In 8th grade while doing a school project I Googled my dad's name and it came up in US military documents posted on the Snowden/NSA documents on WikiLeaks. I stayed up all night reading through documents related to Army support contracts in Iraq and Kuwait in 2003. I asked my dad about it the next day and he said, "It was a mistake I made that has been resolved." Turns out it hadn't been.
Saudi Arabia in the 2000s wasn’t the most ideal place to grow up. I was always scared of terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda. My school was part of the US Consulate in Dhahran, and when I was in the 8th grade it was threatened by ISIS. Violence has always surrounded me and haunted me.
After 14 years of living in a region destroyed by violence, I was sent away to boarding school in a region known for peace, Switzerland. That year my father was found guilty and imprisoned for the charges related to his Army support contract. I felt as if I was Edgar in Shakespeare’s King Lear and this could not get worse, but yet it did.
My parents got divorced and my childhood home was bulldozed to the ground by the Saudi government after my father was sent to prison. My mom had always been a hub of stability, but she was too overwhelmed to support me. I started eating to cope with my anxiety and gained 100 pounds in a year and a half. As I gained weight, my health started to deteriorate, and my grades started to drop.
Things began to change at the beginning of my sophomore year, however, when I met my new roommate, Nico. He had grown up with someone whose father was also in prison, and was able to help me better understand the issues I was facing. Through my friendship with Nico, I learned how to open up and get support from my friends.
I started to make new friends with more people at my school and was surprised to find out that 90% of their parents were divorced. Because we faced similar issues, we were able to support one and other, share tactics, and give advice. One of my friends, John, gave me advice on how to help my mother emotionally by showing her love, something I hadn’t been able to do before. My friends gave me a family and a home, when my own family was overwhelmed and my home was gone.
Slowly, I put my life back on track. I started playing basketball, began working on a CubeSAT, learned to program, changed my diet, and lost all the weight I had gained.
Now my friends in Switzerland come to me asking me for advice and help, and I feel as if I am a vital member of our community. My close friend Akshay recently started stressing about whether his parents were going to get divorced. With John’s advice, I started checking in on Akshay, spending more time with him, and coaching him before and after he talked to his parents.
Leaving home in the beginning of my adolescence, I was sent out on a path of my own. While for some, high school is the best time of their lives, for me, high school has represented some of the best and, hopefully, worst times. Even with the struggles I’ve faced with my family, I am grateful for this path. It has brought me to a place that I only thought was fictional. In this new place I feel like a real person, with real emotions. This place is somewhere where I can express myself freely and be who I want to be. I am a much stronger, healthier, and more resilient person than I was two years ago. While it hasn’t been easy, I am glad to be where I am today.