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svgfahmesvgJuly 6, 2023svgMemories

PFP Blog 1- Weather Update

[During the fateful Spring of 2023, I was nominated as one of the Professional Fellows by the US Department of State. I got invited to participate in an entrepreneur exchange program in the USA. It is called Professional Fellows Program (PFP) and my partner organization was the University of Oklahoma which matched me with a similar entrepreneur in Oklahoma to expose the professional side to me, and the beautiful people from the partner organization OU took us everywhere for cultural exchange. Eventually, it became an adventure of a lifetime. Here goes the detail of it in phases.]
I was pretty shaken after the 30-hour-long journey across the globe. That journey included catching a plane within 30 minutes in transit in one of the largest airports after you get there for the first time. The last transit was in Dallas though. That is where we touched down on US soil for the first time. As soon as the excitement started to kick in, we got into the immigration line. I was the first one to volunteer. We had a J1 visa and as soon as the officer saw it, he moved me to a secondary checking room. He took my passport and DS 2019 copy with him, leaving me stranded in a sad room filled with depressed people waiting to be processed. As a part of my reflex, I logged on to the Wi-Fi and informed Elanie of my dire situation. (Elanie is the supreme commander of our program, and she scares people with her faces and looks. In reality, she has one of the kindest hearts this world has ever seen.) It was not the checking I was concerned about but missing the next flight and attending to my luggage which was floating around somewhere in the belt waiting for me and weeping. The room had all sorts of diversity in it. From Mexican people wearing full Mexican dresses to Asian girls wearing a full Burqa - it had every breed in it. Nobody was talking. Nobody was scrolling their phones. It was…weird. After 25 long minutes, they called my name. I went to the counter and took my passport from a different officer sitting behind the glass. She didn’t ask me a single question. With that, the secondary check was completed, and I was allowed to enter, without breaking a sweat! (Well, not really, if you count the waiting time and tension associated)
I took my luggage, put it in the belt, and reunited with my fellow countrymen who anxiously awaited my return at the gate of the next plane. We had time, so decided to explore a bit. The shopping part was super confusing in duty-free as we couldn’t really decide on buying anything really fast. MSI bought water, the rest of us looked for so many things and ended up buying nothing eventually.
Some of us kept searching for specific zones in the airport. After every 5 minutes, they would be like, “Bro, can you see the zone?” At some point, I decided to put a stop to this madness and asked some shop owners about the zone. Guess what? Dallas airport didn’t have one!
It was time to board the flight, we couldn’t decide on what food to buy, so ended up finishing the ones Ifran bhai brought with him from home. The flight was super brief, and we landed in Oklahoma in no time, really. Elanie was there to greet us with a wholehearted welcome! Man, she was so relieved to see me, considering the logistical nightmare they would have had to face in case the officers messed with me any further.
3 of us got into Elanie’s car after we got our luggage. The other 2 volunteered to go with Kathy. Kathy Adams has been managing the logistics of this program for more than a decade now. She has a grandma shark sticker on the back of her phone that looks very cute! Anyway, Elanie’s car was super cool as we delved into all sorts of conversations, including the sightseeing of the Saturday party people who were roaming around the campus. The campus of OU was stunningly beautiful! Lots of greens everywhere with clear sky and air. It really felt like we were in a new place.
Well, soon afterward we arrived at the Sooner Duplexes, our home for the next 30-odd days! It felt so amazing to see these little cute cottages and their beautiful surroundings for the first time. Our roommates were yet to arrive as they don’t allocate a roommate from the same country, and we were the only ones to arrive by then. Kathy gave us our phones with sims (legend says they mainly do it for tracking us). After receiving the keys and other mandatory items, we went for lunch! They asked what we wanted to eat, and we decided to eat at a traditional American diner! Turns out there’s one nearby (nearby means 25 minutes walk at least!) and we drove there. We ordered burgers. I got myself Dr Pepper as a drink and I liked it, although it was not the most popular choice on the table! The ambiance and the decor of the diner were lovely. It was called “Boomerang Diner” and it had pictures of legendary celebrities hanging on walls that made the place look vintage. 
We were free for the rest of the evening. It was very odd to see people calling at 4.30 pm an evening and when the sun was still up and running. The sun didn’t go down until 8.30 pm which was super alien for us as well. But the sunset was beautiful! Some of our friends from other countries were arriving in short groups and Elanie and Kathy were occupied getting them sorted. I was charged with the solemn duty of opening up the official WhatsApp group. As it happens, last time they struggled a lot to get everyone onboard, so this time, they let somebody who is super enthusiastic about communication do it.
We thought about having a stroll. We had checked the weather some time ago, and it showed that there were possibilities of rain at 9 or 10 pm. We started walking in the direction of the diner because it was the only road we properly knew, and also we saw a 7-Eleven and a Walmart there. There were vast lands laid across both sides of the road. On one side, there was a golf court, couple of baseball grounds, and a park. On the other side, just an empty horizon except for the headquarters of the campus police. Under clouds and the layer of darkness, it felt epic. Almost like a classic American horror-adventure movie right out of our TV. Halfway through the walk, I get a call from Disha. She was my student long ago and has been living in Oklahoma for the past few years. She was also my guide in the prep for this trip. She was calling to ask me if I checked the weather. I confidently say that I did, an hour back and the rain was not supposed to come until 10. She urges me to check the app again. I look into it and to my surprise, I see it says it should be raining anytime now! Apparently, you have to check for weather updates in Oklahoma every time you plan to go out and cause it changes rapidly. At a fix whether to go back home or start running toward our destination, we chose adventure. The idea was to take shelter from the rain in Walmart. They say fortune favors the brave. Rightly so! We reached Walmart unscathed. We grabbed a few trolleys and went in. Less than 60 seconds after entering, I saw a girl approaching me from a distance. I knew that face.
It was Nushra! 
Nushra was one of our colleagues at Battery Low for a few years. I knew she was in OU since I gave one of her recommendation letters to her when she was preparing to apply for Masters’ here. I would have knocked her eventually anyway, but I didn’t expect to bump into her on our first outdoor excursion! It was a sweet surprise!
The reunion had to be cut short because Kathy got scared that we were stranded in the rain somewhere and since it was our first day, she didn’t want to risk anything. She chose to pick us up immediately, and I went out in the driveway. But I texted another friend of mine, Momin who studies at OU already to meet. He was also on his way. So, I met Kathy, then got out of the car, said a brief one-minute Hi to Momin and his friends, and then hopped back on into the car back to the duplexes! I didn’t get to buy anything, that’s a shame. But met so many people in the span of a few minutes, with a thunderstorm that never came.
That was quite a fast few hours for a first day in the States, wouldn’t you agree?
Well if you do, wait till you read the rest of the blogs! It only gets faster and more furious after all!

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