Okay now where did I leave off…
We left Bethlehem early in the morning (5am) to travel to one of the greatest and most well-known cities in the United States and in the world, New York. It was still dark outside as we waited in the cool morning air for our bus to arrive. When the bus came, I melted into my seat and drifted off into an hour-long nap, I awoke to see stretches of highway and trees before me and the faint beginnings of a sunrise in the distance. About a half hour later I could see the iconic New York City skyline and highway lanes swarming with traffic. Approaching the city felt different to me this time. I had never traveled to New York in a large group before and I began to worry about the logistics of our tightly planned itinerary. I looked around the bus for the Indonesian students who were just waking up, their tired eyes brightening as they looked at the foreign city with excitement.
I’ve been to New York several times throughout my life and have enjoyed all of my experiences there. Even though it was early morning the streets were bustling with people. I felt a jolt to my senses as I was suddenly hit with the sensation of being thrown into a crowded school of fish making their way up-stream at near lightening speeds. When ever I travel to a big city I always have to take a minute to adjust my state of mind. I must force myself to make the shift from the slow-paced, kindly, midwestern mentality to the aggressive, hyper-vigilant attitude that one needs to get from point A to point B in a city like New York.
The first place that we went to visit in New York was Wall Street and I finally got my picture with that big Wall Street bull (It probably has a name or something but I don’t know it). We took some time to go into the breathtakingly beautiful Trinity church. As we stopped to marvel at it from across the street, Fulvia (a life long New Yorker) shared with us her account of this area of New York and of the church following 9/11. She told us about how there used to be hundreds of pictures and names of loved ones lost in the Twin Towers on the fences surrounding the church. I could vaguely remember seeing news reports from the very area that we were standing and I couldn’t fathom how hard it must have been to be living in the city during such a difficult time. It was a powerful moment for all of us to reflect 10 years later on such a tragic event.
So after visiting Trinity Church, we grabbed some New York street food and then headed to the New York harbor for a tour of the Statue of Liberty. Despite having been to New York several times, I had never seen the Statue of Liberty up close. It was pretty cool to finally see such a historic and cultural figure but it’s quite a shame that you can’t go up to her crown anymore due to security reasons. And speaking of security, man was it tight (as it should be). But I have to admit that standing around in 90 degree heat surrounded by a snaking line of eager tourist started to take its tole on me and after we got off the ferry I was relieved to be leaving the island. After our visit to the Statue of Liberty, we went to Central Park to have lunch and to discuss this portion of the program. The discussion was led by Lehigh prof Dr. Lloyd Stephen.
The discussion became really interesting when some of the Indonesian students brought their questions about how they could improve the Indonesian understanding and view of America at the grassroots level. I could detect the frustration in their voices as they tried to explain to us the difficulty they were having with thinking about strategies that would effectively reach the people. By the end of our lunch all of us had questions floating around in our minds but none of us really knew what the best answer(s) would be.
After lunch we went to meet with Daisy Khan, the executive director for the American Society for Muslim Advancement. She shared with us stories about her own journey as a Muslim in American society and the identity issues that she faced throughout her life. She explained to us how ASMA works to promote support within and outside of the American Muslim community to improve relations between different groups of people. As she spoke with us I almost became tearful as I felt so inspired by everything she said to us. She spoke to us about the importance of getting to know people and accept them on a human level in order to get past some of the stigmas and negative stereotypes people with conflicting cultures or viewpoints may have.
The Indonesian students asked her about how they could chance negative Muslim ideologies about Americans in Indonesia. She explained to them that the best way to reach people would be to use the basic principles of the Quran as a means of exposing the importance of understanding one another and respecting one another. She told us that much of the recruiting for extremist organisations starts at the grassroots level in places that are the most vulnerable or unstable. However, by providing a counter movement that, through education, could promote understanding and peace you could stop people from getting pulled into such groups. By the end of our meeting with her we were all feeling completely inspired. As we walked to the subway getting ready to make our way back to Bethlehem we were all buzzing with excitement over the multiple epiphanies we had while speaking with such an influential person as Mrs. Daisy Khan.