After the tiresome and very aggravating flight to our destination, which was delayed in several undesired places, we finally arrived. The time was 1.35 am.
I could feel the heat of the night around my body although I was very tired. The sounds of the night were making me very curious. It was going to be the first time in my life away from my family, away from my friends (except for a few), away from home sweet home. We (seven friends and I) ate at the house of the generous person who came to collect us from the airport. No sooner had we eaten than sleep overpowered us and we could no longer withstand its power. We went to sleep at 2.
00 am and woke up at 6.00 am. We woke up, brushed our teeth and dressed. We climbed into the car of the generous person whose name was Yahya. He drove us to the beautifully lit up mosque of Tampa bay, Florida.I had to pinch myself a couple of times to realise that I was really in Florida.
We looked at the huge and beautiful mosque in awe. This mosque was so vast that there was a football pitch, basket ball court, two large car parks, a canteen, a kitchen, a hair salon, offices, a thrift shop, a park and classrooms for weekend school. There were also the magnificent palm trees. This was all in the mosque courtyard. Across the road was an American state school called Tampa Bay Technical High School. This school was very different from the schools back home; they had an American football pitch, a baseball pitch, a basket ball court, a stadium and a few very large school buildings. At about 2.30 pm everyday, I would see the yellow school buses going one after the other; I found this very peculiar as obviously these are not used back home.
After praying our morning prayers, we were asked by the leader of the mosque to sit by him and to discuss the purpose of our visit. We had gone to lead the prayers of Ramadan because we had a blessing within us. We had memorised the whole of the Holy Qura’an by heart. The leader, who was called Abdur-Rashid, told us that we would be separated into two partners and that we would go to different mosques to lead the prayers.
I was to stay in a room that the mosque had provided with three of my friends. At least there were four of us rather than two. The reason behind four of us staying together was that another mosque was nearby so two of us would travel to that mosque at the time of the prayers and come back to the beautiful mosque everyday after the prayers. Two of my friends went to a mosque in nearby Ocala; they had been provided with a house to stay in. The other two friends were going to a mosque in nearby St. Petersburg and they had been booked a hotel room to stay in. They were all leaving in the morning after the midday prayer.My three friends and I were shown to our room which consisted of four warm beds, a dressing table each, a refrigerator, as we were going to stay for a whole five weeks, a micro-wave and an iron.
We went shopping to fill up our fridge at a nearby Big K -mart and Wal-Mart.That day, after my friends left for their destinations, I had a shower and felt like screaming, “I am in Florida”! We were fasting so we had to bear the scorching heat of the sun without contenting our hearts with a soft drink. Ramadan had started, so now we had to go and lead the prayers at our mosques. My friend and I had to go to a nearby mosque in the area of Gunnhighway at 5.00 pm everyday. After a few days we had become used to the schedule we were going to follow everyday.
We found things in America very different and awkward from England. I knew I was in Florida but to be quite honest I was finding it a bit boring; I figured that I would have to make friends. America is too big; you would not find anyone walking on the streets-all the people would travel in their cars and I don’t blame them.I started to make friends and life in Florida seemed much, much better. Our room used to be visited frequently by our new and interesting friends. They were fascinated by our way of speaking and used to laugh at our pronunciation.
They were surprised that we knew how to use a computer; they actually thought that the English people still lived in the stone ages (the cheek). They used to take us out to visit places around Florida in our free time which happened to be mostly late at night. The roads of America are so huge and the cars are so out of shape; also, the traffic lights are based at the top of the street on a wire instead of being on the ground.I was and am 15 years old and so seeing boys and girls of my age with a driving permit and driving their own state of the art cars quite shocked me, but seeing that all the cars are automatic it seemed quite easy to drive and I understood why. We visited our friends that were in different places frequently and they us. We also kept in touch with our families who were in England. I was quite pleased to find out, from the internet which they provided for us, that Manchester United were doing pretty well.Many of my new friends were mesmerised by our footwork in a sport which they call soccer (better known as football).
The youths of that area used to get together on Friday nights and have a game of basketball, so we decided to challenge them to a game of soccer and they agreed but later regretted it as we lost count of how many goals we scored.We were enjoying the sun of Florida as it was known as the Sunshine State. I met a lot of boys who were my age and was quite fascinated by them as they were much taller and much more well built. After spending more than three weeks in the mosque we became quite used to seeing the beautiful, sophisticated scenery everyday and took it for granted, but I knew in the back of my head that I would miss this place after I returned home.
During our last week of stay we went shopping which was quite different because it was high street shopping at the international shopping plaza which consisted of shops such as Hugo, Hilfiger, Dillard’s, Versace etc. After returning from shopping, our new friends were shocked at the prices of the items that we bought and believed that we English people are plain stupid.Three days before our return we went to Clearwater beach which was exquisite because it was very different to Blackpool beach as Clearwater was very clean and very sterile. The scenery was very calm, with white sand underneath our bare feet. It was not called Clearwater for no reason; the water was exquisite, very much like a lagoon.
We watched the sunset there and had a fantastic time.The day before Eid, we went to the famous Busch Gardens theme park. My friend and I happened to pass this park everyday to and from Gunnhighway as this was on the 57th street on Busch Blvd as well. After entering this park we were astounded by the rides as they looked very daunting. I sat on a ride called Gwazi and made a promise that I will never ever sit on roller coasters again. Thereafter we rode on all the water rides (River Rapids, Tidal Wave etc). I broke my promise when I sat on a ride called The Phoenix, as this ride was more terrifying than a roller coaster. We also happened to meet a few people from England which is always nice.
The day passed in fun and in some cases fright.Ramadan had ended and it was the day of Eid. There was a carnival in the mosque car park. It was beautiful.
There were rides and games for all ages and the whole of the community were together and spent Eid in the mosque. There was a sense of enjoyment around the whole mosque. People were in really high spirits and everyone was eating and really enjoying themselves.
This carnival went on for two whole days and then the dreaded and awaited day came.The day came for us to travel back home and I had a feeling of mixed emotions. Of course I wanted to come home to see family and friends but I had made friends in Florida also. I felt really miserable leaving them and I felt like staying.
I took the e-mail addresses of all my friends and said goodbye. I returned home on a Sunday and was overjoyed to see my family. There’s no place quite like home!I keep in contact with all of my friends in Florida and I hope and pray to visit them next year.