Bagels. Low-fat cream cheese. Enough cute, quirky cafes hidden in neighborhoods to still boredom for years. Live music in restaurants. A gym within walking distance from my house. Actually going to the gym and all the joys that come with it: buying yoga pants for the first time, moving from 5 lbs. to 10 lbs., being able to fill out ‘three days a week’ in health questionnaires, looking at guys that have found the right balance between tank tops and trees-for-arms. The less-glamorous but just as important skills of cleaning the toilets, realizing the never-ending chores that come with living in a house without parents.
America, and in particular St Louis, was kind to me, with its million varieties of bread and cheese that always make grocery shopping a nerve-wracking experience, and its relative first world calm where people obey traffic laws, stand in queues and you can look to the police and the courts for justice. Usually.
People always talk about how young men and women come to the US and then never want to go back for all the above reasons and more. But for all the $1 bagels and comforts of public transit, I never felt the need to stay. I’d be lying if I said there were never moments of perfect solitude – usually in a quiet, leafy place on a perfect 70 degrees kind of day – when I would think it’d be nice to pause and live worry-free… but of course, those moments are exactly that. Transient minutes that slowly roll over like drunk leprechauns into the distance and disappear. Not firmly founded in the reality that I have chosen.
I know what I am going back to, when I think of Karachi and when I think of Pakistan in general – the mayhem, the traffic, the electricity crisis, the corruption, the fear and distrust of authorities, the poverty that is more stark than the sneakered homeless of America (as a social worker, I apologize for this insensitive statement). Back to where I can run into far-flung relatives that recognize me and I don’t have a clue as to why they’re stare-smiling at me, where all the aunties are intrusive enough to point out if I’m too skinny or “too healthy” or why my color is darker, “why did your skin suddenly breakout?”, because of course I received a letter of explanation from my skin before the zits come to visit. Where I’d have to think long and hard before going to the park alone or walking to a café to read.
But then I turn to the window that looks out at the highest mountain ranges in the world, the monsoon, the lack of umbrellas and people who I love. I won’t need Weather Channel to know what kind of clothes I need to wear in the morning. If someone is rude to me in a shop, I’ll think, ‘wow that’s a rude person’ rather than ‘is it cause I’m Pakistani?’, I’ll be comfortable enough to tell rude people off or ask for help. I’ll have a car! I won’t need to clean the bathroom, unless I really want to. My friends. No more long distance relationship! Actual dates with my fiancé. My cousins, my nephews and nieces. I can pray in the car without feeling awkward. Mangoes. Pakoras. I can go to the beach and jump into the water with all my clothes on. I can talk in my mix of Urdu and English. I can be myself – no dilutions, no pauses, no cover-ups.
I know I will miss the calm and stability, but I also know I am returning home. And it feels pretty good.