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Sara Al Mheiri: Ugly duckling
October 10, 2014
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We walked back briskly. Our arms linked and clutching onto our chests trying to retain our body heat from the harsh Boston wind. It was a quiet evening with only a few students scattered around the street. She broke the silence. “Wow, who would have imaged that you would be living here. In America; New York and Boston none the less.”

My mouth slowly slid into a small grin but before I could reply, she continued. “The most shocking thing is the fact that you now have a choice between a variety of good looking, put together guys and not just that one guy you guess you’ll have to settle for!”

Now before you judge her for that blunt comment, you have to know, she has been one of my best friends for over six years. We first met in high school but didn’t truly acknowledge each other until an entire year later.

The reason being was that I belonged to a different crowd. The group that was never really included with the rest of the year. The slight outcasts who could only long to be a part of that community, but would have to settle to just observing from a clear distance.

It was obvious why I was in that group. I had a mustache that any pre-pubescent boy would stare in awe and jealousy of, my hair didn’t have any real style, it just hung there awkwardly until the heat made it frizz. I didn’t have even a shred of fashion sense, to my mother’s dismay, and discarded all the clothes society would deem ‘cool’ for plain shirts and jeans.

I just didn’t care what people thought of me in general - I mean, of course there were times I was very self-conscious but in general, I thought I was ‘alright.’ I preferred spending my time in the library with a great book than have to make conversation about subjects that I didn’t see fit wasting my breath on.

It wasn’t until I finally got the courage that I had been trying to muster up every drama class since year 7 to get up and join in the improv section of class.

The minute I stood up to enter the circle, I could see from the corner of my eye, the class drew their breath. I opened my mouth and the first thing I said made the class laugh. With me. Not at me.

So I said another line and continued on for the next years of high school when during graduation, I was given the “Funniest person award.” I went from the weird Arab girl to Sara, a funny, sort of cute girl.

By the time I graduated, my social life had grown immensely, the mustache was discarded and I finally grew into the person I always knew I was meant to be.

That tiny ounce of confidence from that one drama class years ago flourished from the girl who was too shy to put her hand up in class sometimes to the young woman who flew over 10,000 kilometers to the US for university. A country she knew nothing about nor had any friends in.

Yet fast-forward three years later and here I am walking down the streets of New York City whilst on the phone to my friends making plans for our upcoming weekend. Wearing an outfit that people actually stop me in the street and ask me about!

Now a few years ago, if you asked me to describe my love life, I would have cackled and perhaps even peed my pants from hysterics. I didn’t have one. Why would I? I will reiterate for the third time people, I had a mustache. One my father wished his only son could grow.

So when I came to America and the first few days boys were flirting with me, I was confused and dazed. When I was first called pretty, I was determined to marry him; I thought that chance would never happen again. Yet, I was wrong and boy was I glad!

So when my best friend flew over from Dubai to Boston and finally saw my new life, she slow clapped out of admiration. My life was finally where I wanted it to be. I was on the right track.

But I never forget the awkward fourteen-year-old Sara. She makes me appreciate every new aspect of my life yet keeps me humble. Especially when I begin to get too cocky, the five o’clock shadow above my upper lip begins to appear.

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Sara Al Mheiri is a young Emirati woman who is currently living
in Boston, USA, where she is specialising in media studies with a
focus on women's studies. Sara is the ultimate nomad who flits
between countries observing new societies and their culture.

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