Courtney T. Ball

No One is Normal

Photo by Hannah White

Update: Corridor Characters is now live! Visit the site at

Meet Edwin, an acquaintance of mine born in the Dominican Republic who now lives in Cedar Rapids, IA. You’d never know it by looking at him today, but Edwin grew up without much to eat. Here’s a quote from Edwin in which he talks about his childhood home.

“The economy was really bad. We didn’t have much growing up. One meal a day if we were lucky, maybe two. Meat, maybe once a week. Maybe three pairs of clothes at one time. That was it. Shoes, maybe one pair of old shoes. Books or notebooks to go to school, we didn’t have much. My parents would get one notebook and cut it right down the middle, make it into two. Pencils, like number two pencils, they would break in half and make two pencils out of one.”

Edwin taught himself English well enough to attend college in the United States. He met his wife Kara at a small private college in northwest Iowa, and a couple years ago they moved to Cedar Rapids. They have two beautiful children.

Edwin is not the guy most people picture when they think of a typical, or “normal” Iowan. But here’s the thing: no one is normal. I’ve known that for a while now, but a new project I’ve been working on has put that truth into clearer focus.

A few months ago, I started gathering together a small team of creators to make photo, video, and text profiles of local people in the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City area. Similar to Humans of New York, this blog will feature photos and quotes from a variety of everyday people. It will also have videos and written stories about many of the remarkable people who live in the so-called “creative corridor” of Eastern Iowa: artists, musicians, thinkers, adventurers, and otherwise interesting folks you might not know exist in our little corner of the world.

The project is tiny and just beginning (we’ll announce the site’s launch next week), but already it has been a powerful reminder of just how diverse any group of human beings really is. As a writer, I am mesmerized by the abundance of story and character that surrounds each of us. There is unlimited, fascinating material to draw from and share with others.

Even though this website will highlight the diversity in our community, my deep hope is that it will ultimately help people feel closer to one another. Instead of seeing difference as scary, I want people to understand it as beautiful, and to realize that even though we are all distinct individuals, we share an underlying humanity with which we can all identify.

One of the profiles I am working on and am most excited about is of the local Imam, Hassan Selim. (I’ve written about him before.) He was born and raised in Egypt, participated in the Egyptian revolution of 2011, and afterwards moved to the United States to be with his wife who grew up in Cedar Rapids. Even though Hassan has lived a very different life in a far away place, I realized in our first conversation that he and I are kindred spirits.

Before knowing Hassan, simply taking him at face value, I might view him as the embodiment of what many Americans fear: Arabic, Muslim, even a revolutionary. But you can’t meet Hassan and not see how kind he is. It will be a privilege to share part of his story with our community.

Everyone has a story to tell, even the so-called “normal” ones. And the more you dig, the more you realize that no two stories are alike. To me, that’s a beautiful thing, and I can’t wait to share with you a few of the original, remarkable, everyday-extraordinary people we’ve met here in Eastern Iowa.

Update: Corridor Characters is now live! Visit the site at

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Courtney Ball

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