05 5 / 2013
I never taught myself how to stop loving you.
05 5 / 2013
Cairo: mother of cities and seat of pharaoh the tyrant, mistress of broad provinces and fruitful lands, boundless in multitude of buildings, peerless in beauty and splendor, the meeting-place of comer and goer, the stopping-place of feeble and strong. Therein is what you will of learned and simple, grave and gay, prudent and foolish, base and noble, of high estate and low estate, unknown and famous; she surges as the waves of the sea with her throngs of folk she can scarce contain them for all the capacity of her situation and sustaining power.
Her youth is ever new in spite of length of days, and the star of her horoscope does not move from the mansion of fortune; her conquering capital (al-Qahera) has subdued the nations, and her kings have grasped the forelocks of both Arab and non-Arab. She has as her peculiar possession the majestic Nile, which dispenses her distinct from the need of entreating the distillation of the rain; her territory is a month’s journey for a hastening traveller, of generous soil, and extending a warm friendly welcome to strangers."
28 2 / 2013
"No, my friend, I won’t come to Sacramento, and i’ve no regrets. No, and nor will I finish what we began together in childhood. This obscure feeling that you had as you left Gaza, this small feeling must grow into a giant deep within you. It must expand, you must seek it in order to find yourself, here among the ugly debris of defeat."
25 2 / 2013
"We ate well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept well and warm together and loved each other."
22 2 / 2013
For the last two years, my sole purpose in life was to return to Pakistan and put the stepping-stones in place for future generations to cultivate their aspirations. I accepted very early on that my dreams for the country might never come true. With suicide bombings in marketplaces near fields I used to play on as a child, extremism on the rise in the northern regions as a response to American interference in national politics, economic instability that has stolen the livelihoods of millions, deeply-entrenched nepotism, black market dealings, and a corrupt system that serves the interests of the elite while the marginalized and oppressed wonder what went wrong and what they did to deserve such dire circumstances…I knew.
I knew that in my lifetime the stability and economic prosperity that Pakistan had the potential to achieve would never take place. Instead, the unmanned military drones that the United States drops on innocent civilians as part of their mandate on the “War on Terror” would continue and the Pakistani government would be steadfast in their compliance of these attacks. The uneven development of the country would inevitably leave the poor with nothing but the clothes on their backs. The crony politicians would continue to sell-out the citizens and by extension, the country as a whole. The political system in the country was, after all, made up of pitiable excuses for men and women that cared more about furthering their own self-interests than for the people they were asked to represent.
I acknowledged all of this with a heavy heart. But I told myself that regardless of this reality, it was my mess and it was my country and those were my people that were suffering. And although I was unable to impact anything substantial through political avenues, the least I could do was go back and do everything in my power to create desirable circumstances for the generations that were going to walk the same streets that I once did. This proved controversial. Sleepless nights would warrant questions of agency and misplaced identity issues. I had left Pakistan when I was four years old because my parents wanted different opportunities for their children than the ones their beloved homeland could provide. Did I have the right to go back? Would I be disappointing them? Since leaving, I had lived in six countries and there was nothing in this world that I would sacrifice for the profound lessons that living all over the world had taught me, but most of all I would never forget how meaningful the awareness of people and cultures outside your own borders had proved to be over the years. It was frustrating having to answer the familiar “Where are you from?” inquiry from classmates and friends. It was the constant alienation of being asked where are you from and then being told that where-you-are-from-originally was a dangerous place that had forced me to internalize my country over the years. I had subconsciously built walls around Pakistan to safeguard it from the fanaticism and contempt that inevitably came with flippant remarks about bombings and violence. How does one reconcile the images flashed across television screens of bearded men with Kalashnikovs speaking of destruction with the reality of a country that deep-down you know is different? I convinced myself that people tend to criticize what they don’t understand and that there was nothing wrong with wanting to go back.
I made a decision then to change my field of study from political science to international development for my Masters. Already on the academic journey of political science with a specialization in Middle East politics, there was little I could do in the moment. But the future was waiting. And for me, the future was Pakistan. The Pakistan my parents left for the sake of their four children twenty-one years ago. The Pakistan that I had barely lived in yet loved from afar for a lifetime. The Pakistan I saw in my father’s eyes as he recounted his college days with a glistening speck of nostalgia present in his sense of being. The fields of freedom and the valleys of grace awaited my triumphant return.
I started reading up on the history of Pakistan and went through countless memoirs of past presidents. I read about the partition from India, the war for East Pakistan, the struggle for Kashmir, and the military dictatorships that once had control over the country. I read autobiographies of prominent figures in Pakistani history like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and Ayub Khan. There were countless Friday nights where I would excuse myself from outings with friends to finish the stories of a country’s past that I anticipated my return to upon graduation. I woke up every morning and listened to sufi poets recite verses in melodic harmony of the homeland that I knew had a steady and serenely rhythmic beat-one that I would march to soon enough.
In retrospect, I realize now that my biggest heartbreak is not a person. It is a country. It is Pakistan. Nothing can cut with such precision like the love for a homeland you barely understand. With two and a half months till graduation, it has dawned on me that I can’t go back. After a long conversation with my father regarding the future, he shed light on the realities of a country and the complexities of a homeland that I never stopped to consider. He spoke of the frustration I would encounter at the bureaucracy of the development sector in third world countries, the limited scope I would have influence over as a woman with little economic footing, and the notion that it is a country where privilege might get you somewhere, but experience and education gets you further. It turns out that you have to build yourself up before you can try to build up a country.
Through the tears and the shame of not having anything to offer a country I love, I have come to realize that the restlessness of returning came from not knowing who I was and convincing myself that Pakistan had all the answers. Perhaps it still does. It might be years till I return but I know now that when I do, I will have come bearing the gift of confidence in a homeland and the ability to influence tangible change on the ground. Nothing can mend with such precision like the love for a homeland you finally understand.