I had experienced something of deep, profound intensity. We had just landed in Karachi, Pakistan where the summer heat was a presence in its own right. My mother, little brother, and I had to immediately take a bus to Quetta. I sat beside my mother on the bus. The bus wasn’t first class and rudimentary and the seats we were sitting in: the window was broken. The cold wind blew in sand and dust at me but it didn’t bother me so much because something even more amazing caught my eye. When I looked out the window the sky was congested with stars; complimented with the endless field of sand. I’ve lived in the city all my life so it was the first time I ever saw the sky so filled with stars; it was breath-taking.
â–º QUARTER FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
The year I turned sixteen, I visited Pakistan again. Since I have been here before, I didn’t feel shocked by my new surroundings instead I felt a mix of poignant familiarity and awe. It was a feeling of both belonging and dis-attachment. Perhaps having grown used to the streets of Philadelphia brought upon this dis-attachment but still, I did feel at home among the desert, shrubs, and dust roads. There were houses made of mud that looked more like hobbles than homes. The men that dressed in kameez-shalwars and women draped in cha-doors; carts pulled by horses and donkeys in crowded bazaars; streets and back alleys dominated by motorcycles with few cars to be seen; but above all: dust.
Being as curious as I was; I let the images of my new surroundings and people sink in. Like the way the winds viciously whip the women’s cha-doors or the worn, weathered faces of the men. My aunt noticing my watchfulness, scolded me to look down. I found as a young women I had to deal with restrictions such as not being able to laugh or whistle or be any way noisy. All these rules didn’t exist before when I came here before; it seemed too bizarre that things could change so much in such a short time.
As free-spirited as I was I certainly didn’t enjoy such restriction. At times I slip up and laugh out loud. Of course that got me a few stares. In a rural city like Quetta such rules comes as no surprise because it’s made up of such closely-knit, religious communities that restrictions are bound to happen and be accepted. But cities like Karachi, restrictions, such as dressing western-like or for women not being able to laugh out in public, as something "primitive" people do.
Even so, I was happy during my stay in Quetta. I got to spend time with family members I normally could never speak to face-to-face. The only really big problem was my Urdu. I found that speaking to my own grandmother would be impossible. I resorted to smiling and nodding like an idiot. Luckily, most of family members already knew English so I always had a translator handy.
So language wasn’t a problem but culture was. Even though I’ve grown up with Bollywood music, sequined shalwar-kamez(s), Mosques, and toshaks; I still felt like I could never be part of this family, my family. So many of the things I did and believed in were always in contradiction like having to look down and avoid men at all times. Yes, they do it to protect a woman’s virtue but it didn’t sit well with me because I felt that a man should have the courtesy to look away instead of making the woman responsible for being “stared” at.
I still can’t forget everything like walking through the grass plains with my uncle and aunt. Or even the impressive mountains, the clear, cool water, or even the sweet apples and melons and how no matter how hot the house was it always remained cool.
The stars are always bright and plentiful over the desert fields and when I looked at them I realized life was so beautiful and all I could ever want is to be able to live it to the fullest. Even though I might never connect with my family on a deeper level I know I have place there and somehow that seems to be enough.
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