As a diaspora kid, I’d often find myself romanticizing the idea of living in Pakistan. To me there was nothing better than the subtle smell of fresh rain masked with the scent of piyaz key pakoray. The frenzy of getting samosas before they finish in the evening, the bustling of the house on Sunday mornings or the bright market places or the feeling of home – I couldn’t decide.
Alas, under certain circumstances we decided to move back to Karachi from the UAE, and suddenly the idea seemed haunting.
The sudden realization of leaving behind friends and a few family members, unaware of when I’ll be seeing them next, seemed haunting. There was nothing I could do to change reality but I’d often find myself wishing that time would stop because I was suddenly anxious about the Pakistani way of life.
September 17, 2017, we landed at Jinnah International Airport.
I was familiar with the process; visit, have fun with the family, ignorantly complain about the issues that plague our society and leave – except this time, there was no leaving. Everything that I once looked forward to upon my visits to Pakistan no longer held the same appeal as before. Our childhood home no longer gave me the nostalgic feeling it once did.
It was me, my mum and my brother – my dad had to stay back. Everything seemed wrong. The apartment started looking small for the shipment that was on its way, diarrhoeal infections didn’t seem to leave us anytime soon and I was suddenly the burger kid at my new school with a weird accent.
Visiting for a few months definitely wasn’t the same as living here.
I found my safe haven in the school library where I’d spent hours staring at Newtonian Physics – not the most ideal of situations. But one day someone decided to accompany me to the library after English and we’d sit in silence – her reading J.D. Robb and me trying to make sense of whatever went down in the class.
Bored out of her mind, a third person decided to join us. She had come from the UAE too and somehow through intense roasting sessions, I had a squad comprising of five people. I started participating in extra-curricular activities and school stopped being as terrifying – despite A-levels.
But school wasn’t the only problem, now was it?
The apartment was still under construction, our furniture was still somewhere in the Indian Ocean, the mosquitoes seemed resistant to every repellent available and the cultural shock was still very apparent; the transition from an Arabic infused Pakistani lifestyle to a predominant Pakistani lifestyle was immense. Despite the dilemmas, I’d found a routine. The most difficult aspect of moving, in my opinion, is finding a routine.
Gradually, the construction was coming to an end.
We were now hosting house-warming parties, birthday parties, and what-not. I had rekindled relations with my childhood friends. The power cuts didn’t seem to bother me anymore. Rather I used them as excuses to put my revision aside and spend hours on the roof with my friend. Something as simple as playing Ludo became a huge deal.
Large gatherings and aunties gossiping amused me. The times my dad would visit would be particularly fun. I was no longer complaining about the dirty streets. Instead, I was being more cautious as to not to litter. My school squad got bigger. My mum and I started baking once the cargo arrived, just like the old times. It started to feel like home.
Things were now working out.
The hassle didn’t seem like a burden anymore and I was beginning to accustom myself with Pakistani standards and traditions; actively taking parts in rituals that I’d usually distance myself from, appreciating the sense of brotherhood that is held dearly by our people as opposed to feeling as if it was too intrusive.
In my opinion, as someone who tried every approach known to man to try to fit in, the positive attitude definitely made it better.
Yes, optimism seemed bizarre at times but it was helping me get by. Life in a third world country isn’t all rainbows and sunshine but cherishing the little things and making the most of them, is, to me, the true essence of Pakistani life.
Cover image via aroundpakistan.com/Umair Ulhaque Photography