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Feels: A Trip To The (Other) Homeland


By Zoya Zia

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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.

 

(Lisa Slavid).

 

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.

 

(Kashif Aziz).

 

Recent commentaries have challenged my identity as an American. With Islamophobia and anti-immigrant rhetoric taking the stage, childhood feelings of exclusion and isolation have resurfaced.

 

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.

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Day 1

 

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.

 

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Upon departure, a warm Texas sunset bid me farewell.

 

Day 2

 

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.

 

Day 3

 

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.

 

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Walls alongside roads are painted and covered in messages.

 

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Brilliant decorated buses serve as a common form of transport.

 

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.

 

Chai is a breakfast, lunch, and dinner requirement.

 

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.

 

Palm trees provide much-needed shade.

Palm trees provide much-needed shade.

 

Each day I was #blessed with authentic Pakistani food. Biryani, a spicy rice dish, is my favorite.

 

At a wedding reception, I decided to eat... biryani.

I was ecstatic to eat biryani at a wedding reception.

 

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.

 

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Kolachi is one of the most popular restaurants at Do Darya.

 

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.

 

The entrance to the National Museum of Pakistan.

The entrance to the National Museum of Pakistan.

 

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The view outside of the National Museum of Pakistan.

 

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.

 

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Pakistani sandals are colorful and well-designed.

 

The ceiling of Millennium Mall.

The ceiling of Millennium Mall.

 

Day 13

 

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.

 

Large rocks stand near the shoreline.

Large rocks stand near the shoreline.

 

The water felt cool and refreshing in the morning.

The water was cool and refreshing in the morning.

 

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.

 

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A palm tree before sunset.