By Arooj ZahraArooj Zahra

It was a bright sunny April day in Columbia, quiet as usual on a Saturday in a university town that hosts over 35,000 students.

The Alfred Friendly Press Partners of 2015 had to leave for their host newsrooms in six cities across the United States. I was going to Washington D.C. as I had been placed at the Washington Post.  

Three of us were driven from our hotel to Columbia Regional Airport for a mid-afternoon flight to Chicago. I was to catch a second flight from Chicago to Washington.

We boarded the plane, but before taking our seats, David Herbling and I  took a selfi. (Without knowing that the ‘selfi curse’ would take us in its grip.)

The plane started moving, and while taxiing to the runway our dear pilot took a sharp turn and BAMMMM, one of the wheels of our plane got stuck in the muddy grass. The poor soul tried his best to exert more pressure on the wheel (as if driving a car) but the wheel went deeper and deeper.

After almost an hour we were rescued and escorted back into the terminal. We were told that our flight would take off the next morning at 5, and we were sent back inside the city to the Stoney Creek Inn, the sort of ancient-looking  hotel we have seen in old Hollywood movies where a serial killer would spend the night and end up killing all the people. Good Lord help us.

It was the Easter eve and some other poor stranded souls like us were staying at Stoney Creek. There was no proper kitchen, which meant no food for us except for delivered pizza. I told David that the stupid selfie was to blame for all this, but he was laughing as usual.

I went to bed early as I was tired and had a migraine. But my misery didn’t end there. The hotel’s walls and ceilings are made of wood, which means that whenever the person staying in the room above me would move, I would hear the sound. And the person staying above me was an unsettled soul who was moving around all night. I couldn’t sleep. Finally it was 4 a.m., time to leave the hotel. When we reached the airport we could see our dear plane was still stuck where we left it. The airport was not operational. We took a taxi for about 120 miles and reached the St. Louis airport for a flight to Chicago.

Before taking our seats, David asked me to take a selfi again. I said NO WAY, but he was adamant. Reluctantly, I took out my cell phone and offered a silent prayer and with a heavy heart I took the selfi.

The second selfie with David Herbling broke the curse

The second selfie with David Herbling broke the curse

Luckily, nothing went wrong. We reached Chicago and from there I caught another plane to Washington.

I reached my apartment in Glover Park; it’s a nice comfy place. The next day I had to go to my office and I had no idea where it was and how should I get there. But I took a cab and reached the Post building easily. A colleague helped me find the right bus home. Who says D.C. is difficult to get around?

The next day I was very confident and took the bus to work. I had to get off at H Street. Instead, I got off at Pennsylvania Avenue thinking that the buildings look the same and my office was nearby. How wrong I was.

I started asking people for directions, and they guided me with whatever knowledge they had. After walking for an hour, I thought how about using GPS, but I was told it wouldn’t work because I was near the White House.  

I started walking towards the Washington Monument and I reached the Tidal Basin. The place was packed with tourists. Cherry blossoms were all over the place. For a moment I forgot about going to the office. It was a beautiful day, and tourists from all over the world were there. Children were flying kites, youngsters were taking selfies, some people were reading books while others were just relaxing on the grass.Arooj Washington cherry tblossoms

Suddenly someone bumped into me. She was a tourist from Mexico who asked me for directions to the National Museum. I wanted to laugh out loud that thought, “How can I help her when I am lost myself.” They say if a tourist doesn’t get lost once or twice then he is not a good  tourist.

I took a cab to my office, and told my boss about the ordeal I had to go through. She gave me next two days off and told me to explore the city.

What happened next is another long story. But that was my first encounter with D.C. I know the city really well now and I  think I will survive the next five months easily.