Rolling Stones - starting a new life
The bliss of giving birth to my first baby was marred by the pain of having to do it oceans away from home.
My daughter Aimen was born on a typical Tennessean afternoon – bright and promising. She was pink. She was tiny. She had the loudest cry I ever heard. And she was perfect. My husband and I were ecstatic, and we wanted to hug and kiss the whole world. Sadly, there was not even a single person we could call on to share the joy of this miracle. It was only our third month in the United States and we hadn’t had the time to make any friends.
On the contrary, had we been in Pakistan, a grand feast would have been prepared in honor of the baby, and to which more than half the town would have been invited. There would have been food, drums, a large network of yellow lights spun around the entire house making it visible from miles away, and my baby and I would have been dressed as queens. There would have been endless lines of guests bearing gifts for the newborn and her parents. And all this festivity would have seen the early rays of the sun.
But here, in Memphis, it was not to be.
At the sound of my baby’s first cry, there were no anxious uncles rushing in to savor that first glimpse. There were no loving grandparents waiting to take her home. There were no old family servants bringing hot milk and pillows for the tired, new mom. And nobody gave my husband a hug, telling him what a great father he would be.
My baby came home to an empty apartment. And in that moment, the truth of the American saying “rolling stones gather no moss” hit me hard like a rock. I felt like a queen who had abandoned her throne to build her kingdom elsewhere, in search of dreams unfulfilled. It was then that I realized the loss of our moss, our heritage.
This isn’t just my story. This is the story of all such people who roll away from their home ground. This is the tale of every newcomer who brings his life, packed in a few suitcases, to another country, looking for a glorious future he didn’t quite have in his own. He may have different experiences but the underlying loss is the same. It is bitter and it is sweet.
Ever since I landed at JFK in May 2003, I was overwhelmed with the magnanimity of change in my life. It was so constant and so real and so staring me straight in my face that I was nervous about everything. If I ate too much American food, I felt disloyal to my country. If I talked too much English, I felt disloyal to my mother tongue. If I wore pants too often, I felt my national dress chewing at my conscience. And if I didn’t do any of these things, I was an outcast in my own community. I didn’t know how to deal with my own life anymore.
It took time, and an Italian restaurant owner to help me find my path, a path that suited me the most.
We were in St. Louis for a week, where my husband had a medical conference to attend. For dinner, we went to a highly recommended Italian restaurant. The place was fabulous and the food was divine. But more than that, it was the fruitful conversation I had with its owner that made my time memorable.
He noticed that Aimen’s ears weren’t pierced, according to Pakistani tradition, and he said, “I see you have started to Americanize already. Well, the sooner the better.”
Americanize… now what was that all about?
“I don’t think we have,” I replied. “I mean we still don’t have a babysitter and she’s almost two.” In Pakistan, children go everywhere their parents go.
He laughed and we chatted some more and just before we left, he gave me a pat on the arm and said, “America is a great country and if you fit in, no place like it. You take care, ok?”
It sounded sweet and familiar. I remembered my Muslim friends who carved turkeys on Thanksgiving and exchanged gifts on New Year to celebrate the holiday spirit. I think they had become Americanized. I wasn’t sure if I ever will be ready for a jump as big as that but I liked the sound of it to a certain extent – the extent to which it did not overshadow our family values. For instance, Aimen can have her ears not pierced – and I will never use a babysitter.
I understand living away from home will be different – enjoyable, scary, full of possibilities, and full of the struggle to find the best link between our two worlds. But most of all it will be an experience to cherish. We came to a friendless city two years ago, and now we throw huge parties, inviting over twenty people at a time. This is progress. Aimen is growing up fast and has a great time with her grandparents every time they visit; reminding me that I’m doing a good job keeping her connected to her roots. That is progress
Rolling stones may gather no moss. But humans sure can start a new life.