My first visit to the United States of America was exactly two years before the horrific events of 9/11 in 2001.
I had spent 3 weeks traveling across country as a journalist as part of a print journalism program for international journalists from around the world. We visited large cities and small towns and met amazing people.
But more importantly for me, it was my first real taste of the actual America, the one we grew up watching on television and it was my first time away from home for such a long time, away from family, all by myself.
I was standing in the newsroom at the paper I worked at when I saw the first images of 9/11. I dismissed it as a fluke incident, thinking one of those small planes or choppers somehow lost control and hit it. I wasn't prepared for the magnitude of what was happening.
Later that night when I was home with family, I was in total shock and utter confusion. My brain just couldn't process what my eyes were seeing. To this day, when I try to conjure up moments and images from that day, my mind fails.
For years to follow, I would become paranoid about revisiting the States. After seeing the aftermath of 9/11 ripple across the ocean to reach the rest of the world. Just as Americans thought all of us Arabs/Muslims hated them, I was convinced that all Americans would hate us.
That was, of course, an absurd assumption, on both counts.
Today, on the 12th anniversary of that horrid day, I am here back in the United States of America, as the first from my country to be selected for the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, feeling oddly at home.
People are people no matter where you go. They are not how politicians and religious figure describe them. They are not out there to destroy you, or steal your wealth, or take away your faith, or freedom. And more often than not, they'll be nice to you regardless of how you look.
They are just people, after all.
I read a column which argued if it was time for Americans to let go of 9/11, as the younger generations grow up, having no connection or memories of it. I was in my early 20s when it happened, so it'll always somehow be etched in the back of my mind, but my little nieces and nephews will grow up in a world where 9/11 is a historic event, not a memory.
What scares me is the notion that every generation, it seems, has to go through such a devastating event in history. Be it war, terrorist acts, invasions, natural disasters, revolutions.
The one thing we mustn't forget, as time passes, is that we are all just people.