Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Night in Times Square

By Namo Abdulla -- for Rudaw

Wearing colorful party clothes, some arrived at 7 a.m. to secure a good position from where they could see the famous midnight ball dropping on New Year’s Eve in Times Square.

By midnight, nearly a million people had decided that it was worth it to spend the last minutes of 2011 in the reveling square. For a long time, I had wished to be one of these people attending the New York’s largest New Year gathering.

In Iraqi Kurdistan, I had only seen and heard of it on television. Watching people dancing and wearing hats and glasses displaying the numerals of the New Year had given me the impression that New Yorkers had great lives.

It was part of the heavenly image of henderan “abroad” which many Kurds, including me, had longed to be a part of. Many of my friends and relatives equated living in henderan with living without sadness. (Though the word henderan was more often referred to Europe than America, given its geographical location.)

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, many Kurds found it was worth risking their lives to be smuggled by unknown people on illegal boats through Turkey’s Aegean Sea to Greece. Hundreds died before reaching their destination.

But here I was now in America, attending a New Year’s Eve party in the Big Apple, a nickname with which I had become familiar with thanks to a British teacher in Kurdistan. Though I’m yet to understand exactly why it’s called as such, I felt the analogy on New Year’s Eve.

Accompanied by another Kurdish student, I headed to Times Square finding fluorescent lights and Christmas decorations on avenues which police barricaded -- taking people’s freedom of movement for security, a notion that I had been indoctrinated with in Iraq.

“Are you guys also Kurdish?” asked a random Kurdish man curiously, interrupting a Kurdish-language conversation I had with my friend. It was a moment as thrilling as unexpected to meet a fellow countryman in a city whose multi-ethnic nature is as old as its diversity.

He was speechless and happy about it as well, seeing how happy people looked in the fast-approaching new year. One of Roland Emmerich’s movies, 2012, strengthens the eschatological belief that it would see cataclysmic events.

Putting aside all grievances was what I felt in people regardless of their economic status. One man who appeared to be homeless, a poor street vendor, for instance, was shouting on Broadway: “I love you… I love you.” In the Square, people were expecting Lady Gaga and Justin Biebier to sing, marking the demise of a certain year and birth of an unknown one.

It was around 8 p.m. when I arrived in Times Square to see people shoving and pushing to get closer to the sight of the ball dropping in four hours. Not long after I came out of the subway, parts of which were again closed by the police, it was clear that I would not be a witness to it. But missing the ball dropping here didn’t actually sadden me as it would have in Kurdistan, because for me the Big Apple now means having options more than anything else.

* Follow the author on Twitter at #namo_abdulla, or email him at: naa2138@columbia.edu

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