I left Pakistan four years ago to pursue my bachelor’s degree in English from the UK. One thing led to another and now I am pursuing my master’s here too and, thus, haven’t lived in my home country for four years. The decision that I made in the beginning still stands, however living in the UK and only visiting Pakistan in the holidays has led me to discover new things about the UK, Pakistan and myself.
My first trip back home was filled with joy and excitement. After all, I had been in the UK for one year and I was desperately homesick. I missed my family, friends, Pakistani food, the hustle and bustle of a big city and even the traffic on the roads. So, naturally, when I exited the Karachi airport and felt the hot, dusty air on my face, I was ecstatic. The smells, the air, the noise; every little thing greeted me warmly and I held it close to my heart. Seeing my family and friends waiting for me immediately made me realise that I had a support system in Pakistan that I could not have in the UK. It was safe to say that I had a fun-filled summer that year which was taken up by the Pakistani experience that I had spent a year without.
My second summer was different. Although the warm air was comforting, it took only a car ride to irritate me. As my father drove home, cars drove left, right and centre turning into lanes randomly while their horns honked deafeningly. Motorcycles and rickshaws drove right through red lights, leaving my father and I both muttering under our breaths. It was strange to see how two years in another country made me notice the haphazard roads that I had been used to my entire life. Another related thing which bothered me was the lack of patience people had; no one queued properly like they did in Britain and they continued to bump into you if they were in a hurry, without any apology.
Being away from my home country made me understand it more, in terms of its flaws as well as its strengths. The flaws were more within certain people, but strengths existed in other people that I knew. I always knew Pakistan was a diverse country with varied cultures, sects and beliefs, but the existence of contradictions only hit me completely when I saw it from an outsider’s perspective. Some were judgemental — immersed in poking their noses in other people’s lives and pressuring them for everything. Others were warm-hearted and understanding — always ready to help others whether poor, rich, old or young. One thing that I realised I disliked a lot was that aspects such as class, sects, education levels and personal views were highlighted too much. What made it worse was that when these things were discussed, the other view was not always understood. However, this can be said about people all over the world, so I don’t think it is much to worry about; it will change over time.
One part of Pakistan on which my view will never change is our cuisine. The country is famous for its local dishes. In my opinion, my city Karachi hosts some of the most delicious food that I have ever eaten. Spicy biryani — a dish made with rice, meat or vegetables, spices and yogurt — is, by far, my favourite dish. Its succulent, spicy taste and fresh aroma is enough to excite any taste buds. Other famous dishes include nihari (a spicy stew of slow-cooked meat), different types of kebabs, halwa puri (puri bread with chickpeas masala, potato curry and halwa) and various kinds of chaat (mixtures of chickpeas, onions, tomatoes, potatoes, sweet tamarind chutney, chilli powder, cumin powder, yogurt and crisp fried dough wafers). Chicken karahi is another favourite of mine; it is a chicken curry made with spices, green chillies, tomatoes, coriander leaves, and garlic and ginger paste, especially known for its spicy taste. After these flavoursome dishes, a good cup of chai is all one needs to relax and unwind. I could go on and on about the Pakistani food that can’t be replicated, but it is no doubt that it is one of the things that I love most about my country.
Although being abroad made me realise some negative things about Pakistanis, it has also made me cherish the positives about them. Pakistanis are compassionate, warm-hearted, fun-loving people who hold family and community to the highest importance. There have been many times when strangers have helped me when I faced some trouble on the road, and at times of peril you hear accounts of Pakistanis lining up outside hospitals or the areas affected to help in any way they can. Every other month you hear about people working to change things. Well-known social activists include Abdul Sattar Edhi, Malala Yousafzai and Sabeen Mahmud — and there are thousands of others who work every day to make the country a better place. Foreign visitors are welcomed with great enthusiasm and Pakistanis go out of their way to show them the country. Families and communities unite on religious and social festivals such as Eid, Ramadan and Independence Day, or even just once a month to share stories, food and celebrations. Charity is given wholeheartedly, and especially in Ramadan, you only need to step outside close to Iftar time to see lines of the poor being fed. This energy exists in everyday life, as many cities are busy 24 hours a day, and weekends are filled with small adventures. Pakistanis love driving to different cities, beach trips, mountain climbing, eating with friends and family — basically having the most fun you can have by enjoying even the smallest of moments.
The weather is another thing that I took for granted. In comparison, the UK is almost always cold and rainy which makes it a tad depressing sometimes. Although there is an abundance of great scenery, you always have to look up the weather forecast and plan your trips around it, which gets annoying. On the other hand, the year-round heat back home can occasionally get too much for you, but personally I’d rather it be hot than cold. You can still spend days doing activities that help you cool off and there is almost never a time when you’re hindered by the weather.
Now that my master’s degree is coming to an end, I have mixed feelings about returning home. Social pressures and experiences with negative people make me wish that I could stay here longer, but on the other hand I am excited to go back home. Being in the UK independently has helped me grow in many ways and I will always think of the UK as a second home. However, I absolutely adore my home country and its people, and now I know that no matter where life takes me, I will always be a proud Pakistani through and through.
Featured photo © Sean Ellis