Hippos at Church Camp

      Everyone has experiences in their life that they’ll remember forever. It could be your first kiss, getting your first job, or being admitted to your dream college. These moments leave an impact on us by allowing us to grow, learn, and most importantly, live.  One of the most memorable experiences of my life so far was the time I spent at a church camp in Iowa. 

      I know. It seems normal. Church camp? The same church camps that thousands of kids go to every summer? You may be wondering how that could possibly be one of the most memorable experiences of my life. You’re probably also thinking how hippos have anything to do with a church camp in Iowa. Also, Iowa? I know. What a random place to go to church camp for the first time. 

      Well, no matter how random of a place it is, I went there. Before I get ahead of myself, let me give some context. The summer before my junior year, my mom had gone to Bangladesh for a month. This was the first time I was away from her for this long and she made sure to pack my schedule for the summer. I visited Bethany beach, stayed with my sister in Philly, and went to church camp I had never planned on going to church camp in my life, let alone in Iowa. Me, being a Muslim boy from Northern Virginia, never in a million years had thought I would agree to this trip. My friend had convinced me to go to his summer church camp with him and explained to me how there were fun activities and sports to play, so I decided to step out of my comfort zone and agreed to go. 

      Now that we’re up to speed on why I went to church camp, I have one question. “Have you heard about the hippo problem in Colombia?” I know it’s a random question, but it’s crucial you know about this interesting story in order to truly encapsulate what church camp meant to me. I consider myself a very social and outgoing person, and this is my go-to ice breaker. The infamous Pablo Escobar was a huge fan of animals. With his wealth, he created his own zoo. He imported giraffes, elephants, zebras, but most importantly, four hippos. When the Colombian law enforcement killed Escobar, the government reclaimed his estate. They distributed all the animals to other zoos. Except, no one took the hippos and they were left free to roam. Because of Colombia’s environment, they thrived and repopulated rapidly. I’ve always been fascinated by the hippos because I can relate to their situation which is why I bring up this topic when meeting new people.

      Although I have gained a few quarantine pounds, that isn’t a characteristic I share with the hippos. These hippos were put into a new environment and adapted so well that they ended up thriving. Like the Colombian hippos, I was once put into an extremely different, new environment. 

      Now, back to this extremely different, new environment known as Graceland University in Lamoni, Iowa. “Have you heard of the hippo problem in Colombia?” These are the words I said to someone I had just met at camp. People from all over the country were at this camp. At first, I was a little uncomfortable. No pun intended, but thank God my best friend was with me. However, this uncomfortable feeling didn’t last long. Because I put myself out there, I  met so many new people. From new roommates to basketball teammates from Texas to friends from Iowa, I developed life-long connections.  I felt so welcomed and even led a prayer during our morning classes. Every morning we had a class focused on self-growth. I thoroughly enjoyed these because they helped me gain confidence and develop new perspectives on things such as insecurities, success, and hardships. This experience also helped me learn how to connect with people of different cultures and religions. This open-minded mindset will help me tremendously in building relationships and growing as a person throughout the rest of my life. Like the hippos, I was put into a new environment and adapted. I was able to thrive at this camp and grow towards becoming my best self. 

      It’s humorous to me how my love for animals and binge-watching the Netflix show “Narcos” has led me to discover such a creative story that I both relate to and have used to help me in social situations. Even as an extrovert, I sometimes have some anxiety meeting new people. I’m glad that I always have this in my back pocket to help me break the ice. My time at church camp and my random story about hippos in Colombia have shown me that in life, the best experiences may sometimes be the ones where you’re not comfortable. As my psychology teacher always says, “Get comfortable being uncomfortable”. I encourage you to push yourself. Step out of your comfort zone in life. With many of us seniors going to college next year, I challenge you to get comfortable being uncomfortable. You never know where life will take you, but if you welcome the uncertainty and the discomfort of new environments and experiences, it sure will be a great ride.