts, and have unique conversations every day with a special person.

I still cannot comprehend how over the years, seated behind her, staring at merely her eyes through her rear-view mirror, has garnered some of the most unusually important conversations of my life.

However, not for one moment do I let the unconventionality of our relationship create doubt on how much influence she has had on me. I continue to walk up those steps and sit in that seat as an extremely fortunate person to have met such a loving, caring, and kindhearted individual.

When people ask me why I am “so close to my bus driver”, I tell them I am not.

I am close to a woman who deserves my utmost respect. She has humbled and continuously motivated me through her inimitable generosity and kindness. She was never obligated to take the time to lend me her attentive ear; it was never a part of her job requirement.

By example, she has taught me the beauty of human interaction; that we must not allow stereotypical preconceptions drive our perceptions of people, and that even the smallest acts of kindness can leave an everlasting mark on a person’s life.


Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Story Of My Twin Brother

My father and I.
You don't get closer than being together in a mother's womb.

Ever since I can remember, I've always had a inexplicably strong feeling of loneliness despite having two of my own siblings. It's an intense feeling of emptiness combined with an endless desire to search for a part of me that's missing.

To this day, I ask the same questions I asked when I was five: what if my twin brother was alive? Would I be doing this right now? Would I look the way I do? Talk the way I talk? Act the way I act? Be the way I am?

Quite often, I even feel guilty. Why was I the one who got the chance to see this world's wonders? Why couldn't it have been the both of us? It isn't fair.

The details of my mother's final pregnancy when she had me have faded in the abyss of memory as time has passed. My mom knew she was pregnant, but not with twins. Yet, it wasn't the first time she had the potential to give birth to twins. Before my eldest sister was born, my mom was pregnant with two boys. She had a miscarriage in September 1988.

From then on, my parents had my eldest sister, Amara, in July 1989, and my other sister, Amina, in April 1992. And another 3 years later, I showed up.

Yet the story of when my mother gave birth to me is one that 90% of the world's population can't understand, because only 10% of people are womb twin survivors - and I'm one of them.

My mother carried my brother and I for three long months. After experiencing months of pain, an ultrasound revealed that she was carrying twins. However, my twin was stuck in the Fallopian tube, and my mother was forced into immediate surgery.

In order for me to survive, the doctors had to perform  an ectopic (tubal) pregnancy - a life-threatening condition to the mother in which the baby stuck in the tube cannot survive.

The risks were very high, especially because my mother had faced complications in the past and in addition, throughout this pregnancy, she was forced to take a lot of medication.

Fortunately, the ectopic pregnancy was successful, but now it was a matter of ensuring that I would be born a healthy baby boy. Studies suggest that when one twin dies, the survivor is more likely to suffer serious adverse outcomes, such as cerebral palsy, gut atresia, and learning disability.

For the following months, I remained alone in my mother's womb.

What had happened in those three months? Despite my brother being stuck in the Fallopian tube and not with me in the womb, I can't help but imagine the consequence of lying inches apart from another human being in an enclosed space - not for 3 hours or 3 days, or weeks, but for over three months. At three months, a baby is only the weight of a banana and the size of two thumbs. Yet, the brain continues to grow new cells and make connections between those already in place. The fetus develops physical reflexes. The eyes are in place, and eyelids are beginning to form. The fetus cannot control its movements, but it can react to stimuli by moving its arms and kicking.

Something had to have happened in those three months. We developed together, despite being in two separate places in my mother's body.

This type of condition is known as a heterotopic pregnancy - a rare complication in which both extra-uterine (ectopic pregnancy) and intrauterine pregnancy occur simultaneously. It occurs in only 1 out of every 10,000 patients.

The prognosis for the extrauterine fetus (my brother) was very poor, having an estimated 90‑95% mortality rate. The mortality rate for the intrauterine pregnancy (me) in such a case is approximately 35%.

After 9 months of intensive preparation, my mother's C-section date was set. I was born on July 9th, 1995 - a seven pound, 21-inch healthy baby boy.

I was pretty chubby.
It amazes me.

Knowing that I could have a brother for all these years that I've lived has carried some heavy emotions. Without a doubt, everything could have been different. Yet, as much guilt and sorrow as I feel, I also feel an overwhelming gratitude.

I'm humbled by my mother's strength to have gone through such a difficult and risky pregnancy to give birth to me. I'm humbled by the thought that I am the only fortunate human being in this entire universe to have witnessed my brother's identity. I'm humbled by the idea that he, just like me and all of us today, would have developed his own unique set of dreams and desires. I'm humbled by recognizing the force that controls this tide of reality - whether a person believes in God or not - that force, that power exists, and it is beyond anything that we could ever conceive.

I'm humbled by the fact that I exist today, breathing the beautiful air of this Earth - living a life that others don't even get a glimpse of, a reality my brother could not witness.

My parents have always called it a miracle, but as I've grown older I've realized everything happens for a reason and a purpose. It's just the way this world works, the way God works.

And for that reason, I'm incessantly grateful to be alive.

This Saturday, I will step on stage to accept an award for Truth from a Teen at a banquet in front of hundreds, but my eyes and thoughts will only be directed towards my parents, my sisters, and God. For the first time in my life, I will be able to feel one of my biggest dreams come true.

Alhamdulillah, I will be the recipient of CAIR-PA's Youth Award at their 7th Annual Banquet on March 16th.
But I won't be on that stage alone. Though science proves otherwise - for me, my brother is alive - in humor (my parents have always called him Badil), and in faith. He's been with me ever since I have been here, because I think about him almost everyday I live. I think of what he would have done to make my parents proud.

As I step on that stage this Saturday and see my parents and sisters in the audience, I know of my responsibility and obligation to make them proud just as much as I know my twin would.

It's a weird feeling, but it's what has made me who I am today and who I will become.