“Time flies” is the only think I could say after our stay in New York City and Washington DC ended. It was a cold November day when we landed in Detroit, Michigan, but that did not thwart our excitement of meeting our local host families.
A cozy bus ride (with free Wi-Fi!) later, one by one we said our goodbyes to the other ELP fellows as everyone parted ways to spend the next two days with their respective host families. Adiya and I were dropped off in a quiet neighborhood still covered in the hues of autumn. Yellow and orange leaves crunched beneath our feet with every step. Our host family, Alvin and Harriet, an incredible, conversant couple in their seventies, welcomed us with such love and affection that I was reminded of my grandparents. Harriet was full of energy and immediately took us to the riverfront – she wanted us to enjoy the view in daylight. The riverfront was skillfully planned. Harriet told us that she had spent 50 years of her life in improving and developing the riverfront. The artificial wetland, swings, paved walking paths, and parking lots were all beautifully constructed. The Detroit River marked the boundary between the US and Canada, with Ambassador Bridge connecting the two lands. Standing on the paved pathways on the US side, I could see the tall, well-lit skyscrapers in Canada.
After a detailed tour of the riverfront we returned home. Harriet was conscious of the importance of halal food in our religion so she made sure that the food she served was halal. Harriet also invited her friend, Jane, to join us for dinner. Jane was a very polite lady and brought us handmade cards as gifts. Over dinner we had an insightful discussion with our hosts about the bankruptcy and troubling economic difficulties Detroit faced and the dominance of the motor vehicle industry there.
The next day, Alvin and Harriet arranged a city tour for us, during which we also met Fulbright fellows from other parts of the world as they accompanied us on the tour. The tour began with a visit to a Synagogue named Emanu-El. This was my first exposure to Judaism – I eagerly absorbed details and learned a lot about the religion. Some of my observations as I entered the main hall of the Synagogue: towards the front of the hall was a raised dais with a beautifully carved cupboard that secured the Torah – gold doors were opened to reveal an ancient copy of the Torah, organized in columns and written in Hebrew on animal skin (the words on the holy script could only be touched using a pointer as placing human fingers over the words was forbidden); the Ten Commandments were in bold writing on the wall; and Jewish males wore hemispherical caps made of cloth, called a Kippah, as they entered the place of worship.
Our next stop was the Detroit Historical Museum, then on to relish the sights of gigantic baseball and football stadiums, startling architecture of the Fisher and General Motor buildings, astounding homes of the affluent Jewish community, and the street where the iconic Henry Ford lived. One particular sight that stood out in my mind was a giant elevated arch. The arch was made of stainless steel and polished boulders with huge slabs of marbles embedded in them. It stood next to a wide road and the Detroit river. This arch symbolized the labor movement in Michigan, and it was broken at the top, signifying that justice had not yet been reached. The boulders narrated the stories of achievement and sacrifice made by the laborers. Equally fascinating was the bronze ‘Spirit of Detroit’ monument, which was a giant figure seated and holding sun rays in his left hand with a family of three on his right.
The splendid day ended with us having the opportunity to experience ‘Detroit Soup’, which was an event in which four separate development projects were presented for funding by well-versed young entrepreneurs. The projects were aimed towards community improvement and enhancement in Detroit. At the event, attendees eat, talk, share resources, enjoy art and vote on the project they think benefits the city the most (we ELP Fellows also voted). At the end of the night, the ballots were counted – the Community Kitchen project won! The winner goes home with all of the money raised to carry out their project. As the night started to come to an end, I took the time to look up at the sky to allow myself to reflect. However, my mind became lost in what I saw. The inky black night was swiftly taken away by the soft, white cotton balls falling from the sky and within a few minutes everything was blanketed in white, as far as the eye could see.
The next morning, it was time to depart for San Francisco. We said our goodbyes to our caring and thoughtful hosts, Alvin and Harriet. Harriet went to great lengths to make our final morning as memorable as the rest of our stay. She made us delicious pancakes with nuts and fruits for breakfast and handed us farewell letters addressing their fondness of us. They also gifted us some Detroit city posters so that we would not lose touch of the sights. We return the pleasantry by writing our farewell messages in their diary. We left with tender memories of Alvin and Harriet and with the hope that we would meet again, possibly in Pakistan where we could show our gratitude and appreciation by hosting them in our homes. Harriet dropped us off at the Ford Factory where we all witnessed the exciting history of the Ford Motor Company and saw Ford vehicles exhibited in fashionable manner. I was tempted to take one and drive it back to Pakistan, but reality took hold and I later saw myself boarding the plane for our last stop in the US. “Time flies” is what I continued to say as each leg of our wonderful ELP Fellowship US visit came to an end.