So here’s something I don’t talk about often enough: why I so desperately want to move back to my passport country, Pakistan, and why I can’t.
The world has many misconceptions about Pakistan. Many, many, many. Almost every time I get into an Uber, and they ask me where I’m from, I tell them, “I’m from Pakistan”. If I’m feeling chatty, I add, “…but I grew up all over the world”. Either way, they tend to focus on the “I’m from Pakistan” part of things. They ask me, “That part of the world is really dangerous right?”, or “Women don’t really have rights there right?”, or “What is it like living there?” with expectations that I’ll say horrible, horrendous unlivable, hence why I’m here.
But that’s not the case. At least, not for me…. Just like *every single country on the face on planet Earth*, Pakistan has it’s upsides and its downsides, and more often than not, if you are wealthy / come from a wealthy background or privileged background, then it’s not so bad. Actually, it’s often not bad at all. I’m going to focus on my perspective and lifestyle, and not put words into the mouths’ of people’s lives that I have not lived.
So…. I really want to move back to Pakistan. Islamabad, in particular. I’m not sure if I’d want to move to any other part of Pakistan, actually, simply because I don’t know anyone, and all of my family that I’m close with in Pakistan live in Islamabad. To this date, I’ve never REALLY lived in Pakistan.
From my birth, until I was about 18 years old, my family and I would go to Pakistan once a year. Typically, it was over the summer holidays. From birth until I was around eleven or twelve years old, we went consistently, every single summer, for about two months. I used to LOVE it as a child, and then, if I’m being honest, I severely disliked it as a preteen and as a young teenager.
I loved it as a child because going back meant being spoiled with all the attention in the world from my aunts and uncles. Usually, they bought me so many gifts. It also meant that everyday was an adventure. Some days, we would visit our relatives. Other days, we would go shopping. Other days, we would spend all day and night at Nani’s (grandmother’s) house. Other times, I would be the umpire while my brothers played cricket in our garden. Often, at least two or three of my aunts and uncles would visit Nani’s house the same time we were there, and it was like a little party. I had so many cousins to play with, and the biggest, most beautiful garden to play in. The world was at my feet.
When I got a little older, I started hearing (and believing) that Pakistan was dangerous and unsafe. I also became really, really close with my friends, and knew how painful goodbyes were and could be. I wanted to spend my summer holidays in Udhailiyah, Saudi Arabia, with my friends, instead of with my cousins or family members. I wanted to stay home in Udhailiyah, where we had air conditioning and a nice car, instead of going to Islamabad, where my father drove a car that required the windows to be manually pushed up and pulled down, where the internet was slower than a turtle running a race, and where the electricity died multiple hours per day, every day (#loadshedding), forcing me to need two or three showers daily to not feel sticky, sweaty, smelly, and gross. I focused on the negatives, instead of on the positives (of which there were many). I don’t blame myself for feeling as I felt. I knew my time with my friends was limited. Our 9th grade graduation was just around the corner – life would never be the same after that. I felt like I already missed so much time with them, having spent 6th and 7th grade “abroad” (“abroad” because I was born “abroad”, and living in England and Italy was equally as abroad as living in Saudi Arabia, but Udhailiyah was, and is still, home). I just wanted to be with my friends.
I also just want to say that Islamabad (well, all of Pakistan, but I’m focusing on Islamabad) has developed so much, and so quickly, over the years. For example, let’s see… I remember when the first McDonald’s opened up in Islamabad. Karachi already had one, but Islamabad didn’t. Not that McDonald’s symbolizes modernity, but that was definitely when my views of Islamabad began to change and I started to see a lot of growth. Now, Islamabad feels a lot like Bahrain or Amman, Jordan. A mini Dubai, if you will. It has huge shopping malls with foreign stores, restaurants, cafes, cinemas, etc. There are huge cars on the roads, women drive (well, they used to when I was a kid too), people look as glamorous and classy as supermodels. There are even nightclubs, haha.
Now, as an adult, I so want to go back home. Ever since college, I dreamed of living back in Islamabad for a year. Just a year. I could study there, or work there… I could live at home, or even live at my Nani’s house, and drive my own little car. I could hang out with my cousins, who I craved (and still crave) a deeper connection with. I could have friends from home and not feel like a complete foreigner whenever I go back. I could eat amazing food on the daily. I could have someone help me with my daily chores (having a nokrani / maid makes life SO MUCH EASIER). I could officially, FINALLY say that I have lived in Pakistan.
I feel like I’m missing out. Everyone knows about the American Dream, right? Moving to the U.S. to escape poverty or whatever, looking for a better life here? I feel like I’d have a better life there… Sure, I might still be a foreigner with my thick American accent, not top-notch Urdu skills, different sense of style, but I’d be home, with people like me. I wouldn’t get weird stares from people when I forget my ID and walk around the schools with my hijab on. I wouldn’t be sarcastically asked, “you’re not going to blow up the school are you?”, lol (true stuff). I would fit in, even if I stood out a little, I would still fit in. They’d welcome me back home, with open arms. I’d be home. I’d finally feel like I belong.
Also, maybe I’m a glory hunter, but I feel like I’m missing out on such a big turning point in Pakistan’s history. Pakistan is a baby county. We just got our independence from the British, and India, in 1947. That was less than 100 years ago. That said, we are growing, developing, and modernizing at an exponential rate. Some people think we are still living in the stone age, and often times, the people who say that are from privileged backgrounds and not from countries who were conquered and corrupted by foreign empires. I want to be a part of this. I want to watch my country grow, instead of coming back home once every few years to find out it’s a foot taller, and studying astrophysics haha.
Now, in terms of why my dreams of moving back have not yet and may never become a reality:
If you scroll back, you’ll see that I mentioned my close extended family lives in Islamabad. My actual family lives in the West. My parents currently live in the UK, one of my brothers lives in Ireland, and then my other two brothers live in the U.S. One of those brothers is married, just got his U.S. citizenship, also just had a son, and plans on living here for the rest of his life. The U.S. is home to him, afterall. The brother in Ireland is currently engaged and hoping to be married in the near future. He hopes to gain Irish citizenship and spend the rest of his life there, with his soon-to-be wife. My other brother has no official ties to the U.S., but will have difficulty translating his medical degree abroad. And lastly, my parents… They only have Pakistani citizenship, and while my mother has always dreamed of moving back home to Pakistan (in fact, she never thought that she would leave…) my father has always dreamed of living the “American Dream”, and becoming one with the West. If it was up to him, he would never move back.
So here I am. I personally have no ties with the U.S., apart from that I’ve lived here for the past 6 years. Please don't misunderstand: I have nothing against the U.S., it's a beautiful country, and it is an honor and privileged to live/study here. I am certain, though, that if my brothers were not all in the U.S. when I was graduating from high school, I would have continued my education in the U.K. Now, that’s still not Pakistan, but it’s physically closer to it than the U.S. is. And even if, somehow, I ended up in the U.S., I would have left after college, and continued my graduate education somewhere else, simply because I love to travel and explore new cultures. But because my family was mostly in the U.S., and I have continuous pressure from all of them except the Ireland brother and my mother to stay here, it’s really hard for me to leave.
Apart from these struggles, as much as I would love to go to Pakistan and stay there, it is highly unrealistic for me unless my parents (or future husband) live there. My aunts would take me under their wing in under a second, but my dad would never allow it to happen. He whole-heartedly believes Pakistan is not safe for someone like me, who has an open mind, a big mouth, who fights for her rights and for social justice, and has little-to-no understanding of what living in poverty truly is like. While I disagree with him, I have to honor his wishes. I also heavily rely on him to take care of me. Lastly, there’s the whole struggle of having trouble coming back into the U.S. once you leave it. If I was an American (or British, or EU) citizen, then I wouldn’t have nearly the same issues with moving back home to Pakistan, and then coming back to where ever a year later.
So folks, there you have it. I’m just a girl who wants to go back home and experience what life at home could be like for me. But again, here I am, a girl (or woman, rather), who probably will never have the chance to move back. I can visit, but I can't live there, unless something in my life significantly changes. I haven’t been back home in almost two years now. I’ve missed my cousins’ weddings. I’ve missed my baby cousins growing up. I’ve missed my country modernizing. I’ve missed being a part of something bigger than me. And how I miss it, every day. How I miss that beautiful, clear night sky from the terrace. How I miss everything. Mera dil yaad karta hai, har din, aur har waqt.
I think there's a lot of confusion about what's going on in my life at the moment, so I thought I'd share some life updates here, on my blog. I'm not really one to post big status updates on Facebook, and I try to keep my Instagram pretty light, but I have no shame writing an essay about myself on my blog haha.
I graduated from Dickinson College with Bachelor's Degree in psychology, and left my undergrad years behind approximately 3 years ago, with plans to go to graduate school at Temple University in Philadelphia. The program I chose was the School Psychology Master's + Educational Specialist Degrees program. I followed through on my plans, and started my 3-year journey at Temple University in the fall of 2016. I began (and am still) studying to be a School Psychologist.
I'll do a little play-by-play analysis of my first two years in graduate school, but let's talk about my third / current year first, and then back track afterwards.
Currently, I am doing a full-time, paid internship at the Delaware County Intermediate Unit, with four other interns (all of us are from Temple / from the same cohort!). My current official title is Ayesha S., M.Ed, School Psychology Intern. I'm in my last year (last semester, I suppose) of graduate school. I'm not taking any classes, I'm "just" interning. That might sound weird to people who aren't too familiar with how school psychology works, but trust me, this is extremely normal. Almost all NASP (National Association of School Psychologists) approved graduate programs require a full-time, 1,200 hour internship in the student's third year of study. While in my internship, I've been essentially working as a full-time school psychologist. I've been completing psychoeducational evaluations, behavioral and academic interventions, doing counseling lessons, teaching a social-emotional curriculum, etc. I also took my PRAXIS licensing exam earlier in my internship and passed on my first try! So anyways, here I am. An intern with a Master's degree, about to finish grad school, and so close to my Educational Specialist Degree (Ed.S. Degree).
Okay, let's back track a little now. Let's talk about my first year first. My first year at graduate school was... interesting! It felt a lot like college "part two". Some of the classes I was taking (which were required by my program) were very basic, intro classes, such as this personality and psychotherapy class that I took. Others were almost completely new to me, like this introduction to cognitive assessments class that I took. Some classes were really easy, and others (intro to cognitive assessment, and advanced cognitive assessment) were a bit more challenging. Alongside the classes, I also was doing a "practicum". I went to a 3rd grade classroom at a local Philadelphia public school, once a week, and helped out however I could. Honestly, I felt a little like a teacher's aid, but it was really fun and also really helpful! It was fun because sometimes I feel like I'm still a 3rd grader in my heart, so whenever the little kiddos made, for example, a fart joke, I couldn't help but laugh too (so inappropriate, I know). The kids always made me laugh. It was really helpful because I have never studied at a public (or private, for that matter) school in the U.S. before. I spent my elementary school years in Saudi Arabia, my middle school years in England, Italy, and Saudi Arabia, and my high school years in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and England. And while a school is a school, no matter where in the world you are, I realized there was a lot for me to learn from observing and helping out in a regular-education, public school classroom in the U.S. For example, there are so many laws regarding education that I had no idea about. I had no idea what an IEP or 504 plan was. I had a lot to learn! Apart from being a "teacher's aid" (practicum student!), I was also required to do some school-psychology related things, like practice doing the B.O.S.S. observation, as well as a behavioral intervention. Overall, I had a really positive experience. Apart from practicum and classes, I also did something called "Dino School". Now, this was a lot of fun! Basically, our cohort was broken up into groups of three-four. All the groups went to a first grade classroom to teach social-emotional skills, on a weekly basis. We achieved this by using puppets, positive reinforcement, and prizes. The kiddos seemed to love it, and I did too!
Also, on a side note, moving to Philadelphia was a bit scary, but exciting at the same time. It was my first time living alone in a big city. My brother, Adnan, used to joke and call me the "Sheep in the Big City" (a reference to a TV show we used to watch as kids). After just a few days in Philadelphia, though, I fell in love. I realized that the city wasn't all that scary, but it was certainly really exciting. I really made the most of living in the city during my two years in Philadelphia.
My second year was much, much more intensive than my first year. This is mostly true because of a "class" (honestly, it felt like a full-time job) called Clinic. Essentially, all second years were enrolled in a class called Clinic, and we ran Temple's Psychoeducational Clinic. Over the year, we had four clients / four cases, and completed their full psychoeducational assessments and reports. Our reports typically ranged from 30-60 pages, each. 30 sounds really short. I would say, on average, my reports were close to 50 pages, if not longer. I believe my shortest was 37. The full evaluation consisted of the following: 1. parent interview / developmental history interview 2. record review 3. observations (at least two, on two separate occasions and settings) 4. cognitive assessments (at least one full battery, supplemented with another, and in compliance with CHC theory) 4. academic assessment 6. social, emotional and behavioral assessments 5. diagnostics 6. summary 7. recommendations. I'm trying to remember if I'm forgetting something haha, but I don't know. It doesn't sound like a lot, but the full evaluations took approximately 8-10 weeks to complete, start to finish, if I'm remembering correctly. They were, to this date, the most intense and comprehensive reports I have ever written. Those reports were much more comprehensive than the reports I have written so far in my internship. I don't mean this in a bad way, it's just that in clinic, we tested for everything, whereas in my internship (and normal school-psychology life in general), we test for what makes sense. I'm grateful for my extremely intense clinic experience, because I learned so much from it.
It was very, very emotionally hard for me (and my peers) though. This is mostly true because of our clinic supervisor, who was famous for her criticism in CAPS LOCK, BOLDED, RED FONT, ITALICS, ETC. FOR MAKING A SINGLE, TINY, SMALL, MISTAKE. I dreaded Sundays and Mondays because I knew I would be receiving my edited reports back from her soon. She had a really bad memory, as well. She often told us to do a certain thing, and then in our next edit she would ask us in CAPS LOCK, BOLDED, RED, ITALIC FONT WHY WE DID THIS, making us feel so stupid. The only way I can really describe it is to say I felt like I am in army boot camp, and my supervisor was a hard-ass general I had to suck up to. It was really, really hard. I felt really incompetent, often. I remember asking my two friends, Rizwan and Shin, who were in Ph.D. programs how on earth they possibly do it. They reminded me that I am capable, that I do deserve to be here, and that this too shall pass. And guess what? It did. It passed. I passed. And now, as someone who isn't in that situation anymore and able to look back with a clear head, I know that it was an unhealthy supervisor-supervisee relationship. She was insane. But hey, I learned so much from her, and I remember her telling me how proud she was of how far I had come when it was all over. Hearing that from her made me feel like everything was worth it. Now, I know if I could have survived and passed that, I can do anything else that is yet to come.
Apart from clinic, I was also taking other classes, and also a practicum student again. This year's practicum was much more intensive than my first year's. I was shadowing a school psychologist, instead of working as a teacher's aid (which I really enjoyed!), and doing full, psychoeducational evaluations, as well as counseling, FBA's, interventions, and so forth. I was doing a lot! I'm really grateful to have had my 2nd year practicum experience to balance out my clinic experience, because sometimes I think that if I didn't, I may have dropped out. Clinic was brutal, because our supervisor was insane! (Oh, by the way, she stopped being a supervisor after our cohort... I don't know if she was asked to leave, was fired, or just simply retired, but she's no longer supervising). If you're interested in reading more about my second year and how difficult it was, check out this post (click here). But anyways, I survived my second year!
While in my second year, I also had my identity stolen by my roommate, India Rottenburg, (change the "O" to an "I" and you'll have her real name. I'm not making this situation up, though I wish I was). That wasn't fun. On a more positive note, though, even though I was dealing with personal problems (having my identity stolen by my roommate), getting gas lighted by my clinic supervisor, staying on top of all my classes and practicum, I also was applying for internships. Oh, I also got my Master's degree around this time - while all my roommate and clinic drama was happening. And I killing it all. I killed my interviews and got accepted to two internship sites, I passed all my classes (including clinic), I wrote amazing evaluation reports that I'm so proud of, and... I survived! Second year was the hardest year for me in terms of graduate school, but it passed, and I see that light at the end of the tunnel.
In May of 2018, when I was finishing up with my second year, I moved to Media, Pennsylvania. I moved here because my internship is in this area. I got my own apartment (no more roommates stealing my identity!). I got a car (my first car, ever!). In the fall, I started internship, and I've been killing that too. I'm not one to humble brag, but I feel like I owe it to myself to do exactly that. I look back at my life, and see how far I've come. I've faced many challenges across the years, and I feel like I'm finally standing on my own two feet. It's a really good feeling, being so close to the end of this era.
So here we are. February 22, 2019. SO. CLOSE. to graduating. So close to finishing grad school. So close to having my Educational Specialist degree. Finally feeling like a real adult, standing on my own two feet. Driving myself around in my little Honda Civic, living in a beautiful, little one-bedroom apartment with a balcony I've fallen in love with. Getting ready to apply for real jobs for the first time in my life. I've come a long way since undergrad, since my first year in grad school, and even since my second year in grad school. I'm really proud of myself and my accomplishments, and excited to go start a new era in my life: Adulthood. REAL adulthood. No more being a student. This still makes me laugh, because I'm not entirely sure if I'll ever truly be an adult, hahahaha. But yeah! That's my life update.
In summary, I'm in my last year of graduate school. I'm doing a full-time, paid internship. I have my Bachelor and Masters degrees under my belt, and am so close to having my Educational Specialist degree too. I currently have a 3.83 GPA. I live alone, in my own apartment, and have a car. I'm going to start applying for jobs soon. Life is good, and I am so proud of my journey. :)
I hope this cleared up any misconceptions and helped answer any "I wonder what Ayesha is up to" questions! As always, feel free to call me, text me, DM me, hit me up on Facebook, or contact me using the "contact me" form. I love you all <3.
I have a question for my fellow TCKs. Is it just me, or does the idea of settling down both scare you and also fill you with so much peace? Does it make your legs shake, your mind slippery-slope, and your skin crawl? But does it also, at the same time, make you feel like you are inhaling the coolest, chilliest, most refreshing breath of air, while making your heart beat slower, and sigh with relief? Because that's exactly how I feel.
The thought of settling down and living in one place forever scares me, but at the same time, brings me SO much peace. I want a home. I want a garden. I want so many pets. I want to be able to have and do normal things, like... unpack all my suitcases, permanently.
I haven't lived in the same dorm/house/apartment/whatever for longer than 1 year since before 2009. I've moved every single year for the past 10 years. When I was younger, that was fun, exciting, and often relieving (because I hated almost every dorm I lived in and couldn't wait to move!). But the older I get, the more I crave normalcy.
But, the more I crave normalcy, the more it scares me. I'm not normal. I think I'm scared of becoming normal. Of becoming a local. Of losing my desire or ability to travel and experience the world in a way you can only by moving constantly. I've always promised myself that, if I can afford to, I will travel internationally (meaning outside of whatever country I'm residing in at the time), and I really hope to bring my future children with me. That thought brings me relief. But there are so many questions I have for future me in terms of settling down.
Where? What country? What city? Is it close to family and/or friends, or out in the middle of no where? Do I like it there? Do I have to learn another language? Will I ever truly feel like I belong and am accepted there?
I guess only time will tell. For now, I'll continue my life as it is. I'll continue being a nomad, until one day, I can be a nomad no more.
There are so many little things about being a TCK that are never discussed, because they're always overshadowed by the wonders of our lifestyle, or the depression that comes with it.
I just want to take a minute to talk about those things, so that people who are not TCK's or unfamiliar with our lifestyles can have a better understanding of some of the things we go through.
1. We don't have stable health care.
What I mean by this is that, because we're constantly moving from country to country, place to place, it's extremely difficult to continue seeing the same physicians (doctors, dentists, psychologists, etc.). Every time we move, we have to reestablish ourselves as patients in the new country we're in. Also, each country has it's own laws and regulations regarding insurance and health care. It can be difficult, even if a TCK or TCA isn't chronically ill. While we can, and do, take our medical files with us every time we move, it's really hard to keep up. Unless you have a serious or chronological illness, many doctors do not have the time, patience, or will to review your entire file. They also don't have that rapport already established with you. And, they have no idea if you are a reliable reporter or not. One example from my own personal life is that in high school (in England), I suddenly had a high fever, accompanied by a stinging feeling on my face and hundreds of little whiteheads across my chin, upperlip, and cheek. Although I suffered from acne in my teenage years, whatever was happening to my face was not normal, and with the accompanied fever, I was convinced they were related and something was wrong. My parents, who have obviously seen me grow up and know what is normal and what's not normal for me and my body, saw that this was an abnormal reaction and maybe some kind of rash, and took me to the local NHS doctors. The doctor saw me for approximately 2-minutes, and completely dismissed me. She said I have acne, and whatever rash was on my face was a result of that acne. When I told her how suddenly this rash formed, and how I have an accompanying fever, she literally laughed at me, and again repeated "you have acne, that's all." I left the hospital feeling so embarrassed, ashamed, hopeless, and upset. I knew my regular doctor from back home would have known whatever I was going through was not normal and not due to my hormonal acne, and would have helped me. Instead, I got ridiculed and laughed at. My mother, who for years has been complaining about various aches and pains, is never, ever taken seriously by any doctors either, because they have no rapport with her, no history with her, and do not understand that she is a reliable reporter. It's the most frustrating situation and one of the biggest downsides to being a TCK. I am a healthy individual and do not need to go to the doctor's office regularly, but in the past ten years, any time I did go to the doctor / hospital, it was always with someone new and often in a different country, because of my lifestyle.
2. We don't have a hair dresser.
Same as above. When you move around so much, you can't really establish those connections. You have to keep finding new hairdressers, and hope that they won't butcher your hair.
3. We (as kids) or our kids will probably fall behind our/their classmates in certain subjects.
When you move around so much, it means you have to keep changing schools. Changing schools means changing curriculums. Changing curriculums means learning different things, at different paces than your peers. For example, in my own personal life, I never took a geography course, because when my classmates in Udhailiyah were taking it, I was living in England. And my classmates in England wouldn't be taking it until the following year. The following year, I was in Italy, and my classmates had already completed that course. SO, I never took a geography course in my life. I also fell really behind in math, because I kept re-learning things I had already learned in previous schools, and then when I moved back to Udhailiyah, I was significantly behind my peers.
4. People don't understand if we're a tourist, immigrant, or what.
This is ESPECIALLY true if you are a person of color. If you are white (and I don't mean this in a bad way - it just is what it is), people often will assume you're a tourist. Or, they'll think you're one of them. They won't confuse you as a refugee or immigrant. Also, white tourists are generally much more accepted than tourists of color. Same with immigrants. Same with refugees. Same with everything. It's all part of white privilege (and again, I don't mean it in a bad way - it just is what it is). My parents were living in Italy during the "Refugee Crisis", and I got so, so, so, many dirty looks when I visited them. I wanted to use a permanent marker and write on my forehead "I'M JUST VISITING MY PARENTS, WHO ARE TEMPORARILY LIVING HERE, PLEASE CHILL. WE'LL BE OUT OF YOUR COUNTRY SOON ENOUGH!" Would I receive those dirty looks if I was white? No. No one would be able to tell if I was a tourist, immigrant, refugee, migrant, etc., unless I opened my mouth and spoke (my horrible American accent would be a dead give away! - but even then, they'd assume I was a tourist, and not think twice about it). Sigh.
5. There's no going back to a "normal life". We will always be different.
I don't really know how to explain this one. It's like trying to explain what the color red looks like to someone who is color blind. Traveling really opens up your eyes. Moving across the world to various countries, living within them, and making parts of their culture your own, does the same to a significantly larger extent. You can't ever go back to being "normal"; you'll always be different, and this is a good thing. I wish more than anything, that everyone who could afford to would travel. You don't have to go far; you don't even have to leave your own country (but please do, if you can). Travel, meet other people, see other cultures, and learn that there are a million ways of doing things, not just your way.
6. We can't really have pets, because we can't travel all around the world with animals.
No explanation needed. I mean, you could have pets, but it's stressful for animals to go through big moves especially across countries or continents, frequently. Personally, I have apple snails, but dream of having a kitten one day.
7. We can't own a lot of things, like a car or a house. We're always renting.
It doesn't make sense to buy a car or a house when you're only living in that country for a few months or year! TCKs (or, actually, TCAs) typically rent. Many TCAs have houses, cars, etc. in their passport country (home country) but rent when they're abroad.
8. We have to find different products everywhere we go, because every country has its own products.
Don't get too attached to the local treats at the grocery store, because you will likely have a lot of difficulty finding them in other countries!
9. The majority of our relationships are (or will become) long-distance.
That's simply what happens when you allow your soul to connect with another, knowing you're going to be moving soon.
10. Our lives are both a blessing and a curse.
Because of all the things I noted above, and for many more reasons, being a TCK can be a bit of a curse. Personally, for me, the good outweighs the bad and I am proud of my TCK lifestyle, but hope to settle down one day. I am unsure if I would like to put my future kids through this. Rather, I would encourage traveling over moving, so that they may learn about cultures outside their own, see the world's beauty, hear songs in foreign tongues, but still have a place to come home to, a bed to sleep in, and a singular place to call home.
Hi! It's me, Ayesha from the future. I am currently 25-years-old, and you are currently 11-years-old and about to go on your first major move. Notice that I said first. That's right, this isn't the only big move you'll be making. You might be like, "Duh... I'm going to boarding school in a few years!", but still, you'll be moving a lot more than you are thinking right now. And that's okay. Don't worry. I'm here to guide you through it. Not that you need me. You were always so strong, even on your own.
Want to know what life is like as 25-year-old you? Here's a little snippet (I won't give you any major spoilers like about crushes or boys! :P You'll have to grow up and experience those for yourself). I'm living in the U.S. right now. In Pennsylvania. It's a state near New York and Washington D.C. I went to boarding school somewhere unexpected, and it was a magical experience. Then I went to college. Then, I went to graduate school (I got my Master's degree!). Now, I am in my final year of school, and will be graduating with an Educational Specialist degree in school psychology. You're going to be a psychologist, Ayesha! Who'd have thought? Apart from that, you're also about to become an aunt for the first time. A phuppo. You have three aquatic apple snails as pets (no kitty yet, sorry!). You live in a beautiful apartment with a gorgeous balcony. You drive a white Honda Civic. You're doing a full-time internship (and getting paid for it!). You're going to be looking for real jobs soon. And best of all, you're a mermaid (yes, you read that right!)
Life is good, Ayesha.
Now, it's your turn. Remind me of what's going on in your life right now. You're in 5th grade with Mr. Olson. He's so fun, isn't he? You sit next to Ru. You made butter in class (and it was delicious). Your friends are so excited about you moving to England. Your best friends, Salindi and Mehza, are so sad. You're not entirely sure how you feel. Is that correct? You live in house number 2336, by the park we used to play at every. single. day., no matter how hot and bright that blazing sun was (girl, you and I both know we rocked that tan. Oh, by the way, that tan is permanent!). You talk to Manu on the daily. You've recently become more close with Aparna, because of Manu (lolzzz). Hmm.. What else? You're the vice president of STUCO (oh, yeah, you don't know what that means yet. It means student council). Go you! You're so young, Ayesha, and your life is just beginning.
There's so much that happens between then and now. So much, Ayesha. More than you could ever dream. Sometimes, take a step back and ask myself, "Would little five-year-old Ayesha be proud of who I am now? How about 10 year old Ayesha? 13? 15?" and, to be completely honest, the answer changes sometimes. I have a few regrets, and I know you're all about that "No Ragrets" (I typed that wrong on purpose, it's a joke in the future) life. But overall, I'm proud to say that I think you'd be very happy with the woman I've become. I think you'd probably think I was pretty chubby, though - which, to be completely fair, I am! - and that's something that I'm trying to work on, hahaha.
Getting back on track: this next year is going to be hard for you, Ayesha. Really hard. Really, really, really hard. You survive it, though (clearly - hiiii). I remember how much you loved to watch Charmed (25-year-old you still loves Charmed just as much, if not more, than you do!). Remember how the sisters talk about how changing the past can change the future, and so they don't give too much information away whenever they go into the past? Same here. I won't give you too much information, because without the struggles you are about to face, I won't be me. I know that doesn't sound very fair at all, and I wish it was different. I wish you never had to face any of those struggles. I wish I, 25-year-old you, could face them instead. But remember what I said earlier about how strong you are? I mean it, Ayesha. You are the strongest person I know. You're going to be homesick a lot, Ayesha. You're going to miss your friends. You're going to hate the smell of horses, even though you love horses so much right now. You're going to listen to this song called "Bad Day" every single day. You're going to want to run away. You're going to wish you could be someone else, have a completely different life, and be a completely different person, while not really knowing that you are in the process of becoming, in fact, a completely different person. You won't really know how much you've changed until you go back to Udhailiyah, and your friends (who, in the future, are more like family to you) tell you that. But it's okay. Change isn't always bad. Change is good, sometimes, too. And hey, while this year is going to be really hard, guess what? Next year is going to be one of the best of your life! I won't give you any spoilers, but just trust me on this one. And guess what? The year after is even better, and the year after that even better...
The thing about change is that it's not easy. It's not easy to let go of your routine, or what's familiar, or who you count on. It's not easy to reinvent the wheel, which is basically what you're going to have to do. It's even more difficult when you're doing this seemingly completely on your own. It feels like sandpaper. It feels like friction (do you know what that is, yet?). The weird thing about it though is that there is no "pause" or "rewind" button. You just keep going forward, and you can't stop it. And sooner rather than later, you've changed too. You're no longer that rough sandpaper, but rather something new, something soft, something smooth. Polished. The rough friction of change often times betters you, even if it's not an easy process to go through.
I know how much you love quotes, so here's one for you: "The best is yet to come." And maybe, just maybe, that one is for me right now too. Don't forget who you are. Don't forget that I'm here for you. Don't forget how strong you are (which, honestly, you don't really know yet). Don't forget where you come from (Udhailiyah). But also, don't be afraid. Don't be shy. Don't be nervous. Be like the ocean, and just go with the flow. I promise you everything will be okay, and before you know it, you'll be me. <3
With all of my love,
I left parts of my heart in England.
Some with my old friends and our secret memories.
Some with the sidewalks I walked on daily.
Some with the swans owned by the Queen.
Some with the British accents that made my heart swoon.
Some with the afternoon cups of tea.
Some with the little FIAT 500's, Mini Coopers, and Beatles.
Some with the charming landscapes.
Some with old lovers.
Some with my current love.
And some with past me.
Yesterday, January 2nd, 2019, I flew back to the U.S. from London Heathrow, terminal three. This was the same terminal I used to fly from when I lived alone at boarding school in Jordan (#King'sAcademy), and my parents were living in Reading, England. It felt surreal. I could see 15-16 year old me walking around nervously, wearing a brave face, not letting the world see how scared I really was. I was a little baby, flying across the world to a foreign country where I lived and studied all on my own. Sometimes, I look back at those moments and wonder how I survived. Yesterday, though, was different. I could see 15-16 year old me. And it surprised me how little had changed. There I was, again, leaving my parents to go to a foreign country where I live and study all on my own, but it was the U.S. this time and not Jordan. It was grad school this time and not boarding school. It was 10 years of prior experience of living alone - not my first rodeo. And yet, I was still as scared and sad as ever, putting on a brave face so no one could see my weakness.
The first time I moved to England, I absolutely, positively hated it. I had so many expectations. My friends back in Udhailiyah (AKA "The Middle of Nowhere, Saudi Arabia") had pumped me up so much.They had told me I would have the best time, and how jealous they were of me. They would have given anything to be in my shoes. But no one told me how Virginia Waters would smell like horse poop on the daily, how I would have so much trouble understanding what people were saying because of their thick accents, how I would feel so alone and secluded, even though the U.K. is so diverse, or how much I would miss my first two homes (Islamabad, Pakistan and Udhailiyah, Saudi Arabia). I was miserable. I hated England and couldn't wait to leave. When we moved to Milan, I dreaded it so much, expecting to have the same experience. I just wanted to go home to Udhailiyah. But Milan was different. People welcomed me with arms wide open. I didn't have nearly as much trouble transitioning.
When I was 16, my dad told me his project in Reading would be lasting a year or two longer, and asked me if I wanted to move back to the UK and go to boarding school there instead. 16-year-old-me was foolish and "in love" with a English boy who had broken my heart (but I was not ready to let go, hence, "foolish"), so after much debate - even though my heart knew I was set on going - I moved back to the U.K. To be fair, he wasn't the only reason I wanted to move back to the U.K. My parents were there, after all, as were two of my best friends (Zain and Mu'min). But if I'm honest with me and honest with you, he was a huge, major reason for me to move back there. I had finally began to feel comfortable in Jordan. I had an amazing group of friends. Sometimes, I wonder, if it wasn't for that boy, would I really have moved back? Either way, when I moved back for whatever reasons, I fell deeply in love with the place.
The accents were no longer foreign to me. I adopted the mannerisms and slang. I understood that when people said, "You alright?" they meant, "How are you?" and not is there something wrong with you, which is why I'm asking if you're alright, which is what I had believed before. I didn't mind that things were small, there was no central heating or A.C., and that it rained so much. I no longer lived in a village that smelled like horse poop, but rather on my school's campus with all of my friends. I guess the best way to describe how I felt was that I found England to be quirky, and as a quirky teenager myself, I quickly learned to call it "Home". Soon, I felt like I belonged. Even though I had an American accent, even though everyone could tell I wasn't really from the UK, it easily became my home. I fell in love with it as quickly, easily, and foolishly as I had for that English boy who broke my heart.
My deep love for England was foolish because from day one, until now, I knew that the U.K. was not my permanent, forever home. I am a Pakistani citizen; I am not legally allowed to live or work in the U.K. I can always apply for a visa and go visit, but I can't stay... At least, not now, and not in the near future. Who knows what will happen 20 years from now? Maybe I'll find a job there and immigrate, and eventually get citizenship. Or maybe I will never visit again (I doubt that, though).
Even though I knew it was foolish to fall in love with the place, I did. Again, and again, and again, I did. Every time I visited, I fell in love with it all over again. And I know nothing with certainly except that goodbyes never get easier, no matter how many times you say them. I also feel like I grew up in England. I went through some of life's major milestones in England, such as falling in love and having my heart broken. I found myself in England. I became "me" in England. When I moved to the U.S. for college from England, everyone called me the "British" girl (even though I still had an American accent!), which made it feel even more like home. The fact that I spent 2011-2012 living with my best friend, and my parents just a short train ride away, surely added to why England felt like home.
I honestly don't know where I am going with this piece. Perhaps it's best if I just stop writing now. I am looking at my computer, smiling. It was really hard for me to leave yesterday, because every part of my heart, body, mind and soul wanted to stay (and for the right reasons this time!). But I am a believer in the saying, "It's better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all". So, cheers, England, for stealing my heart and for all the memories I have left to make in you. See you again soon, "home" <3.
What it is really like to live in Philadelphia.
A few years ago, I began a series called WIIRL (What Is It Really Like) where I wrote about what it was really like to live in ______. I wrote about all the places I lived up to that point. Between then and now, I moved to the heart of Philadelphia for two years. I now live in the suburbs of Philadelphia, and think that the article title WIIRL: Small Town Pennsylvania describes my experiences here pretty accurately, but Philadelphia was a whole different story that I will discuss below.
Philadelphia is *so diverse*. There are so many different neighborhoods; some neighborhoods are mostly white, some mostly black, some mostly Asian, etc., but when you are in a central location such as center city, you can see a mix of everyone. You will have no issues finding a specific type of cuisine (Such as Greek, Pakistani, or Ethiopian even!), finding a sense of community, or finding other people like you. It is also very religiously-diverse. I have found that most of Pennsylvania (or most of the U.S. in general) is either Christian or non-spiritual, but Philadelphia is very religiously-diverse. I remember when I first moved there, I met so many African American (ie. Black Americans, not immigrants but those whose families have lived here for generations) who were Muslim. It was very eye opening to me, to be honest. Another example is that I have seen more black hijabis than any other race of hijabis in Philadelphia.
2. Old and new
Philadelphia is one of the oldest cities in the U.S., fact. There is a part of Philadelphia called "Old City" where, when you walk through it, everything looks and feels old (because it is!). They have historical sites there, such as Betsy Ross' house. When you walk down the streets of Old City, you feel like you are in some kind of strange time-loop or portal. The rest of downtown Philadelphia is very modern, and growing rapidly.
3. Rich and poor
There is a huge discrepancy between the rich and poor in Philadelphia. There are extremely poor neighborhoods, as well as extremely rich ones. This may be the case in basically any city, but it is extremely evident in Philadelphia, and the discrepancy grows more every day. The poor neighborhoods are being bought-out and new developments are being made there, making Philadelphia much more modernized but kicking out the locals who cannot afford to live there anymore.
4. City vs Country Life
Philadelphia feels like a whole other world compared to the other, more "country-ish" parts of Pennsylvania (ie. most of Pennsylvania). I currently live in the suburbs of Philadelphia. People here are *so* different. For one, people are so much nicer here than in Philadelphia! An old lady asked my brother and I if we needed a ride when we were walking around, for example... and she was serious! People are also so much more... ignorant, and conservative. They aren't used to diversity like the city-folk are, so they don't always understand issues that don't have anything to do with them. People in Philadelphia seem to be so much more open minded, aware, and liberal (all good things), though also less friendly haha.
Often, the poor neighborhoods are labeled as dangerous, but I personally did not feel like I was in danger during my time in Philadelphia at all (except for when my room mate, India Rottenburg (sorry, the Philadelphia city police were useless and didn't help me, and I don't want to be sued for "slander" even though it's a fact, so I can't write her real last name but you can probably guess it) stole my identity. And that was in my university's graduate school housing, in China town, super close to center city, and not in a "poor" neighborhood. While crime rates may be more prevalent in poorer neighborhoods, I personally didn't feel like I was in danger at all, anytime. There is a huge drug-culture, and tons of drug related crimes including murder, but I personally would say that Philadelphia is just as dangerous as any city, and you have to be active / smart to keep yourself safe, just like you would in any city!
Overall, Philadelphia was one of my favorite places to live. It was my first time living all alone in a big, bad city. Before I moved there, my brother Adnan used to joke that I was going to be a "sheep in the big city". It was an adventure. I loved it. I'm glad to be out now, though, and in the suburbs instead where it is much more quiet, green, and safe (ie. if I had a room mate and she stole my identity here in Media, the police would actually do their job and help me, unlike in Philadelphia. Amazing! -_-) I love Philadelphia. There is ALWAYS so much to do. I think I could spend a life time there and not be bored, but my heart and spirit are too adventurous to stay in one place to long. I won't be writing a WIIRL about Media, Pennsylvania because I wrote one on "Small-Town Pennsylvania" which encompasses my experiences here pretty well too. Until next time, adios folks!
Falling in love.
A post about what is it like falling in love.
A dedication to my future daughter(s). I hope you feel this way someday, and I hope somebody feels this way towards you.
Falling in love is like taking that first bite of a warm brownie that just came out of the oven.
Falling in love is like diving into the swimming pool without getting your feet wet first, and not knowing how cold it's going to be.
Falling in love is like seeing a butterfly after a long winter.
Falling in love is like learning how to breathe, all over again.
Falling in love is like realizing you were never really breathing before.
Falling in love is like wishing the moon could never leave, because you've never seen something so beautiful.
Falling in love is like finally letting your shoulders fall down and relaxing, knowing you no longer have to face the world alone.
Falling in love is like seeing the world's beauty with fresh eyes, as if you never saw it before.
Falling in love is like holding a baby chick in your hands and wanting to squeeze it because you never saw something so cute, but holding it gently instead as to never hurt it.
Falling in love is like wishing you could take all the stars out of the night sky and give them as a present to your loved one.
Falling in love is like dreaming in your woken state, and spending nights sleepless because reality is finally better than your dreams.
Falling out of love.
And now, a post about falling out of love, which is also dedicated to my future daughters. You will unfortunately most likely feel this way someday, too.
Falling out of love is like knowing that the only person who can make you happy right now is the one that has made you so sad.
Falling out of love is like not knowing who to turn to, because the person you turned to for everything is the reason for your pain.
Falling out of love is like fasting for 18 hours, only to have the food you cooked be too spicy or too salty, and inedible.
Falling out of love is like being sad, constantly, and no one else understanding why.
Falling out of love is like learning to walk, for the second time, but this time having to teach yourself.
Falling out of love is like waking up from a beautiful dream, and then being splashed in your face with a bucket of ice water (reality).
Falling out of love is like fighting the entire universe for someone, only to realize that maybe they were right all along.
Falling out of love is like knowing there are plenty of fish in the sea, but wanting to go back in time and relive all your precious moments again with that one fish who is no longer right for you (or maybe never was).
Falling out of love is like breathing in room full of smoke; difficult.
Falling out of love is like being slowly pushed towards a wall, with no where else to go, and finally having a door appear that gets you out.
Falling out of love is like learning that, sometimes, you gotta be your own best friend.
Falling out of love is like learning that everything will be okay someday, even if it isn't at the time.
Disclaimer for all you gossip girls: this post doesn't necessarily have anything to do with my life at the current moment, so don't make it into something it's not. It's just based on my life experiences as a whole. The falling in love section is about someone whom I love dearly, and fall in love with every. single. day. The falling out of love section is about all my previous heartbreaks, of which I've had plenty. - XOXO Gossip Girl
So here's something that's not talked about enough: TCK's and education.
I genuinely believe that being a TCK is one of my life's biggest blessings (though sometimes I can see it as a curse, such as when I lose touch with friends due to the constant distance) and I think that any child who has lived a similar life is so lucky. Through our TCK lifestyle, we gain a unique and wonderful understanding of the world, one that I feel you can't really get otherwise. You understand other cultures in ways that you can only if you experienced them for yourself. That said, sometimes certain things, such as TCK education (ie. the education of a TCK) can be negatively affected by this otherwise extraordinary lifestyle.
This post is directed to parents, teachers, educators, school psychologists, school counselors, and to students themselves, in order for everyone to gain a better understanding of what being a student and a TCK is like (and what some of the struggles are!).
1. I am a TCK and a school psychologist in training, so I would say I am pretty well equipped to write about this.
2. This post is and will always be a work in progress: I will continue to add things to it as they come to me, particularly in the recommendations section, so that it may serve as a recourse.
TCKs (third culture kids - kids who grow up outside their parents' culture and move around a lot, usually from country to country) can face difficulties with school. There are so many factors that come into play when it comes to this. One rather obvious one is curriculum changes.
When a student moves from one school to another, it is likely that he or she will either be ahead or behind in certain areas, depending on the curriculum that was used at the individual schools. Over the next few months, he/she may need to play a catch-up game or need some extra help in order to be at the level of his/her peers. This is totally normal and expected; most teachers and school personnel such as psychologists or counselors understand this. This becomes a more significant issue when the child is a TCK and the curriculum changes aren't just between cities within one country, but rather changes between multiple countries.
An example is if a child went to an international school for 1st to 3rd grade, where he learned "World History" (or maybe European history, or Middle Eastern History, etc. depending on where he/she lived), and then moved to the U.S., then it's very likely this TCK will not have the same amount of knowledge on American history as his or her peers. This does not mean that the child is intellectually lacking, but rather simply that the child learned something different and may not be as familiar with certain topics his peers know well.
Another "problem" or concern with TCK's and their education is that, sometimes, when a student moves around often, he/she might not learn something at all, due to these curriculum changes. I can use myself as an example of this. I moved to the UK from Saudi Arabia in 6th grade, and then to Milan in 7th grade, and then back to Saudi Arabia in 8th grade. Between those two years of me being "abroad", my "local" classmates in Saudi Arabia took a geography class. My classmates in the UK were not going to be taking a geography class until the 7th grade, and my classmates in Italy already took their geography class in 6th grade. So, by the time I returned to Saudi Arabia in 8th grade, all my peers had a really good understanding of world geography, and (even though I physically moved around the world, haha) I was severely lacking in that subject!
Alsooooo, when you move, you have to completely redefine yourself. Personally, this often came as a relief to me, because I got to completely start over. But I remember so clearly the first time I moved (to England from Saudi Arabia) I had the HARDEST time with this, because I didn't know how to prove to my teachers or peers who I am. They saw my quiet, shy nature as being rude or inattentive, when really I was just struggling to fit in. In my old school, I was known as the good kid. The kid who never got into trouble, who was quiet, polite, and worked hard. The teachers knew my family well, as all three of my brothers had studied at this school as well. When I moved to England, no one knew me, and for some reason they thought I was some bad, rebellious kid. I have so many examples of this, but here's one: one day, maybe a month or two into the school year, we had a substitute teacher in our ELA class. There was a girl named Alisha in my class, and because everyone always pronounced my name incorrectly (my name is eye-sha, and most people pronounce it ay-E-sha, which sounds a lot like Alisha!), which is how the trouble began. She read out either my or her name, and both of us raised our hands. When she saw us both raising our hands, instead of assuming maybe one of us heard wrong, or that we both had similar names, she just yelled at us. She thought we were trying to prank her. My classmates all looked at me like I was a freaking devil. I tried to explain but the sub told me to shut up, which made it even worse. I almost burst into tears. I was not used to this at all; in my old school, everyone knew me and knew I wouldn't ever prank a teacher (lolol)! Sixth grade was the worst year of my life, but it taught me that I need to go the extra mile in the beginning of the school year to show my teachers and classmates who I am, before they can brand me as who they think I am. So, what I am trying to say here is that when a student moves to a new school, he/she has to completely redefine themselves and "prove" who they are. They can't rely on the past or their past behavior to dictate who they are. They can't rely on their friends, their teachers, etc. because no one here knows them. It's up to them to show the world what kind of kid they are, and to try twice as hard to prove who they really are, before anyone can brand them, for them.
Education or schooling (or being a student, I suppose) isn't just about what you learn, what curriculum you follow, what your grades are like... A child's social-life (or development of social skills) can be negatively affected by this lifestyle. What I mean by this is, children often make friends and learn social skills at school, through interactions they have with their peers, or at recess, or through projects they work on, etc. When a student moves to a different school, he/she has to rebuild these connections and reform relationships with his peers. Sometimes, it is easy to make new friends and to adjust. Other times, it is extremely difficult to be the new kid and not know anyone.
Currently, I can't think of anything else I would like to add above, but if something else comes to me later on in my life, I will be sure to write about it on this post. I just want everyone to know that being a TCK is already hard enough, and having shitty experience at school can make it even worse. So, please, everyone go out of your way to be kind and helpful to each other, in all walks of life (and especially to new kids at your schools!). Before I end this, I want to give some recommendations to students who are TCKs, to parents of TCK students, and to school-based professionals.
Recommendations for TCK students:
Recommendations for parents of TCK students:
Recommendations for school-based personnel (teachers, counselors, psychologists, principles, etc.):
To finish off, I just want to remind all parents to be advocates for their children, all school-personnel to be advocates for their students, and all students to be advocates for themselves (as difficult as that may be at times). <3
Dear me / Dear you,
I just turned in my last final (take-home) exam of my graduate school career. I am officially finished with my second year in graduate school. I moved into my first *real* apartment about a month ago, and everything is going so great! I live in a lovely area, in my own apartment, I'm almost done with school, I'm done with clinic (those of us who survived it know how brutal it was). In about two week's time, I'll be on my way.
First stop: Dublin. Just a layover.
Next stop: London / Reading, England. Oh my how my heart has missed you. There is so much irony in the fact that I hated England so much the first time I moved there, in 2005, and how years later when I moved back again in 2010, it became one of my favourite places on earth. To this day, it still feels like home.... Maybe it's because my parents are there, and my heart is where they are. I have lived in the U.S. for 6.5 years now, and I can't think of it as home, because my parents are there, not here. And by there, I mean anywhere in the world but here. I'm excited to go back. I am trying not to have too many expectations, but so many memories lay there. I genuinely believe that I "blossomed" from being a childish teenager into an adult during my time there. Ah.
Next stop: Who knows. Maybe Saudi. Maybe Pakistan. Hopefully both.
When I come back in August, my life will be so different. I'll have somewhere to come back to; somewhere that's mine. Somewhere that I can make feel like home. I'll get a car (my first car, ever!), start my full-time, paid internship, start working as a school psychology intern, and when I'm done with that, I'm done. Khalas. Capisce. I'm officially done with school. I will (fingers crossed; In Shaa Allah) no longer be a student, but rather a full time, nationally certified school psychologist. That sounds REALLY weird to say, haha, because all I've ever known since I was five years old is how to be a student. I've been in school non-stop (no gap years!) and all of a sudden, I'll be done. But let's not jump the gun. I have a year left to go. A very important, defining year. I feel like this year (fall 2018-summer 2019) will be a very defining time in my life, just as senior year of high school back in 2012, back in England, was. I'm slowly but surely transitioning into adulthood, whether I like it or not.
I've been neglecting my blog severely. I am quite embarrassed, honestly, because everytime I came here to post anything in the last few months (heh, probably 2 years if I'm honest), it was something negative. It was me ranting. I don't want to be negative anymore. I want to turn this blog back into what I started it off to be, and I plan on working on that this summer.
I have a little something planned that I will be spending the summer working on. Other than that, I hope I can come back and update my blog with a reflection on what it's like to be back in England after many years, and other TCK-related things.
Until then, sayonara folks.
Disclaimer/March 17, 2018 Update: I wrote this post one night when I was feeling exceptionally frustrated and feeling down. This isn't how I feel on a daily basis - I'm fine :)! Everything is fine! Yes, grad school is hard, but I know I'm not in this journey alone, and there is a light at the end of the tunnel. A very rewarding light. Please keep all of this in mind when you read the post below.
May 13, 2018 update: Finished the semester. Got a 4.0 for the semester, my Master's degree, and I currently have a 3.7 overall GPA!!! :) All those tears and hard moments that I wrote about down below were worth it! So happy to move on, though... Educational Specialist Degree, here I come!
"In three words, I can sum up everything I have learned about life: it goes on." - Robert Frost. I remember the first time I read this quote; I was about 10 years old and reading the yearbook. It was picked by a senior at Udhailiyah School as their yearbook quote. It felt so insignificant. I felt like this is the last mark you will leave here; this is what you will be remembered by. The statement in this quotation is so obvious... Like, duh? Life goes on. Time goes on. Thank you captain obvious? I didn't really understand it until I got older, though; until I experienced losses and heartbreaks and goodbyes and life moving on, whether I was ready for it to or not. Now, there isn't a quote in the word that I can agree with more. Robert Frost, you're absolutely right. Life goes on.
Grad school has been so hard for me. How do you cope when you're giving your 100%, and still doing things wrong, feeling incapable, and being constantly criticized? I came in knowing that I know nothing about the field I was studying, but knowing that I wanted to learn and I was willing to put in the effort to do so. I feel like I have given this my all and yet I still seem to get things wrong.
Sometimes, I feel like I am being unfairly criticized and unfairly judged by two certain individuals in power positions. And it's genuinely making me depressed. I haven't brushed my hair in a few days. I've been wearing leggings and a sweatshirt because I haven't had the chance to do my laundry. I've been skipping meals on a regular basis. I'm not in a good place. I feel like this is normalized, because everyone around me is in a similar situation - we're all skipping meals sometimes, we're all not dressing our best, we're all sleeping at strange times, we're all doing at least one thing or another that is considered to be unhealthy. But we justify it - it's grad school... We're students... We're supposed to be this way.
But are we really?
I remember during my senior year of undergrad, I organized a "What Matters Most" dinner in which I, as a student leader at our school's center for service, spirituality and social justice, invite a Professor to have an intimate dinner with a group of about 10-15 students and talk to us about what matters most. During this dinner, this Professor talked about his struggles with depression, particularly during graduate school. I remember thinking how brave he was for being so painfully raw, real, and honest with us. He told us that grad school was the hardest, and most mentally unhealthy time of his life, but at the same time, he survived and he made it out. He never said that he succeeded. While listening to him talk, I wondered if him succeeding (getting a Ph.D. and becoming an amazing professor) was just a side effect of him simply surviving. I was just starting my applications for grad school. I was just starting my own journey. I was young and naive (hell, I still am) and thought hey, I'm going to be a student, so it's okay for me to not know everything. It's okay for me to not be perfect. It's okay for me to make mistakes (not intentionally, of course). But here I am, being threatened on a weekly basis that if I continue making mistakes, I will have to take additional classes. It's like I'm not a student; I'm a robot who is expected to know everything. It's unfair for me to blame anyone but myself; the mistakes are my own. But I guess what I'm trying to get at is that I wish I had taken my old Professor's words to heart about his journey, and better prepared myself for the anguish I would be going through.
So, here I am. I spent the last hour crying. It's become a weekly thing at this point. I see the light at the end of the tunnel (internship - then, graduation). I see the finish line, and I'm sprinting towards it while tripping over my own self again and again and again. I kind of feel like just stopping, laying down on the grass, not running anymore, and just watching everyone else run past me to and through the finish line, but I also just want to get there. I just want to run so fast, so that I can finally move past this part of my life. I am absolutely beyond excited for the 3rd year of my program - a full time internship, a completely different experience. I have been accepted into a wonderful site, too. I just need to get myself back up off the floor and finish this last sprint.
When my Professor was telling us about his experiences and difficulties in grad school, he did mention the one thing that kept him sane: his family. His colleagues. People who loved him, supported him, believed in him, understood him, and helped him get through the most difficult part of his life. I think tonight has been the most difficult night of my graduate school career, not because anything significantly different has happened, but just because of the constant criticism... This past Sunday, I worked from 9:00 am to 8:30 pm (with only one break for food) on a single thing, only to have it returned with comments that make me feel incompetent. If it is a one time thing, sure, it's fine, but it's like every single week, I go through the same thing. And I know everyone else in my cohort does too, but I don't know. What do you do when you feel like you're being unfairly judged or criticized, especially when you are trying your best and literally giving it your all? Feeling more down than I ever have before in my life, I wrote a little post on my cohort's Facebook page, and everyone made an effort to respond, to make me feel better. That is what keeps me going. That. Knowing that I am not in this alone, first of all, and also knowing that there are other people who are in the same boat as me (so, they get it) who still believe in me. Just the simple gesture of all of them sending a little gif to make me smile, or some of them texting me to make sure I'm okay (even though that I know they're all going through the same thing I am!!) just really motivates me to keep going, to not give up, and to not be too difficult on myself.
I'm ready for life to go on, but I am forever grateful for the angels I have met along the way who have helped me in ways they may not know or understand. I genuinely, sincerely don't believe I could have survived grad school without the wonderful cohort I get to share this experience with, or without the support of some of my loved ones who believe in me way more than I believe in myself.
To all of you who have gone out of your way to smile at me, to send me positivity, to believe in me and so forth... Thank you. You don't know how much it has meant to me.
#MeToo when I was a child.
#MeToo when I was a preteen.
#MeToo when I was a teen.
#MeToo in my adulthood.
#MeToo when I was a child, wearing bootleg jeans and a tee-shirt that had camels walking across a sunset.
#MeToo when I was a child, wearing pajamas.
#MeToo when I was a teenager, wearing dress pants and a dress shirt.
#MeToo when I was a child, when I was a teenager, and as an adult wearing an abaya and hijab (all multiple times, all in Saudi Arabia).
#MeToo when I wore salwar kameez with and without a duputta.
#MeToo when I wore a "short" skirt or dress.
#MeToo, still, when I wear my hijab (no matter where in the world I am).
Sexual violence can happen to anyone, anywhere, regardless of how young or old they are, and what they are or are not wearing. It's happened to me. In my childhood. In my preteen years. In my teen years. In my adulthood. When I wore a "short" dress; when I wear my hijab. Stop blaming the victims, and start blaming the societies and cultures that continue to allow monsters to do as they please without any fear of consequences or judgement of their actions. This is a global problem that we constantly fail to address.
March 17, 2018 Update: I've noticed that there are certain assholes who mock the Me Too movement and think that individuals (not just women - men can be the victims of sexual violence too!) exaggerate when they share their stories, or hashtag "Me Too". I can't speak on behalf of everyone, but I can speak on behalf of myself, and all that I want to and am willing to say to the general public about my experiences are written above. If you have the privilege of not understanding why "Me Too" is so significant, why people related to it/posted it, or why people believe that they were sexually assaulted or made uncomfortable through any unwanted sexualness (catcalling, for example), then I am truly envious of you. I wish I too didn't understand, because ignorance is bliss. But even if I didn't "understand" because I didn't live through it - I would still try to understand those individuals; I certainly would not be mocking this, or saying that people exaggerate about if they were victims (or survivors) of sexual misconduct. So, if you do happen to fall into this category of assholes who mock this, I urge you to educate yourself, be empathetic, listen, try to understand... Not everyone shares their stories; not everybody wears their scars on their face for the world to see - but that doesn't diminish what they went through. Peace.
Udhailiyah, Saudi Arabia.
As I write this, I am sitting on a sofa we've had for as long as I can remember. And, to me, that is a very, very significant thing. I am sitting in a living room that looks just like the one I would sit in when I was seven years old, plus or minus a few things. The television looks different. It's thin and wide, instead of narrow and fat. The backyard door is open. The house smells the same. I'm instantly thrown back to my childhood, and that is a dangerous feeling.
It's dangerous being thrown back into the "before". Before I moved multiple times, had hundreds of heart breaks because of it, loved and lost, saw the rawness, sadness, evil and pain of this world. It's dangerous because it is a fantasy; because back then, I lived in a fantasy. I just didn't know it.
Udhailiyah is the singular place I can truly call home with all of my heart and mean it, completely. But it's really much more complicated than that. To understand me, you must understand it.
Udhailiyah is a small... place. I rewrote this sentence 100 times, no joke. I don't even know what to call it, lol. A town? A compound? A camp? A community? A little utopia? Let's start again. It's just so damn complicated.
Udhailiyah is a company owned compound in the middle of the desert. Access to it is extremely limited, because of it's location (1. Saudi Arabia - it's very difficult to get into this country. 2. It's in the middle of the desert) and the fact that it is owned by a mega-rich oil company. The only people allowed to enter this "area" are individuals who work for said company, their dependents (spouse, children under 25) or individuals who have gone through a very long, tedious, expensive process of obtaining visitors access. Once the head individual who is allowing others (dependents) to be in the community retires, quits, is fired, or leaves the company for whatever reason, no one is allowed back into this "area". At all. Period.
It is one of four compounds, and the smallest, most secluded of all four. It is literally this tiny man-made oasis surrounded in all direction by desert for basically two hours.
It is not a public place. It is a very, very private place, and to enter it, you need to have permission or access. I'm not joking, guys. The whole area is fenced, and there are multiple security checkpoints and gates leading into the community, and without proper identification (such as an ID card showing you are a employee or dependent of an employee) you will absolutely be turned away. It's quite scary, too, given that there are military tanks guarding the security checkpoints....
To be raised in it, to learn to love it, to call it home even more-so than your own passport country, and then to learn you can never return is quite the heartbreaking experience. Anyways, that is where I'm from. And what I mean by that is, for the most part, that is where my personality, my language, my ideas, my heart has come from. It's home.
So, now that you have some kind of an understanding of what Udhailiyah is, let's move on to how it has played a role in my life.
I was born in another compound, called Dhahran (the main compound of the 4), and spent the first three years of my life in another, called Abqaiq. When we moved to Udhailiyah, I was just three years old, and my entire development came from family. There was little to no outside influence in who I was. For example, I spoke Urdu, for the most part, whereas now I speak English for the most part. My life was significantly changed by my experiences in Udhailiyah, in ways that I don't even know how to describe.
For example, my very first real friend was a Buddhist from Sri Lanka. I was about 4 years old. I saw her, noticed she was brown, and I was like oh... She must speak Urdu, and I clearly remember blabbing something in my language only to get a :l look back from her. She was 3, and must have thought I was crazy, hahahaha. But think about it. My very first friend was from another country and faith than my own. I don't know, the older I get, the more "rare" that sounds to me. After her, through school, I made friends from literally all around the world. Some from India, some from Pakistan, others from Sudan, Columbia, Thailand, the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Palestine, everywhere. I had friends from all different types of faiths. I ate home cooked foods from all these different nationalities that I still crave everyday. I learned beautiful words and curse words in languages that I don't speak. I think, from everything Udhailiyah has given me, the thing I am most grateful for is the friendships and the understandings from those friendships that I gained.
Is it possible to lose something you never had? Because I was about to write that I also lost something: my sense of national identity, but honestly, that's something I never had. I was always a Pakistani - always - but I was also born in Saudi Arabia; by the time I moved to Udhailiyah, I had only visited Pakistan for a few months, and to be completely honest, I don't have a single memory of it (which makes sense; I was 3...). Most of my memories of Pakistan came after I moved to Udhailiyah. When we were in school, and people would ask us where we were from, I would always say Pakistan. I represented Pakistan at every cultural fair. I wore salwar kameez and traditional wear to almost every Eid party. We had a little Pakistani community within our diverse little population, but being a part of that is certainly very different than living in actual Pakistan. Just to clarify, I am not saying I am proud of my lack of Pakistani-ness, because I'm not. In fact, I often wish that I had a normal childhood, and a normal sense of identity. I often wish I grew up like my cousins - with a sense of family, home, cultural and national identity, in the same city their entire lives. It's just simply not the case for me. My life is different, and why can't that be explored or celebrated without it seeming like I am not proud of where I come from? Anyways, as I stated a bit earlier, I think before I moved to Udhailiyah, even though I was just a little babe, I had more of a Pakistani identity than after I moved to Udhailiyah. After moving there, I became a Udhailiyan first, a Pakistani second. To clarify, I knew where I was from, I made it clear to others I was from there, I was proud of it, but in my heart if you asked me at that time (and probably even now) where home was, the answer was simple: Udhailiyah.
The first major move in my life was from Udhailiyah to England. I had no idea what to expect. I knew London was supposed to be glamorous, and I remember the most popular girl in our class telling me to "shop until I drop", but other than that, I didn't know anything. I was certainly excited, though, but at the same time, I was very naive and sheltered (in some ways, but unfortunately not in others). Once I started school, I was miserable. Everyone was the same; I was so different. No one understood me. I stopped understanding myself. I didn't know how to explain where I was from, or who I was. It was like my entire identity was taken and I had to redefine myself for the world, while I was still trying to figure it out myself. I was just 11 years old, and probably the most homesick 11 year old in the entire universe. I couldn't wait to go home.
Two years later, we moved back to Udhailiyah. My heart exploded with excitement. I couldn't wait. I had, for the most part, managed to keep in touch over MSN with all of my friends and I couldn't wait to be back with them. As shocking as it was for me to move to England, moving back to Udhailiyah was equally so. People changed.... (obviously). There were different friend groups and cliques than when I was there before. Everyone was suddenly into doing "cool" things like dating, smoking, playing pool, and sneaking out in the middle of the night. I felt like everyone kind of grew up, and grew closer, without me. I didn't know where I fit into the equation anymore. Not at first, at least. The only way I can possibly explain this is imagine that you love to go swimming in the pool. One day, you climb to the highest diving board, and do a bellyflop on the surface of the water. It's still the same pool that you know and love; it's still the same water, same temperature, same everything, but at the same time it's completely different, and it's painful AF. There's just that awkward moment where you're like "Owe, owe, owe" before you sink back into the water and everything is normal again. That's basically what it felt like trying to reintegrate into Udhailiyah after being away two years. After a few months, I felt right at home, but I remember my first few days and weeks: I was so confused at how different everyone and everything was. The funny thing is, I probably didn't realize how different I was.
Throughout all of that adjustment trauma, some things stayed the same. We had the same dining table. We had the same couches. We had the same majlis or floor cushions. The house looked basically the same, even though it was a different house on the other side of the compound. I don't know who to thank for that, but dear God, I'm so grateful to this day for that. It was very hard to come back home only to realize it had changed so much; to see my actual "home" (house) look exactly the same definitely in some ways made the transition easier.
After I got over the adjustment problems, I had two of the very best years of my life. I absolutely LOVED 2007-2009. They shaped me into who I am today in many ways, and also in different ways than my early childhood years. I wouldn't be who I am without those two years, and the friendships from them.
I'm smiling now, because even after spending hours (weeks, honestly - I keep saving the draft and coming back to it) writing this, I know that it still doesn't do justice to Udhailiyah and how that little community in the middle of the Arabian Desert shaped me into who I am today. :) And maybe that's a beautiful thing; Udhailiyah is a mysterious little place. Maybe I should leave some mystery here too. The truth is, even I don't understand that mystery and I'm constantly realizing how Udhailiyah is made me who I am, and why I call it home.
Oh sandy roads, take me home, to the place I belong.... An ode to my home, to the beautiful little... place... called Udhailiyah. <3
Summer vacations: the best time of the year. Everyone is out enjoying the warm weather, there are celebrations all over the world, beaches get swamped, and Ayesha goes home.
Almost every single year of my 23 year-old-life, I've gone "Home: 1" for summer vacations to Islamabad, Pakistan. In my childhood, I would leave "Home: 2" (Udhailiyah, Saudi Arabia) and spend about two months there. As I've gotten older, it's become more like two weeks, and the departing point has been from various places across the globe. This summer has been no different: I was fortunate enough to return back to Pakistan, even for a short while, and see my beautiful country and my family members again.
There are two facts about my Home: 1 that make it particularly unique to me. Firstly, it is in my passport country, and while I have not officially "lived" there (I only count living in a place if I go there for a purpose, such as school, work, etc. and not for vacations or holidays, and for over 5 months at least), it is the only place in the entire world where I have a physical home and memories inside of it from my entire life.
Our house in Islamabad was built when I was around the age of five or six. I still remember my Dad asking me what colour I'd like my bedroom and bathroom to be painted. My answer? Pink, obviously. The pink toilet haunted me everyday of my (slightly) rebellious pre-teen years, when I swore to be a tomboy and loved every colour but pink. Now, as an adult, I love the overwhelming strawberry-milk colour everywhere! But it's quite strange to me that something from my childhood, from when I was just starting school, still affects me in some ways today.
I don't have a permanent address. I do not have markings on the walls of my singular home showing how tall I've become over the years. I don't get to sit on my singular bed in my singular bedroom and remember reading The Berenstain Bears when I was five, and then the Harry Potter series when I was twelve, and then textbooks on Psychology at 23.... That is, I don't have that anywhere except for in my home in Islamabad. But, the thing is, I don't live there. I never did. It is a "summer home", of sorts, but (unfortunately) has never been my real home because I have never "lived" there.
I didn't realize how much that physical home would mean to me, until I started to move around the world, and the concept of home became less of a word to me, and more of a grad school thesis paper lol. When I was growing up, and moving around constantly, it wasn't as if I knew what to expect. I didn't know that years later, I would miss those physical houses and apartments that at some point I called home. I didn't know that those places would be lost forever, never to be the same, and yet those memories made at those places would continue to haunt me forever, simply because the physical places remain untouchable. There's something almost seductive about not being able to have something; I am not able to return to those houses/apartments that I've lived in (and even if I were to, it is not like they would look the same as when we lived there). But yet, that is the exact opposite for my home in Islamabad. Every year, when I go back, it remains the exact same as the year before, with my pink bedroom and bathroom, My Little Pony curtains, stains from old memories, markings on the walls, notebooks filled with drawings and a child's handwriting, photos on the fridge, the same smell of "home" in the furniture, the same yearning to stay yet knowing soon I will leave again...
It is so significant to me, because it is the only place for me like that. Which, as I'm writing this, makes me realize that most people only have one place like that, because they have one home. But what makes it different for me is that I've had so many homes, but yet this is the only one that remains absolutely as is, and is ours. It is the only one I can return to.
It's strange, honestly. It's a weird feeling. It feels like you are watching a movie. You walk into your bedroom, and remember memories from every single year of your life. The good, the bad, and the ugly all there together, staring you in the face. It's almost as if you are looking at your own body, and seeing how it has grown or changed. You see where the scars remain (the memories that stick with you, like that summer when you stayed up all night, every night, MSNing that boy who would soon become a stranger to you, or that summer when your cousin lived with you and you both would stay up talking and laughing the night away, or those summers filled with having secret facetime sessions with the love of your life) and what caused them. It's such a unique feeling that is hard to put into words for me.
I have a secret place in my bedroom, where I hide things every single year. In it, I have plane-letters from my friends from the first time I moved in 2005, I have a leaf from maybe 2000 or 2001 when our house was finished being built, I have daily planners, I have love letters, I have photographs... I have bits of my entire life, shoved into a 3 foot by four foot space, telling the story of my life. Each year, I add to it.
I have memories from literally every room in the house, and often physical things to go with those memories. I can almost see myself walking those hallways, running up the stairs to the roof when it rains or running down to the cool basement when the electricity dies and we're all burning in the heat. I have a collection of some of my favourite books from my lifetime. I have VCR tapes, DVD's, and BlueRays. I have broken jewellery. I have old clothes. I have so many memories there...
When I say that it is strange, or feels weird, I don't mean it in a negative way. It feels strange because it is so foreign to me to have such feelings or experiences, as it is the only home that is so. When I walk those halls, I feel nostalgia, serenity, peace, happiness, pride, and so much more. I see my entire life and feel proud of where I am now. I whisper to younger Ayesha, telling her that everything will be okay, just in case in some parallel world, both of us are there together and she needs to hear that. I wonder if older/future Ayesha does the same for 23 year old Ayesha. And then I think I'm crazy, but so is my life, and I love it :).
Being a TCK is certainly not easy, but having somewhere I can always go to and completely be at home makes it so much easier. I am so grateful for that.
Two years ago, on this date, I officially became a hijabi.
It's really weird for me, honestly, to realize that it's been two years. As cliché as this sounds, it feels like it's been a lot longer. There have been so many changes in my life since I began to wear it (getting my bachelors degree, starting graduate school, moving to a new city, and so forth) that it feels like maybe five years have gone by, not just two. The first year went by so fast, and this second went by so slow.
I remember sitting on my parent's couch in Milan one-year-ago-today, and writing my hijab story and initial one year reflection (<- click on those words if you want to read it!). Everything I've written there still stands true to me, particularly the reflection piece, and I actually feel relieved re-reading it. Sometimes, I need to remind myself of those 10 points, as to not be too harsh on myself, to remember that I'm not alone, and to remind myself why I wear my hijab.
The first year had it's own sets of challenges, such as "coming out" as a hijabi, getting used to wearing it, not feeling like myself in it, and so forth. This second year has had a whole different set of challenges, mainly feeling that I'm not good or pure enough to wear it, and sometimes thinking of taking it off.
The first point on my first year reflection was about hijabis not being perfect, and that's okay. That was something I believed in always. Unlike basically everyone else, I never held hijabis to any higher standards than non-hijabis, but unfortunately in the Muslim community, it's the opposite. Hijabis are supposed to be the epitome of modest perfection, and therefore even the slightest sin is viewed much more harshly as compared with a non-hijabi doing the same action. The only comparison I can think of is how a Christian community may view a nun (except for the fact that many Muslims believe hijab is mandatory for believing women, and being a nun is seen as something exceptional or extra - not an everyday act). An example of this judgey-criticism is seeing a group of Muslim people smoking hookah/shisha. Imagine a Muslim boy, a Muslim girl (non-hijabi) and another Muslim girl (hijabi) all smoking hookah together. I can almost guarantee that no one would bat an eye at the Muslim boy, some would at the Muslim girl, and everyone would at the hijabi Muslim girl. "How shameful! She should just take off her hijab if she wants to smoke and be with boys. Her skirt is too tight. Her wrist is showing. She probably threads her eyebrows too. What a slut." :) These are some comments I'd imagine would proceed. And, for the record, I'm not just pulling this out of my butt! I've seen and heard this exact situation numerous times... Whether it be a hijabi smoking hookah, a hijabi hanging out with a boy, a hijabi wearing high heels, a hijabi wearing makeup, a hijabi getting her eyebrows done, or a hijabi doing basically ANYTHING, she's always judged for it.
This was initially the main reason I didn't feel ready to become a hijabi. I wasn't perfect (nor am I today!). While, like I said, I didn't hold hijabis up to a higher standard, I knew the world would to me, and I simply didn't feel ready. I wear makeup, I thread my eyebrows, I love wearing heels, I wear tons of colors and not just black, etc. Reflecting on my second year, I think this has been the biggest struggle for me... Constantly feeling judged, being held on a pedestal, not feeling good enough, and feeling weak from constantly fighting back.
I don't recall any negative comments said to me or directed towards me, but I've read/heard probably at least a thousand within this past year directed at the general hijabi community. For example, I watch a lot of hijabi-YouTubers, and in almost every single video, if I scroll down to the comments, there is at least one person saying "take off your hijab if you want to ______". How cruel and wrong has our Muslim community become, to make girls who wear the hijab feel inadequate, and make girls who want to wear the hijab feel fear of not being good enough? This is a huge problem that no one likes to address! Instead of tearing down hijabis left and right, criticising every move, and making others not want to wear it because they don't want to be so heavily judged, shouldn't we be doing the opposite (making them feel beautiful, welcomed, encouraging them)?! Radical idea, right?
Honestly, that has been the biggest struggle for me in my 2nd year of wearing hijab. I don't recall anyone saying anything directly to me, about not being pure enough or good enough, but I swear... I see it everyday, everywhere, both on social media and in real life. It's easy for me to feel like a target of that abuse too, when the comments made are generalized and attacking an entire group of people. For example, if someone says "hijabis shouldn't wear nailpolish, and if they want to, they should just take their hijab off," maybe it won't really effect me the first time, but after hearing/reading it like 100 times, it really makes me second guess myself and my actions.
Some of you reading this might be thinking that that those changes don't seem that difficult (just don't wear makeup, nailpolish or perfume, don't get your eyebrows done, don't hang out with boys, don't smoke (I don't, btw!), don't talk unless you're spoken to, don't laugh really loud in public, and just wear a black burkha with a nikab, gloves and socks so not a single body part shows!) but I really, sincerely don't believe in that. I believe in moderation. I believe that everyone is on their own journey, and that we should do what is best and most comfortable for ourselves. I believe that there is no compulsion in our faith. Have I ever worn a burkha and a nikab? Yup, I have! When I was in Saudi Arabia and it was the normal thing to do! If I wore one here in the U.S. (not that I want to, and I'm not at all shaming anyone who does), it would draw much more attention to me - and the point of hijab is to take that attention away. I just want to be *me* and do what's comfortable for *me* without thinking anyone, particularly men or random women who don't even wear a hijab are judging me for it.
The second most difficult aspect of being a hijabi, this year, was occasionally wanting to take it off, and it was mostly for superficial reasons such as not feeling as beautiful with it on as without it. In August, I started graduate school, and met so many great people from in my cohort. I don't know about everyone else, but I always have this need to "impress" when I meet new people. I want to look my absolute best, for example, and... if I'm completely honest with myself and everyone else, I feel most beautiful without my hijab on. I mean, I'm pretty sure that's normal, and that's part of being hijabi (hiding part of your beauty, being modest). Anyone would feel most beautiful showing off their hair, so my feelings aren't that crazy, but it's been a struggle for me! So many times I've just wanted to whip it off and show off my hair to my mostly-girl cohort, haha. I don't know, I just want(ed) to feel pretty. I feel pretty embarrassed writing this, because I understand how superficial it sounds, but I really try to be honest with myself in my posts. I will say that those feelings were mostly in the first half of this year, and the second half has been much easier.
I also want to clarify and say that I do feel pretty wearing my hijab! It's like a crown; I feel like a princess. I just feel more pretty without it on, when I'm staring at myself in my bedroom mirror with a cute dress and heels on that no one will see me in (at least, not without a full sleeve shirt under, leggings, and a hijab!). And the more I reflect on this point, the more I realize that I'm being too harsh on myself - it's normal to feel that way, hijabi or not. There were certainly days when I'd wake up (pre-hijabi) and not feel pretty, just as there are as a hijabi, and and just as there are with every single girl on the planet! As much as I hate to write this, I know that it's (unfortunately) normal to (occasionally) not feel beautiful and to want to change things about ourselves.
I guess I'm going on a tangent now, so let's redirect this to something else: Some of my favourite memories this past year were of when I wouldn't feel beautiful, and therefore would want to take my hijab off, and then something would happen that would remind me of some of the reasons I chose to wear it in the first place. A stranger on the street would say Assalamu Alaikum (may peace be upon you) to me, recognizing me as a Muslim because of my hijab, or someone would tell me that my scarf looks beautiful, or ask me questions about Islam, or go out of their way to show respect to me (like other Muslim men lowering their gaze when I walk by - it really makes you feel so respected). This second "struggle" of wanting to take off the hijab because I don't feel as beautiful with it on as I do with it off has been pretty silly, which I'm happy to say! The struggle could have been way, way worse, as it is with many other women who wear it and face losing their jobs, face violence, and face other horrible things, but for me... it's this... and I have to say, I'm smiling writing this and realizing that, because I'm grateful at how superficial my 2nd biggest struggle of being hijabi is. I hope that makes sense? What I'm trying to say is that this year for me as a hijabi hasn't been nearly as difficult for me as it is for other hijabi women, and I'm so grateful for that.
Lastly, my third biggest "struggle" has been finding a middle-ground for myself. Finding what is comfortable for me and doing that. As I've stated before, there have been so many times that I've wanted to take off my hijab (like, never seriously otherwise I would have, but more just superficially like wanting to feel more beautiful, or wanting to feel the wind blow through my hair again). Sometimes, I've taken off my hijab to let myself "breathe" or to give myself a taste of that, so then I can stop craving it on a regular basis. So scandalous, I know! But I swear, it's really not that scandalous. I've only done so in places where I know that no one knows me (so I won't face any horrible backlash or questions), and on just a few, random occasions such as going grocery shopping with my brother or checking his mailbox in Hershey and while at the beach, where I wore a burkini without the headpiece, or a t-shirt and shorts with leggings without a scarf. On a random note, this only ever happens with my family - and that just goes to show that NO ONE forced me into wearing a hijab (or is forcing me to continue wearing it). It has always been my decision. Anyways, to some people reading this, they may think that what I'm saying about occasionally taking my hijab off (it's only happened like 4 or 5 times...) is equal to walking around outside completely naked (hijabis are on a ridiculous pedestal, remember?) but I don't know; to me, it's about being happy and finding a comfortable middle ground for myself. I'm not perfect, nor do I ever pretend to me, but I am a human being, and honest with myself.
My second year of wearing the hijab hasn't been difficult, at all, really. In fact, it's been really great! I'm grateful for that and can't wait to see how this next year plays out.
I asked people to send in any questions they had for me about being a hijabi, wearing the hijab, etc. Below are the responses to those questions, and to some questions I just made up! Enjoy! :)
Two years have gone so fast, and yet so slow. I'm so happy, so grateful, and honestly so proud of myself as well. I can't wait to look back again, one year from today, and see if anything has changed at all. To everyone who has encouraged, supported, and help me get this far: thank you <3. From the bottom of my heart, thank you <3.
Listen to this song while you read my post below, which is filled with 50 random facts about me.
I'm currently sitting in the graduate school lounge, surrounded by my classmates who are disucsssing a presentation we will all be doing later today. But I can't focus on anything except the fact that a certain president of a certain country decided to use a huge bomb on another certain country.
I try to keep my personal Facebook page free from politics. I don't share *anything* "political" because I feel that if I share one thing and not the other, then I am doing an injustice. I also feel that individuals who don't comprehend that I am JUST ME and not a representation of everything I am (brown, Desi, a TCK, a woman, a Muslim, whatever) may use me as a prop for their self-fulfilling prophecy of me sharing certain things and not others (I am not BBC.com guys, go read the news if you want it!), so I completely avoid it.
Even though it significantly affects me, and my day to day life.
I also try to shy away from it here, on my blog. I wrote two different articles and now have deleted them. So here I am, in hopes that this one post will give you a comprehensive view of my (not every Muslim's, not every Desi person's, etc., just mine) views towards war, violence, bombings, and all things evil.
Why *Desi* TCK? Why not just TCK? TCK's have a confused sense of identity anyways, right? So, why is Desi so important? Or, why not Pakistani TCK and not Desi TCK?
These are some questions I've been asked by friends and strangers who have come across my blog. I think my reasoning for the title when I made this blog back in 2014 is much different than my reasoning behind keeping the title as is now.
Let's start off by explaining what exactly Desi is. Desi is a term used by individuals from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh to describe themselves/their cultures; it is a term particularly used by those abroad from these regions. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the history of South Asia, these three countries used to be one, united country prior to 1947. Needless to say, the three countries share a lot in common. Foods, languages, culture, dress, religions, and so forth. There are *a lot* of differences as well, between the three countries (in all honesty, individual regions or cities within the countries are so different from each other as well!) but we share this common identity of being Desi.
I think in 2014, when I started my blog, I decided to use the term Desi for a couple of reasons. One being Pakistani is too long and not as catchy! Another being that while most people are unfamiliar with Pakistan, they're very familiar with India... And our countries are similar enough (particularly Pakistan and North India) that we may as well become one again. So, writing Pakistan would be too alien for a stranger who came across my blog. I couldn't write Indian, because even though all my ancestory is from India, I hold no physical connection to that country (such as citizenship, a passport, etc. I've even yet to visit). Another reason is that I felt that Pakistani TCK was too specific, and Desi was a better term for me to be able to reach more people, of similar backgrounds in terms of passport country's culture and being a TCK in general. Why not just TCK, though? Because I felt that by only writing TCK, I was portraying being ashamed of my background, which, if I'm honest, during my childhood, I often was. I don't think I can count how many times I wished I was white, and in particular, a white American. *Note: I couldn't be more proud of my ancestry, culture, and where I'm from now!*
Now, after years of reflecting on my newfound identity of being a TCK (who knew there was a term for people like me?! And so many others like me?! I sure didn't!), I'm realizing that Desi is a vital part of my identity. I would go as far as to argue that half of my identity is being Desi, and the other half is being a TCK. My view of the world has been framed from both these identities; I would be a completely different person if one or both of these identities were taken away from my past. I see the world through those two lenses. Equally importantly, the world views me from one of those... Being Desi. No one can look at me and guess, "Oh, she's totally a TCK!" but it's easy to guess "Oh, she's brown -> probably from India, Pakistan or Bangladesh!" (though I've been confused multiple times for being Chinese, Korean, or Japanese. Umm... What? :P) and fortunately, and unfortunately, that's how people perceive me. The racism that has been thrown at me, because of my dark skin, dark hair, prominent features symbolizing me as a DESI would have never happened if I were of a difference race, and same with some of the beautiful memories I have gained because I look like I'm Desi.
I feel that to the world, even if they don't know the term for people "like me", I'm Desi, but to myself, I am Desi and so much more. I'm a Desi TCK. They go hand in hand for me. I'm not one without the other. I could as easily say I am a TCK that is Desi, instead of a Desi TCK, focusing on the TCK aspect of my identity, but honestly guys... What flows better? :P
I just wish the world as a whole understood what either of those terms (Desi or TCK) meant, and it was used in our common vocabulary, because there is no easier way for me to explain who I am than saying I am a Desi TCK. To make my life more simple, I normally just say I am a Pakistani who has moved around a lot, but then I leave out the entire part of my family's ancestory of being Indian. I have yet to find a way to explain to someone in one sentence who I am than by saying I am a Desi TCK. In any other way that I have introduced myself, ever, I have felt that I am lying to my own self about who I really am, or even belittling it. I just wish others understood these terms.
Both halves of my identity are equally important to me. Yes, I am a TCK, but all my views and my entire life is framed around the fact that I am Desi. On the other hand, Yes, I am a Pakistani (or Desi), but all my views and my entire life is framed around the fact that I am also a TCK. They go hand in hand; I can't be one without being the other. It feels great to finally understand that about myself.
I can't understand those who can look up at the stars and feel nothing.
It seems like everyone hated 2016. Until around October, I kept wondering why. Sure, my year wasn't perfect, but it wasn't that bad! But now, all I can say is that I'm exhausted of everything, and I wish I could just fastforward 2-3 years when I'm sure my life will be much easier. Grad school is tough, guys!
Now that 2016's coming to a close, here are some reflections (edit: and hopes for 2017!). To literally anyone reading this, I apologize for the rants, but this is my diary - please read it as such.
When 2016 started, I was at a completely different place in my life. I was applying to graduate schools, and a whole pile of uncertaintly was heading my way. I had no idea what my life would hold for me within just a few short months, but I was hopeful. I hoped I would get into a graduate school (any, really), and that soon my worries of what the hell I do after graduation would subside.
I got accepted to seven. One after the other, acceptances kept coming, and I saw so many different doors open before my eyes. It felt like an amazing start of the year for me. I narrowed it down to two schools. I picked one, but I often find myself wondering how my life would be different if I chose the other (not because I don't love the one I'm studying at now, just because it is so weird to think that I would have possibly never even met some of the people I am so close to now).
My parents were/are still living in Milan, so I had to apply for an Italian visa. I went to the embassy, prepared for our usual exchange. "Hi, welcome back, going to visit your parents again?". We had that exchange, but we also had another one. "You can't apply for your visa from here," they told me. I asked why. "Your US student visa is expiring in May," they told me. I told them yes, but I have been accepted to X-graduate schools in the US and I'll be attending one of them for sure. It didn't matter. They told me I need to apply for my visa to go "home" (to my parents) from a country where I had citizenship (Pakistan) or residency (Saudi Arabia). They literally would not let me apply for my visa to go visit my parents. This was because they want you to apply from a country that you can and will be coming back to. With my (at the time current) US visa expiring in May, and me wanting to visit Italy over June-August, it simply went against their rules. They apologized, and felt sorry for me. I understood that it wasn't their fault, it was the rules of the embassy. The rules of society. It doesn't matter who you are but rather where you're from that defines where and where you can't travel as a human being born as an Earthling to a planet called Earth. No no, don't be silly. I'm not an earthling. I'm Pakistani. And because of that I need a visa to travel basically anywhere - whereas a potential murderer from, I don't know, let's say the US can travel basically anywhere visa free. Makes sense, right? #Society.
Never had I felt more homeless in my life. I was in one country, applying to visit my parents in another, and they told me I can't, and that I have to travel literally to the other side of the world just to apply for a visa. I went home and cried. Why me? Why couldn't I just have a normal life? What the hell was I going to do? Fly from the US to Saudi Arabia by myself? To Pakistan and have my uncle help me apply for a visa? Waste a month of my summer when I could be with my parents? There have been more times this year that I wished I wasn't a TCK than there ever have in my life before.... Let's get back to this point later.
While the excitement of graduate school acceptances happened, I prepared for graduation. I took my last final exams of my undergraduate career. During finals week, one of my best friend's older brother passed away. I was shocked, and heartbroken. Not because I was super close with the brother who passed, but because I was so sad for my best friend and his family.
Art passed away. I was heartbroken for myself, but mostly for Armin. My heart literally hurt for him.
Graduation came and went. I gave two speeches, one during Baccalaureate and one during a Legacy Reception. I was proud of myself, because I remembered thinking a year before that date, I was unsure if I would reach that point (honestly), and if I did, I sincerely believed I would have no plan for the future - that all the doors would be closed on me. But I did it. I reached that day, with solid plans for the future. I was so proud of myself, and I still am.
I said goodbye to my friends and the beautiful, wonderful, amazing people I met in Undergrad (actually, I told them that I don't do goodbyes. I do "see you laters", knowing fully in my heart from past goodbyes that I would sadly not ever see majority of them ever again...). Even if we become strangers 5 years from now, I wish them all well, because I know they are going to do some amazing things in this world. And my heart will always miss them.
By this point (graduation day), I had changed my summer flights at least three times, which cost at least $3,000 (all because of the fact that I am a Pakistani. Literally, though). My Dad decided that we'd just have to fly back to Saudi Arabia and apply for my Italian visa from there. The company he works for pretty much made me VIP status, and helped me get my Italian visa within two weeks. So, from the US, we flew to Saudi Arabia, and then finally back to Milan. Then, literally a few weeks later, we flew back to Saudi Arabia as planned, to renew our Saudi visa and Saudi residency. Basically, let's just say it was a lot of useless travel, a lot of money wasted, a lot of greenhouse gases released from flying literally because I am a Pakistani. I'm sorry for being bitter. I'll never understand or agree with the artificial boundries and lines we as humans created on the earth, and then decided who gets to go where, based on which superficial country they belong to. But oh well; I loved going back and having the chance to travel so much.
While in Saudi, I called every hotel within the area to ask if they had a female swimming pool, because I really, really wanted to take advantage of staying in 5* hotels and swim. None did - they were male and children only. Even the indoor ones! I was surprised, and then I was surprised by the fact that I was surprised in the first place.
Hector came into our lives.
I learned to let go; that it's okay to give up on people who gave up on you years ago.
I competed Umrah. I saw some of my best friends again. And, I got really, really sick. We went to Pakistan. I stayed really, really sick. I just couldn't shake my fever, for almost a month. It wouldn't go away. We left back to Italy. I got better.
I moved to Philadelphia to start my new life as a graduate student. I was scared, but in the best way possible.
My best friend, whose brother passed earlier in 2016, lost his father. My heart broke, again.
I met some wonderful people, and also one particularly not-so-nice one. She is arguably the most negative person I have ever met, and it makes me so frustrated. It's draining!
Trump got elected.
My Nani passed away.
I aced all but one of my classes during my first semester of graduate school.
And now here we are. End of the year. There were some highs, and there were many lows. It's just been a chaotic year. Grad school is and yet isn't what I thought it would be. I'm already awaiting finishing, leaving, moving to the other side of the world, no longer being a student, and actually starting my life.
I don't know what 2017 will hold, but I hope it won't be as much excitement as 2016 had. I just want peace. I need peace. I need a year with consistancy, because I can't handle anymore change right now. I entered 2016 with a lot of hope, and a lot of fear. I enter 2017 feeling numb and exhausted. Honestly, I think I just need a hug. Dear future self, if/when you are reading this, well into 2017 and everything is much better, please send that positive energy my way. I need it.
Goodbye 2016. You were beautiful. You were inspiring. You were exciting. You were tragic. You were exhausting. You were all of those mixed together, and I both can and yet cannot wait to see what 2017 holds.
(December 25 edit below, with my personal hopes/goals of 2017)
My wishes for 2017 are:
To learn to love my life again.
To learn to love myself again.
To believe in myself, like so many others believe in me.
To learn to accept things that I can't change.
To appreciate what I have, instead of focusing on what I don't have.
To live for today, instead of constantly dreaming about tomorrow.
To forgive (myself, others), to forget, and to truly let go.
To achieve, and to achieve more than just the mimimum.
To finish that book I started years ago.
To rekindle old friendships; to stop holding back from new ones.
To fall in love, everyday, with everything I have been blessed with.
To make sure my parents know how much I love them.
To rid my life of negitivity, especially my own, personal negativity.
To be happy... Truly happy.
To be grateful.
To learn to dream again.
My Nani passed away about an hour ago.
My family whatsapp group, the official bearer of bad news.
Nani is sick.
Nani is in the hospital.
Nani is in the ICU. Please make dua.
Innalillahiwainnailaihirojiun. Nani has passed away.
Adnan was doing bench presses, we had Linkin Park blasting from his speakers. He asked me if I want to do them too, but my lazy bum wanted to play Pokemon Go from the couch. I opened my phone, and had 4 messages. I saw "Inna" and just knew. I opened whatsapp and while reading the messages, I said to him, "Nani passed away".
We stared at each other in shock. Smiled. Asked each other, "are you okay?" Called our parents, asked how our Mom is. Texted our brothers. Texted our cousin. I didn't cry a single tear until 30 minutes later. For the first 10, I smiled, as if nothing happened, because I didn't believe it. I couldn't believe it. Then, when I finally started believing it, I thought of her. She wouldn't want me to cry. Not at all. Even at her weakest moments, she would be smiling; I had to channel that too. After 30 minutes, I allowed myself to face reality. I cried. And now here I am, trying to process what has just happened.
My Nani... She was:
The most gentle soul I know.
The most loving soul I know.
The most innocent soul I know.
The oldest yet most adorably childlike soul I know.
She had sugar problems, but she loved mangos so much that she would sneakily eat them on a regular basis. Or, whenever she had a chance. The gutli or inside seed was her favourite part. She was that kind of person - the kind who found love, happiness, peace, just like a child, in the simplest of things, like eating a mango.
She was the kind of woman who would tell me her secrets of flirtations - how she wooed my Nana to marry her. She would wear her favourite pink blush on her cheeks and earrings to match. Little did she need them - I'm sure her fair cheeks were always blushing at the sight of him. Anyways, she insisted I do the same (#protips).
She was the kind of woman who, no matter how old she became, insisted on dying her hair the deepest shade of black to continue showcasing her beauty. She would always wear lipstick at any wedding or function, too.
She was the kind of woman who hugs you so tight, it feels like all your saddness can be lifted away just by feeling the warmth of her.
She was innocent like a child. She was so scared of cutting her nails, because of the pain that comes when you cut them too deep, that she wouldn't cut them at all until one of her daughters (like my mom) cut them for her. They would sit together and laugh and laugh, my Nani and mama, cutting her nails for her.
She was the kind of woman who, when she was a little girl, went to a funeral and started laughing hysterically. She laughed so hard that her own sisters had to put a duputta on her and make her pretend like she was crying, even though she was laughing, hahaha.
She was the kind of woman who prayed every single prayer, on time, and no matter how weak she got insisted she do it standing (rather than sitting), and in her special spot.
She was the kind of woman who was too shy and modest, so when a photo was taken of her, she wouldn't look at the camera or smile, but literally a milisecond before and a milisecond right after her usual beautiful smile would light up the whole room.
My Nani was the kind of woman who would make me feel like the most beautiful girl in the world, especially when I wore salwar kameez. Every time anyone told me that my Mama looks like her, and I look like my Mama (and therefore I look like her, with my gol gol mou) I would feel so proud.
My Nani had so many beautiful children, who she raised herself while my Nana worked. She had grandchildren and even one great grandchild. Whole generations of Rehman women raised by this incredible lady.
I couldn't wait to get married, just to see her expression when she saw me all dolled up, in my red lengha. I can't believe she won't be there to see me in that. I couldn't wait to have a daughter, and to introduce her to my Nani, my second mother. That won't be happening, either.
The highlight of my year, every year, was the moment I would enter my grandmother's house in Pakistan and she would hug me SO tight, laughing, and give me a kiss on my shoulder. The most dreaded, yet peaceful moment, of every year would be when we would say goodbye to her. She would read so many duas and phook them on us, hug is even tighter, laugh, kiss our shoulders, and make us feel like the single most loved person in the universe.
This summer, we hugged for a few seconds "too long". We shared a goodbye, different than any before. It was peaceful. It was happy. I am grateful I had that closure, even though I did not know that would be the last time I hug her or see her.
I hope she finds peace in her resting place. I hope that the Jannah she always prayed for is awaiting her arrival. I hope that I too can see her there again some day, and hug her so tight. Hear her laugh one more time.
My Nani. I love you. I love you so much. What gives me relief is you knew that, and I know how much you loved me. May we meet again soon. May your presence continue to be felt everywhere I go. Thank you for showing me womanhood. Thank you for being my Nani. I love you, Nani, and I always will.
Lately I've been coming across one situation that upsets me a lot, but out of fear of sounding superficial, I've kept it to myself. It's such a "first world problem", but it really bothers me. I think I'm finally ready to openly talk about it, regardless of how bratty it may sound. So, let's dive right into it.
I constantly feel like I am forced to dumb down my identity to fit into the mental schema of a stranger who wants to know where I'm from. Wait, let me correct that: to fit into the mental schema of a stranger who thinks he/she knows where I'm from (or should be from, based on the color of my skin and the parts of my body I chose to cover).
This has been going on for a long time, but it didn't start to really bother me until Spring 2016. I was enrolled in an English class in my undergraduate institution. We were broken into pairs of three and were editing each other's papers. Instead of focusing on the assignment, though, my two partners decided to take the time to talk about the latest sports gossip, followed my fulfilling their curiosity by asking me where I'm from. In response, this is what I was about to say: I'm from Pakistan, but I was born in an American compound and mostly raised there, and I moved around a lot growing up. I've lived in Saudi, England, Italy, Jordan, and now the US. What I actually ended up saying (because he interrupted me) was: "I'm from Pakistan but I was born in Saudi Arabia...." Before I could continue, he snarkly responded, "That's what I thought."
This whole conversation bothered me for the longest time, but I decided it wasn't worth the effort and to just move on. I tried to forget about it, but it made me realize how much I hate the majority of my identity (being a TCK) being taken away from me, to be placed into a bubble of where I'm probably from, based on my skin tone and hijab.
The next incident was when my undergraduate institution asked all the graduating seniors to post what their post-graduation plans were. I had recently been accepted to seven Master's and Educational Specialist programs in school psychology across the U.S., and of course was so excited to share this news! The form asked us for a variety of information. Our name. Our major. Where we were from (the form called it "hometown"). What we're doing. So forth. I filled it all out, leaving the hometown question for last. I figured I should write "Islamabad, Pakistan" (which is where I'm technically from - it is my passport country and where my extended family live), but I felt like I'm lying to myself if that's all that I write. Islamabad, Paksitan is simply a part of my story, but not my whole identity.
Next, I debated writing "Udhailiyah, Saudi Arabia" (the oil-company owned, Americanized compound/gated community which is where I lived the longest), but I cringed at the idea of someone mistaking me for a Saudi citizen (simply because I, as a south asian, have faced much discrimination in that country. So for someone to assume I am from there, when Saudi Arabia has made it against the law for a Saudi man to marry a Pakistani women - to protect their bloodline - how can I not be insulted?).
The next city that came to mind was Reading, England, which is where my parents lived for a few years and I lived in a nearby city, Thorpe. It truly still feels like home to me - I love that city with all of my heart. But that would be a complete lie - I am not a British citizen.
So, instead of picking just one place, I wrote a sentence. A SENTENCE. I wrote something along the lines of, "N/A - I am from Islamabad, Pakistan, but I moved around a lot and do not have a singular hometown." I waited a week or two, then went and checked the website where this information would be posted, only for my excitement to be turned into a confusing mix of frustration, anger and sadness.
For hometown, this institution had decided where I am from for me. On my behalf they wrote "Dhahran, Saudi Arabia". No where on my form had I indicated Dhahran being my hometown. Udhailiyah, maybe, but Dhahran?! Absolutely not. So, where had they gotten this information from? I figured it must have been from my "permanent" mailing address (which is in Udhailiyah VIA Dhahran. My family doesn't even live there at the moment, but it is the closest thing we have to a permanent address).
It angered me that they decided for me where I am from. It was simply the last straw for me. This school constantly brags about their diversity, and was one of the reasons I chose to attend. When i arrived, I was honestly shocked to find out just how much of a minority there. I, like other minorities, was often used as their puppet on display to show outsiders just how "diverse" they were. Anyways, One sentence was too much for them, they wanted one word. They chose to dumb down my entire identity to impress strangers who might want to come to this school. Their singular hijabi in the entire school - where is she from? Saudi Arabia, according to my school.
Needless to say, I left with a bit of a bitter heart. I do love my undergraduate institution, but that (on top of everything else I experienced over the 4 years there) was like the icing on the cake. I couldn't wait to move to a city and to a new school where there would be thousands of people who look like me, and share similar backgrounds too.
While I much prefer Philadelphia to Carlisle, where my undergraduate institution was, I found myself frustrated again when, during my first week of classes at this new school, one of my Professors asked us all where we are from. I told him, "Pakistan, but I moved around a lot, and moved here from ___ (previous institution name) in Carlisle." He looked at me in a confused daze and said, okay, you're from Carlisle. It wasn't a question, it was a statement. It felt like he was telling me where I am from. Normally, honestly, I wouldn't care, but after the last few months of having my identity taken away from me, it just frustrated me so much. NO I am not from Carlisle. I am not from the place where I was constantly harassed for being a hijabi, and before that, for simply being a brown woman. Ugh, NO NO NO. I know he meant well, I really know he did, but please dear world: do not tell me where I am from.
I really hate when people try to define who I am for me, or when they dumb down my existence, my identity, to fit into their schema of who I should be or who they think I am. My life, like most other TCK's, is not that straightforward. I am from everywhere, and yet no where at the same time. What am I? I am a South Asian TCK. That's it. That's where I'm from, that's who I am. I'm a Desi TCK - there is no shorter sentence I can think of that really encompasses who I am or where I am from. Can't I just introduce myself as that? In one small sentence, I have managed to state my identity without feeling like 95% of my life story is missing. But what I've seen is that it's simply not an acceptable response - people want more, they want specifics. They want to know who I really am, which is based on where I am "really from".
So here, let me tell you where I'm "really from".
I am the daughter of two Pakistanis. My father, like his parents before him, was born in India. My mother, unlike her parents before her, was born in Pakistan. My grandparents from both sides, and all my ancestors prior, were born in India. They were Indian. My grandparents (and their parents) migrated from India to Pakistan during the war of independence, when they were just children. Nevertheless, much of my extended family, whom I'm not in contact with, remains in India to this day. I was born in this place called Dhahran, in Saudi Arabia. Dhahran is one of four camps/compounds/gated communities owned by a mega-rich Arabian oil company. The compounds are very Americanized, with American curriculum taught in our schools and American teachers who taught us all English. Two main languages spoken in these compounds? English and Arabic. These compounds are a world within themselves - they are simply so unlike the rest of Saudi Arabia, and honestly, so unlike any other place I have ever been in this planet. The closest description I can give is Utopia or all the family members of the UN ambassadors living together. Now these compounds are true diversity. So, I was born in the main compound, Dhahran, but my family lived in another one - about an hour away, called Abqaiq. That was home to me for the first three years of my life. Then, we moved another hour away to Udhailiyah, which will forever be the closest thing to home for me. It is where I spent the majority of my life. So, even if I were to say I am from Udhailiyah, Saudi Arabia, that makes people believe I am Saudi - which I am not. It leads them to conclusions which simply aren't true, unless they know what Udhailiyah really is. So, someone please explain to me how I can explain my identity in a singular word?! It is completely unfair to myself and to my past. Furthermore, I spent one year in Jordan, about four years in the UK, one year in Italy, and this is currently my fifth year in the U.S. Also, from 2009 on wards, I have been living without my parents (in boarding school, and then in college). From 2009-today, they have moved five or six times. I don't even remember. Across continents. I would travel to where ever in the world they were/are for school breaks, and to this day they are abroad, moving! So please, someone please go ahead and tell me where I'm from. Please, go ahead. It wouldn't be the first time.
Why does this bother me so much? People who cannot relate, or who (rightfully) think my wanderlusty life is super glamorous, may think that I am overacting. But I'm not. I'm not. If I could say I am from ________ without feeling like I am lying to the stranger asking me and to myself, I would. Trust me, I'd save myself the trouble, and I would just give that one word they're looking from. But it's not that simple, not for me, not for many TCK's... Why is it so hard to hear me (hear us TCKs) out? Will a sentence, or a small paragraph, explaining where we are from really hurt you? Will it take away too much of your time? Or is it that you are afraid of your schema of who I should be based on my skin tone and my hijab will be shattered if I say otherwise?
I am not one to complain. I am not one to rant. I am not one to get angry. But it really hurts, and it really bothers me, when someone tries to belittle my life, my story, my identity. When someone tries to dumb down my entire existence. I'm sorry I can't give you a one word response. I'm sorry my life is too complicated. But please understand... I am not (just) Pakistani. I am not Saudi. I am not Arab... I am not British, or Italian, or American. Physically and citizenship wise, I am South Asian/Pakistani, but in all other senses I am a mix of all the cultures I have experienced, including Pakistan. My name is Ayesha. I am a South Asian TCK. Why isn't that enough for the people who ask me? - Scratch that, I think it is actually too much. They don't want that response, they want one. One place. Two places even (Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, great!), but they don't want me as a whole. I don't want to hide who I am or simple it down because it's too complicated, but I often have to. I try to be understanding, but the more this happens, the harder it gets for me.
I love who I am. I love my story. I love my experiences. I don't want to belittle myself, and I don't want anyone else to define me. My name is Ayesha, and I'm a Desi TCK.
Does anyone else agree that the world would be more peaceful without countries? These unnecessary boundaries that not only define us, but confine us. They create an identity for us - one that defines us, shapes our experiences, limits our dreams, makes us love our "brothers" and hate complete strangers, simply because of the country we and they belong to. Without countries, it wouldn't be us vs them, it would be us vs us. And people are less likely to hurt each other if they know and really believe we all bleed the same. If there were no countries, we would truly see each other as humans. The whole world would be a different place. My entire life would have been different, if I was not defined by the country that gave me my passport, but rather if I could just claim to be a human being, from earth. I identify much more with the latter.
"Long Lost Best Friend,
We loved that everyone knew, the snide remarks about how inseparable we were. Together we set fashion trends and challenged the older boys to foosball. We laughed like the world was ours.
I stood up to the middle-school rumor mill for you. You taught me a few things I never learned from my mother.
We exchanged tongues: anteem, mejor amiga; puta, sharmoota. Reggaeton became my favorite genre of music.
We held each other up through bad days and breakups.
When it was time to go, we cried. We watched sisterhood of the travelling pants and created a travelling notebook.
We promised bridesmaids, godmothers, and forever.
The new adjustment was hard for you, and I knew you weren’t really happy. I could tell each time we talked.
But the letters and skype calls slowly faded into distance.
And when we came back, you were not the same. Your eyes were not the same. You didn’t laugh the same. I remember feeling a sense of deep loss upon the realization that things would not be returning to how they once were.
Then, last night, we spoke. Ten long years and several best friends later.
Your eyes were the same. You laughed the same. You spoke with the same familiar accent and intonation, like old jingles my ears could never forget despite the decade they spent deaf to them. It brought me an unexpected pleasure. And sadness.
You got married.
I got engaged.
You told me how your family was shocked when they saw the photos.
My fiancé was once your brother’s closest friend. One of the guys we played foosball with.
The other one is dead.
You told me your heart broke when you heard the news.
I told you mine did too.
We remembered our old math teacher, and the day that he told us we would only become adults when our friends started dying.
I asked about your brother.
You told me his wedding is in a few months. I remembered how much I missed your family.
As I sit here now I try to recall the emotions I once associated with that place. Home, was what we called it – though now I know that no such place exists, as both moments and people are fleeting.
Long Lost Best Friend, you were my first.
My first whiff of true friendship. My first taste of loss.
The first time I learned that fires don’t need to be stifled to cease blazing. Eventually, they just do.
And when the mention of your name no longer stung, I learned that time heals everything.
I write this at work, a testament to how life eventually castrates us all. Our passions take a backseat to practicality and reason. Leaving us to look back at even the days that had us teary-eyed and broken, as ones of grandeur and glory.
I miss you.
Like every other brick that made up the shelter I couldn’t carry with me through pages of one chapter to another. Always sick for the last one, but also all the ones before it.
And it was great to hear your voice.
With loving memories,
"A dedication to all of my UDH/Aramco people <3"