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The wanderers

Sehr Sajjad
Welcome to ‘Trumpistan’. Hailing from Pakistan, I am all too familiar with the suffix ‘istan’ meaning place. I grew up familiarising myself with Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and the ever so defamed Afghanistan, but ‘Trumpistan’ is essentially an original one. The reality of it dawned on me more than ever in the closed and cramped room at JFK airport where I found myself sitting with many ‘others’ just minutes after the ‘non’ clearance at immigration. It was a cold January night. My fellow ‘others’ tried to hide their nervousness by indulging in light chit chat amongst themselves and occasionally, with the officers on duty. The latter were not amused. My eyes followed the needles of the clock as they went tick-tock with an even, precise movement. Karim, Amin, Ali, Omar. All names of the Muslim faith and interestingly, bearing the name Muhammad as the middle name. The mocking, sniggering tone of the officer, who acted like he could not pronounce ‘Muhammad’ right, laughed at the name bearers to appease himself. America seemed dark that night, not the sunny destination I had arrived at just a year ago. I found it hard to quieten the blaring “whys” that screamed within the confines of my throbbing, jet-lagged head. If I were to call my life that of an ‘expat’ to give it a hint of glitz and glamour, it would at best be a few miles away from reality and at worst nowhere near it. For the sake of positivity, let’s stay in the middle ground. Wanderers more than ‘expats’, looking for permanence in a world full of uncertainty. ‘You are travelling the world’ are words I hear very often. ‘Exposure’ is another one mouthed by those who, for lack of any other word, use it to describe my state while moving from place to place. ‘Let’s trade places’, I feel like saying. Give me your hearth and home and trot the globe trying to fit in anywhere and everywhere. Where is home? Is it where I was born (Pakistan), where my children were born (UK), where my husband found a job (Singapore) or where he decided to go for post-graduation (US)? I can relate very well to the sailboat bobbing distantly in deep waters not quite sure of its shore. Our family of four is still bobbing as we try to adjust our sails in unfavourable weathers. We have tested different waters but unlike Goldilocks, have not gotten it quite right yet. ‘I am British’, says my five-year-old, who is a British citizen by birth. ‘I will always be American’, goes my twelve-year-old, who associates a two-year stay in the US with not only a citizenship but also all the benefits contained therein. Each to his own as long as their reasons justify their sense of belonging. I am still searching for mine. It has been obviously lost by years of separation from Pakistan, ‘almost but not quite home’ reference to England, a failed stay in Singapore and an affinity with the US going all too well had it not become ‘Trumpistan’.
In the years of early separation from my ‘home’ country, the time I spent in London between my visits to Pakistan was spent yearning to go back. I looked for curry as much as I looked for the sun. The former came easier than the latter. London was the closest city that came to being home for me, but it was not home enough. Curry alone could not offer salvation from the ‘Britishness’ of other aspects of London life.

The reality is that I appreciated London more and more as our time to move to Singapore came closer. Considered ‘an expat haven’ and best of both the worlds, our Singapore sojourn lasted less than it was meantto. It was too short a stay for us to settle down in this steamy island where no number of showers is good enough. A city where gadgets seem to outnumber the heads bent over them. A modern and progressive island that I could never come to terms with.

Pakistan, my Pakistan, will always be a preferred choice as it is the country of my birth. A witness to my childhood, when being alive meant being safe. Remorsefully, though, my children have not experienced that Pakistan — the country with a huge history and heritage that was put on the world map on the basis of religion but was secular enough to tolerate all faiths and people. Pakistan held a potential for the future generations. There was curiosity on the literary front. Universities flourished, and the middle class prospered through education and the desire to succeed.

On a recent trip to Pakistan, my older one reads the newspaper and wishes he was elsewhere. He reads about the children kidnapped, the latest terrorist threat and the attack on an Ahmadiyya mosque in Lahore. He wants to go back to ‘his’ home. As his bicycle follows a bend and escapes my searching eyes, I panic. This is the very path where I cycled as 12-year-old many moons ago. Nobody followed me from home. They were confident I would return home safely. Like a mother hen who takes her young ones under her wings, I look out for the kids around the clock. It’s exhausting — a hard job to fear and not to pass on the fear to those who look upto you for reassurance and safety.

The bobbing boat has landed at Cambridge. We arrived when the leaves had not quite shed but turned an orange deepenough for me to soak in their beauty for hours. There is peace here, a quietude of mind and thought that is wakened only by the noise of intellect around me. Young minds searching for answers within themselves, books and each other. The buildings speak their own language, understood only by those who try to hear it. In this particular city, we bear no tags of where we come from. We are people of the world hoping one day our children will be worthy of these mansions of academic wealth. Charles River stands witness to all my aspirations. It is gratifying to see the change in my children. My almost adolescent son leans over for the IPad; I rush to hand him a book instead. He concedes.

What is next for us, the wanderers? Too ‘foreign’ for Pakistan and not local enough for ‘Trumpistan.’ Where the fit is, I know not. People of the world, borderless and not tied to any ‘istan’, the world is our oyster.

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