Every Story Has A Beginning


Feb 1 2019 · 11 min read

Mine started when I was 10 years old. Yes, the time when glorious jump rope battles were faced in the playground, our lunches shared in exchange for double stuffed Oreos, and freeze tag a test of our endurance, speed, and agility. It was truly the best of times. Little had I known how that year would have the most significant impact in my life to date.

My daily lunch rituals as a 10 year old involved me visiting the library, indulging in friends’ comical little huddles in the corner of the playground, and watching Annie and Mary Poppins on repeat when it was too cold outside. I took life as it came to me. I savored its moments. I believed the World was at its finest, delivering only good fortunes and splendor. I chuckle at the very thought of how naive I was - but it didn’t last very long. One day, the libraries were closed and the playgrounds were replaced with people dressed in blue T-shirts standing against large tables scattered with pens, mugs, brochures and posters. Their shirts dubbed in white text.

“UNICEF”, I read.

Foreshadowment right now would be an understatement.

I approached these tables with intent to learn more about who would so boldly disrupt my natural habitat, better yet, interrupt my pressing routines.  

“All children have a right to survive, thrive, and fulfill their potential - to the benefit of a better world.”

Pictures of children were everywhere. But it wasn’t pictures you’d typically see in regular books or magazines. These children looked distraught, stressed and seemed like they were choosing ultimatums at a very young age. It deeply saddened me. I grabbed the brochure eager to know more about who would be causing such unethical behaviours in leaving behind these small children to tend to themselves.

The young man at the booth saw my face frowned with concern and smiled back at me. “Would you like to donate to help these children?” Of course I did. But my thoughts were too occupied from charity at that moment. Why was this happening? How can people allow this? To learn that people my age and younger did not have privilege to education, food and medicine angered me.

My silence extended its purpose. “The World is an unfair place,” he assured, as though he had read my mind, “but people like us try our best to help.”

He then proceeded to show me what UNICEF had accomplished so far. The aid to nutrition, education, safety and health was enormous. It relieved me to know that someone out there was actually doing something about it.

I went home that night a changed girl, vowing to actively protest corruption. But this is not the story I want to tell you about.

The unexpected moments in life still appear a mystery to me. It’s as if the stars shift in your favor to meticulously align you to your heart’s deepest desire. Have you ever lived life so carefully avoiding any sort of risk at all? Believing there's only one way to live, one talent you have, and one path you follow? Everything I saw fit into a conventional box. A clock that never missed a second, a school that never missed a day, a schedule that never fell astray of its pre-produced routine. I was vigorously running along the footsteps of those before me by the end of high school. I was on the edge of living life half-heartedly just to tick society’s artificially curated to-do list. That is, until I met him.

We had just finished our daily mathematics exercise usually offered to test our quick retention of the multiplication table; one activity I became quite adept at after countless days. As with every 5th grader eager for recess, my eyes gazed at the clock waiting to strike, time going ever so slowly. Mrs. Milne rambled on about our science test the following week, but her voice slowly faded and my thoughts stirred towards the children I saw only a few days ago. It never left my mind.

Doodling aimlessly on my notebook, Mrs Milne’s tone of voice changed after a knock on our classroom door. “I’d like to formally introduce you to your new classmate.” Ah, another new kid. I giggled at the thought, remembering my first day. My eyes lifted and the World suddenly slowed down. Tall in stature, his eyes were large, and his smile coy, with his hair slicked back ever so carefully. I stared mindlessly. He uttered his name but for some reason I didn’t quite hear it. Little did I know this young, innocent boy would create a pivotal moment in my life.

My intuitiveness came out of its shell that day. Today, I embrace it as my sixth sense, a gift my mother passed on to me, and my grandmother before her. For the weeks ahead, my eyes lingered at the sight of him. I had the deepest desire to talk to him, but my shyness kicked in and I never entertained the thought long enough to act on it. We never conversed, neither did we share any common ground, we didn’t talk to the same kids, nor did we play the same games. Months passed and before I knew it, I transferred schools and I never saw him again.

8 years had passed and my University career excelled as I attended my Art History classes. I hadn’t done a lot of soul searching prior to University, but I strongly believed I had a passion for historical paintings, architecture and relics. My dream at the time was to become a renowned museum curator, one that worked effortlessly to preserve and showcase iconic works. It was a pretty dream, snobby, but pretty. The only problem was I only started dreaming of it because I was studying for it.

My eyes dwelled on the slide of Napoleon I on His Imperial Throne by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres. My professor spoke highly of this artist, dubbing him as one of the most revolutionary artists at the time. Ingres aside, I continued to study the subject itself, Napoleon Bonaparte. The audacity this little man had was quite inspirational. He had a fire in him that never went out. And to see him seated on a throne so magnanimously was refreshing. Critics at the time scoffed at the painting, noting it as unrealistic and condemning it to imperialism, rather than a leader who stood humbly with his people.

My thoughts returned to reality when my blackberry buzzed, notifying me about a message from a friend back in my hometown. His endless spiel about his commitment to losing weight was, at this point, becoming a bore. Act on it, I thought. I continued to offer him my support, hoping he one day achieves what he sorely aches for. I was beginning to lose interest until he mentioned a name I haven’t heard in several years. “He works out all the time, I’ll probably just ask him if he can offer me any tips.” The name rang a bell in my head and I couldn’t resist but ask him questions. “If you don’t mind,” I asked, “would you be able to ask him if he went to X elementary school?”

The long awaited reply felt like forever, but he confirmed to me that it was indeed the same boy that struck me 8 years ago. As it turns out, he remembered me too.

My conversations with him were brief at first, reminiscing what our minds could only remember as 10 year olds, but we slowly began to speak more often. His pursuit however is what intrigued me most.

“What can you do with that degree?”

“Well, the spectrum is huge really. It can range from risk management to working with non profit organizations, to even working with intergovernmental organizations like the United Nations.”

For some reason, I felt a heavy weight in my chest. I wasn’t quite sure what it was, but it hurt. Have I chosen the wrong path? I contemplated for days on the thought as I studied the menacing gargoyles in gothic architecture. No, I love this stuff.

The strange feelings had passed, and exams were slowly approaching. Memorizing 150 sculptures, paintings and architectural buildings was no easy task. Each work of art had a story of its own, a purpose, and a legacy. Ofcourse, the word art here would be a conventional term considering these artifacts date back to 25,000 BCE; one thing that never failed to astound me.

I picked up my Blackberry only to find a message from him.

Hey Seyma,

Call me ASAP. I need to ask you for a favor.

Funny enough, my heart fluttered as I read the text. What on Earth could he ask of me?

“I can’t seem to wrap my head around this assignment, Seyma. The professor wants full details on this case study and I’m not too sure how to present it.”

I asked him to send me what he had done so far, along with the Professor’s requirements of the assignment. I always aligned the criteria with my work.

I opened the file: Hurricane Katrina  

Oh God, he can’t expect me to actually help him complete this assignment. I’m just an Art History student. “Please, I know you’re good with words. If you could just help me organize the information, I would really appreciate it.” His request was a bit out of the ordinary, but I saw no reason not to help.

“I’ll try my best.” I replied.

My eyes widened as I read the document. Hurricane Katrina, a Category 5 hurricane, sustained winds of 170 km/h and made landfall over the southern Louisiana Coast, killing 1,800 people in its path.

For the rest of the night, I found myself typing, editing and reading intensively about the misfortune that had tainted New Orleans so aggressively. These poor people, I thought. I looked up evacuation measures, shelters, transportation - any sort of measure that could have helped save these people’s lives. The measures were there, but it drastically fell apart before the storm hit. The traffic after the mandatory evacuation had clogged up from people leaving their own homes that busses couldn’t get to New Orleans on time. The city’s Office of Emergency Preparedness had then decided to designate the Superdome as a place for shelter, a location much closer to New Orleans, as well as a last resort in such a short time constraint. Luck, however, was not on the people’s side. As soon as the storm hit, the levees broke and the busses intended to transport hundreds of people were underwater.  

Hours passed and my eyes slowly began to close as I finished up the assignment. What time is it?  

I gazed at the clock. 5:53 AM

I sent him back the email and fell into my bed, tired, but inspired.

“You shouldn’t have done that, you really went out of your way.” I read that morning. I assured him it was nothing, and that I made a subtle discovery while revising his assignment. I further researched about the program he was in. I really want to make a difference in this world, too, I thought. Next thing I knew, I had applied for a degree transfer. If I get in, it’ll be a sign I’m destined for something greater.

6 months passed, and my anxious thoughts towards my degree transfer application lessened with each day that went by. The end of May was nearing and I had to decide what courses I needed to take during the Summer semester to complete my program on time. High Medieval Art and Architecture, well that sounds interesting...it’s also the only Art History course they’re offering this summer. As I logged in to enrol, I noticed something out of the ordinary. My program had changed. WHAT?! All my hard work, gone!

Congratulations! You’ve been admitted to the Bachelor of Disaster and Emergency Management program.  

And could you not have, perhaps, notified me of such a change? I was furious. I called the school to confirm, perhaps it’s an administrative error.

“Nope, that was the program you applied for. Since you’re already a student here, the degree transfer happens immediately after the review of your transcript is done. Congratulations!”

I hung up the phone, irritated by the series of events that just happened. I mean, everything I did the past few years, gone. I have to start all over again. My parents weren’t even aware of the situation, but their eyes lit up as soon as I told them.

I went to bed that night confused. I’m leaving behind everything I’ve believed in since I was a kid. A future in the arts, a career that I firmly believed was to be my destiny, all gone. Evaporated before I had the chance to say or do anything. I still had time to go back, but something told me not to. My calling involved something of a more humanitarian nature.

At the end of the day, my destiny was made by my decisions. If I had not met the boy in 5th grade, I would have never remembered him 7 years later. Better yet, I would have never been introduced to this program.

Fate is what puts opportunities in front of us, but our destiny is determined by our decisions.

Seyma KokashComment