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.