Being a Pakistani just isn’t easy. Sure you’d think, “What’s so hard about being Indian?” Well, that’s one reason, nobody knows what or where Pakistan is! “Oh, is that in India?” No — no, it’s not. Pakistan is that country right next to India.
You know, when I came to the U.S., I was about three years old, and I didn’t know a single word of English. And no, it’s not because Pakistan is filled with a bunch of illiterates. Actually, my sister and I attended English classes before coming to the U.S., so my sister was really prepared when we came, you know, ‘cause she’s like the “goody two shoes” and all, but of course I had the attention span of a housefly. I was super jumpy and hyper all the time, so even on the very first day of school I cried and tried to grab and hold onto anything in sight so that I wouldn’t have to go to that frightening place called “isschool.” Yup, that’s what they called it! But you know what’s even better? During the very first week of “isschool” we were learning how to do arts and crafts and stuff, and with my motor skills I couldn’t even hold a pair of scissors straight. However, even in all my frustration I did manage to chop a chunk of my teacher’s hair off.
When we finally came to the U.S., I had still had to go to “isschool,” but now they called it “just school, not isschool.” So that’s what I called it! “I’m going to just school, not isschool.” Every single time. You think that’s funny? Well, remember my animosity with English? Turns out no one speaks Urdu in “Amreeca!” Oh Lord! That first day was such a pain! I had to go to the bathroom – but I didn’t. I had to borrow the glue – but I didn’t. I had to drink water – but I didn’t. I couldn’t. Out of desperation, I just waved my arms back and forth and acted out how I would drink water.
The only two subjects I was brilliant at were Math and Nap Time. You know, because all Asians are like brilliant at math. And nap time . . . oh, nap time, how I miss you.
But anyways, you know most kids who come from another country at my age have to take a few classes of ESOL to prepare them to take classes with the normal, English-speaking kids. For some odd reason my sister didn’t like the idea of me going to ESOL and learning basic English before learning the actual curriculum, so she worked to improve my English on her own time so that I wouldn’t have to take ESOL. She even started teaching me geography, something she was learning in her class. I remember looking at the map and asking, “Why are all the states different colors? Oh! I know! Is it because they grow grapes in the purple ones and oranges in the orange ones?” My sister still gets a kick out of that line. The funny part is, I said it with so much confidence. Just like a house fly would look at a super-clean window and think, “Of course that’s an opening.”
Don’t get me wrong, I do love being a Paki, but you know, just sometimes, it’s a little hard to explain. I love my country, but I despise its politics and poverty and politicians. People ask all the time “But, why do you love Pakistan so much? You’re American now. Love ‘Merica!” Sure, I love America, the land of opportunities and freedom and pluralism, but you can never forget your roots even if you try. Imagine the typical white American going overseas to, say, Pakistan. People will ask, “Why do you love ‘Amreeca?’ Sure, you are wealthier and government is more supportive, but ‘Amreeca’ always puts its nose into other countries’ business. It’s like you think you are helping people, but you’re not — or even if you are, you don’t finish what you’ve started! What’s to love in that?” Yeah, the questions are hard to answer, but we all answer in the same way: “There is good and bad in every country; you just need the right people to discover the goodness that a nation has to offer.” And so we all defend our mother country — though, sure, it’s hard to defend sometimes.
But I can’t help seeing it from both sides, because that’s what it’s like, living on the borderline.
© Falak Lalani, 13 December 2012