There are days when I wish I never stepped foot into Pakistan. The leers from strange men older than my grandfather and the constant electricity shortages in above 100 degree weather can compel anyone to consider fleeing the country. And yet, I can’t help but love it.
I was born and raised in the United States of America. I had never known another home, nor seriously considered the possibility of moving abroad. I had always envisioned myself growing old on an adorable front porch of a New England home I would one day build with my family. Even though my parents were both born and raised in Pakistan, the country itself never occurred to me as a potential future home. Pakistan was the motherland that I loved and took pride in, but it remained only the land of my ancestor’s. But not anymore. In August 2014, I moved to Pakistan.
The move itself has proven surprisingly smooth. The run-up, however, proved surprisingly troublesome. Ever since I made the decision to marry my best friend and, therefore, move to Pakistan to be with him, my decision was met with mixed reactions. Ranging from shock to excitement to downright derision, reactions ran the gamut. While my close friends and family granted me their unwavering support, most others horrified me with their comments. Women I barely knew cautioned me with tales of educated girls being trapped into lives of servitude. Acquaintances openly scoffed at me and challenged me to “last longer than six months”. Some joked about avoiding drones on a daily basis. Most expressed serious doubt over whether or not my decision was actually voluntary.
Throughout the process, I often felt that all of the surprise and concern was rooted in something entirely different: a warped perception of what life in Pakistan is like. Many people, particularly in the Pakistani diaspora, perceive life in Pakistan to be little more than a combination of loadshedding, lavish weddings and political upheavals. In reality, there is so much more that Pakistan has to offer. I have only recently discovered and devoured the world of Pakistani contemporary literature, but I have also learned of exciting events such as the Lahore Literary Festival and local writing competitions. There are spectacular local plays and art exhibitions that I have been unfortunately ignorant of.
Importantly, the opportunities to do good are never ending: whether giving out food to the needy from your doorstep, or dedicating weekends to a local organization. Pakistan may be full of societal problems that need to be solved, but it is equally full of dedicated people willing to give the nation their blood, sweat and tears.
I am reinventing my image of life in Pakistan daily, and I advocate for all those visiting Pakistan, or their respective motherlands, to do the same. Do some research before the next trip. Find out if there are any local events, or if you can volunteer with a non-profit during the visit. These experiences lead to a deeper understanding of what life in this country can actually be like. And while there may always be loadshedding and eve-teasing to complain about, I am finding those frustrations easier to deal with, day by day. Life in Pakistan is by no means easy, but it is certainly feeling more and more like home everyday. Alhumdulilah.
Hafsa Ahmad is a writer and Associate Editor at Altmuslimah. She is a graduate of Middlebury College, where she studied International Politics and Economics. A golfer, runner and pilot in her spare time, Hafsa is currently writing and residing in Lahore, Pakistan.