Six Blocks from bin Laden Compound: Centre senior reflects on path from Pakistan to KY graduation

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by Ibrahim Jadoon

This past Thursday was an interesting anniversary for me. Two years ago, on May 1st, 2011, at about 10pm, I was working on a paper when a friend texted me; he wrote, “they caught bin laden; obama’s gonna have a press conference.” I looked online and found the broadcast. President Obama said, amazingly, we had found him after a decade of searching—and we found him in Pakistan. I was born in Pakistan, in a small, mountainous town in the northeast. In fact, Eastern Kentucky’s mountains are what made my dad want to move here, because the hills and mountains reminded him of home.

Ibrahim Jadoon is a Centre College graduating senior and Fulbright Scholar who was born in Abbottabad.

The broadcast continued; President Obama said, “Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.” When I heard that town’s name, “Abbottabad,” I remember thinking, “hmm…that doesn’t sound familiar…gosh, this is a little embarrassing, I don’t even know what province that’s in!” I found a transcript of the speech, hoping it might give a map, but then I saw the town’s name spelled out. President Obama, like most other Americans, pronounced the town’s name as “uh-bot-a-bod.” But no Pakistani calls that town “Uh-bot-a-bod” or even “Abbot-a-bad,” even though it’s named after an Englishman named Abbott. In Pakistan, it’s actually pronounced “abt-ta-bad.” Why do I know all these things about Abbottabad? I was born there and our house is about six blocks from bin Laden’s compound.

Of course, it’s an utter coincidence—I just happened to be born there. But, that night made me think. I realized I was lucky to be here in the United States. Of course, most people in Abbottabad are wonderful, kind, and peace-loving. I feel confident knowing I would have been brought up well by my loving parents if we had stayed. But, this little coincidence, this little connection of my life in Danville, KY, to something quite bigger, reminded me that there was a chance my family might not have moved to the United States. There was a chance I might not have gone to college.

That night it seemed like someone suddenly put a mirror in front of me and made me examine myself and how I got to be where I was. It was reflective—if you didn’t get the mirror analogy. I realize this example might not be the most relatable. But, if you’ve ever done service or met someone whose life seemed a little harder than yours—whether here, at home, or abroad—you’ve probably had one of those moments where a mental mirror suddenly appeared. For example, I volunteered in an HIV/TB clinic in South Africa the summer after my first-year at Centre. On the last day I had an urge, an urge I don’t get that often, to write a poem…of sorts. If you’ll indulge me, here’s a little bit of it:

Today, I met a man who had not seen his family in 61 years. Yesterday, I couldn’t wait to see my family after four weeks.

Today, I met a blind woman with diabetes, breast cancer, and hypertension and she greeted me with a smile. Yesterday, I had trouble getting out of bed.

Today, I met an HIV+ man who had come to the clinic two days ago with a headache; today, I carried his body into the morgue. Yesterday, I was afraid to say hello to someone on the sidewalk just in case maybe they wouldn’t like me.

These are the types of events we usually associate with reflection, these epiphanies. Ostensibly, moments like that seem few and far between. But, the most impactful lesson I’ve learned at Centre is that reflection isn’t tied to “life-changing moments.” Every day is reflect-able and deserves reflection Why? Each of us made somewhere between 70 to 35,000 decisions today (the number varies a little bit depending on what study you look at). We decide how much time to give ourselves, how we talk to other people, how we think about stress, what we want, what we eat, what’s a priority and what’s something we can leave for later.

For example, one day last semester, I had one of these particularly reflect-able days. I realized that sometimes I felt relieved just to sit alone in my room and simply think. I realized I am an introvert—I kind of like hanging out by myself. I really do recharge when it’s just me alone. I realized it was perfectly normal that I am an introvert and it wasn’t something to feel guilty about. That’s just me. Reflection doesn’t always have to change our actions, but can instead change our thinking.

Centre President John Roush on the eve of the 2012 Vice Presidential Debate in Danville.

President Roush’s maxim, “Do your best. Be your best. No regrets” is deeper than I gave it credit for initially; at least for me, now I’ve realized it’s beautifully complex. As a BMB [biochemistry and molecular biology] major, I like beautifully complex things, trust me. Or maybe I’ve made something simple very complex, something I’m apt to do. But, let’s assume for a minute I’m right. Initially the quote seems like an inspirational proverb, maybe a pick-me-up for a rough day, maybe a boost for finals. It fills that role well, but I think it has quite a bit more to offer. I realized that, if we wanted to frame this quote, we wouldn’t put a picture above it. Instead, we’d put a mirror. This quote won’t answer many questions, but instead it will make you ask the right ones. Am I happy with how I spend my time? Who am I becoming? Have I done something for myself lately? Can I do everything I want and still be happy? The answer to that one is probably “no,” speaking from personal experience. Did I leave my comfort zone today?

Talking about comfort zones, I went to Air Guitar [an annual party] for the first time a few weeks ago. Hey, I’m an introvert, remember? It was a blast, at least for the 30 minutes I was there. Made me wonder about not going the last three years.

But, sometimes the quote brings up uncomfortable questions. For example, am I a part of a majority, whether by gender, age, income, religion, nationality, race, hobbies? If so, does that membership give me certain responsibilities? Or maybe does it give me privileges? Or maybe both? Am I bystander when something wrong happens? From vandalism to gender violence to oppression to disrespect. Am I ethically consistent? Is it acceptable for me to buy things that aren’t produced in a way that respects the workers as human beings? Am I actually obligated to vote? And, this is my favorite “uncomfortable” question because it actually stopped me from procrastinating a few times: “Would the five-year-old-you look up to the person you are now?”

When I came to Centre, I heard and attempted to internalize at least the “no regrets” portion of President Roush’s quote and I wound up doing lots of unexpected, but kind of really cool things. I starred in a YouTube series where I was without a shirt in one episode (ladies: please, see me later), I volunteered at a Vice Presidential Debate, I danced on top of a bar in Turkey (hey, I have a penchant for some of Eminem’s songs), and I mentored a boy at Toliver, where I taught him to tell time and he tried, he tried so hard, to teach me how to throw a spiral.

Internalizing “No regrets” can actually be a communal activity. I discovered a few years ago that older people, I mean wiser, are usually a little better at reflection. Now, I’ve realized that asking someone if they have had any regrets is, first, a rather personal question, but also one that often yields thoughtful advice.

Now, I don’t want to give the impression that I am some great reflect-er—there have been plenty of times in my life when more reflection would have been well advised. Like, when I decided not to study abroad my senior fall because I was going to apply to medical school, but then I realized mid-summer I didn’t want to go straight to medical school. No, it’s OK; I actually really like Danville, Kentucky. Now that I’m getting older, I have begun to reflect more often and it’s definitely a great thing, so I want to share this slice of happiness with you all.

During one of these quiet moments, I questioned whether “wishing for the weekend” was a good thing—did I really not care about the other 4/7ths of my week? Was that actually bad? A friend recently said this thought process might be why college seems to go so fast: we want the weekends to come faster, and eventually, one day they do.

Centre students are pretty smart. We are the TED talk watchers, the dinner table philosophers, the “let me prove you wrong” debaters, though, on some days, the hard-core procrastinators. But, after reflecting, I’ve realized I should reflect even more! I reckon our lives and the world would be better off if we spent a little more time reflecting and a little less time doing “things.” A Buddhist monk advised me during a dinner my first-year I should be more mindful, meaning I should fully experience the present moment. I should feel my body sitting in a chair, hear the up-and-down cadence of my professors, see the whiteness of the clouds, and even feel the pressure in my feet when I walk.

A few weeks ago I read a list of the most common regrets of the dying, as recorded by a hospice nurse. The number one regret of the dying was, “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” Those people with that regret are probably the same people who kept thinking, “Well, I’ll reflect tomorrow. I don’t have time to seriously reflect today.”

After so-called “turning points” in our lives, we usually ask “what if?” What if my parents hadn’t reflected thoughtfully about their lives and stayed in Pakistan? What if I had been born in another town? What if I never visited South Africa? But, we can ask the same “What if?” questions about our lives every day: What would happen if I left my comfort zone? What would happen if I made tomorrow the best day it could be?

I’d like to end with a quote: “Look, if you had one shot, one opportunity, to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment, would you capture it or just let it slip? Yo.”

Ibrahim Jadoon will graduate from Centre College on Sunday, May 19, 2013, as a recently naturalized U.S. citizen, then head to Malaysia as a Fulbright scholar. This essay was adapted from his recent speech at Centre’s  2013 Honors Convocation.

Centre College, founded in 1819, is a nationally ranked liberal arts college in Danville, KY. Centre hosted its second Vice Presidential Debate on 10.11.12. Click here for related Ace archive.

Ibrahim Jadoon, Class of 2013
BY DIANE JOHNSON

Ibrahim Jadoon ’13 is one of three Centre College seniors who won a Fulbright Fellowship to spend the next year abroad. He will be in Malaysia as an English language teaching assistant. A biochemistry and molecular biology (BMB) major from Richmond, Kentucky, Jadoon says he was attracted to Malaysia by its “incredible diversity,” both the biological diversity and also the religious diversity for a Muslim-majority country. Most Muslim-majority countries are something like 90 percent Muslim, he explains. Malaysia is more like 60 percent, with a large Buddhist minority population and smaller populations of Hindu, Christian, and other religious groups. He is eager to see “how the government interprets Islam and how they make it more inclusive,” he says.

Originally from Pakistan, Jadoon finds it interesting that his first language, Urdu, shares the odd word with Bahasa Melayu, the national language of Malaysia. However, he appreciates that his Fulbright orientation will include basic language study.

Like many BMB majors, he had long planned on a medical career. But for him the Fulbright is no mere gap year. The chance to teach is what initially attracted him to the program.

Health-related internships in South Africa and Ecuador after his first and second years at Centre convinced him of the importance of approaching medical issues not just through treatment of an individual’s immediate problem, but through public health’s emphasis on prevention.

“As a medical doctor, you treat at most 30 or 40 patients a day,” he says. “But then I thought, how I can have a bigger impact? It’s through educating people about health.”

Among many pursuits at Centre, Jadoon cites his four years mentoring a local schoolboy and his work with the campus social justice organization CentrePeace as having been particularly influential. From his mentee and now friend, he learned that he could effect real change in at least one person’s life. And while he acknowledges that the United States suffers from a challenging wealth of public health problems, he believes, in part because of his work with CentrePeace, that he will find his calling on the international stage.

“There are lot of injustices in the world,” he says. “I think I can do a lot more if I go abroad.”



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