Feels: A Trip To The (Other) Homeland
Living as a first generation American is a balancing act. Neither country ever feels just right. Neither is entirely like home.
Bursts of patriotism quickly subside out of admiration for a faraway land. I constantly yearn for a sense of belonging.
As a child, I turned away my Pakistani heritage in an attempt to fit in. Although Urdu is my first language, I rarely spoke it. I even encouraged my parents not to speak Urdu in public.
During brief summer trips to Pakistan, I learned to admire the culture I shunned for so long. I practiced speaking Urdu and grew closer to relatives. After these trips abroad, I would return to the United States with an incomplete heart.
Taking all of this into account, I was eager to return to Pakistan this summer.
For two weeks I spent time hanging out with my cousins, eating delicious food, and taking a break from the current political scene. That’s right – I didn’t have to think about Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton for two weeks.
In retrospect, the entire trip was a mirage of conflicting emotions. From one airport to the next, I struggled to understand my place in the world.
With a brand new journal from Barnes & Noble in hand, I regularly noted my thoughts to document an emotional yet enjoyable visit.
I stepped into the airport with uncertainty. It always feels weird leaving the United States. As I waited for departure at the airport, I racked my mind with predictions on how the visit would go. Fear, excitement, and nostalgia were a noisy trio.
After landing in Doha, I had a nine hour layover. Thanks to free WiFi, those hours quickly turned to minutes. As I boarded the flight to Karachi, my heart swelled with excitement. I could not wait to reach the beautiful city in my beautiful country.
When I arrived in Pakistan, I rushed to the immigration desk in anticipation of reuniting with my relatives. Several hugs and kisses later, I found myself in the Karachi heat.
Giant billboards and racing rickshaws filled the streets. It felt incredible to see it all again, to bask in the city.
A sweet breakfast of roti and halwa puri was already waiting for me at home. I spent the day catching up with my cousins and taking naps.
Day 4 – 12
Days passed by in a blur. I frequently lost track of the date. Five times a day, I heard the adhan or call to prayer. As it echoed, I was reminded of how quickly time passes. I set out to make the most of it.
Whenever I left the house, I tried to read street signs in Urdu. Schools and beauty parlors lined the streets, which were rarely quiet. Drivers often communicated with horns rather than indicators.
Whenever I returned to the house, I watched my cousins play soccer and joined in for a few games. The breeze kicked in just around sunset and made the heat much more bearable.
Each day I was #blessed with authentic Pakistani food. Biryani, a spicy rice dish, is my favorite.
I even visited Do Darya, the food street of Karachi. On a single road, dozens of restaurants are scattered by the beach. The sound of waves serenely accompanies the delicious taste of food.
Later in the week I browsed the National Museum of Pakistan. Centuries of immense culture and history were compacted into displays and rooms. I grew in admiration for the country’s past and in hope for the country’s future.
Huge markets with bargain deals were calling my name throughout the trip. As a result, I had a few shopping adventures. I found kurtas, souvenirs for friends and treated myself to several pairs of sandals.
As a port city, Karachi has a seaside charm. My relatives and I woke up at sunrise to see Hawke’s Bay Beach before the weather got too hot.
Day 14 – 15
The trip came to an end faster than I expected. Although I stayed at the house on the last day, my mind wandered to everywhere I visited. Something was different. For the first time, Pakistan truly felt like home.
I reflected at the airport, just as I did when I was leaving America. At one point in the trip, my cousins sang along to Dil Dil Pakistan, a patriotic anthem. I felt a strange desire to show my red, white, and blue colors in that moment.
Perhaps I may never find a balance between countries and cultures. Perhaps I don’t need a balance, perhaps the scale is meant to sway in the breeze like those palm trees.