dear children of diaspora, i am thinking of you these days
dear children of diaspora, i am thinking of you these days
Memory has a way of being deceptive. Each time I am back in Karachi, I find myself taken aback. Things are not how I expect them to be. Somehow in my memory, our home in Karachi is always a little bigger, our street a little wider. Maybe it’s because I was younger, smaller, and so the spaces seemed bigger. Or maybe things really are shrinking as this city grows and becomes more crowded.
It still hasn’t truly hit me that I’m back and I’m not sure how I feel about it. My surroundings are coming to me in bleary, hazy doses as I drift in and out of sleep. The weeks leading up to the move, and the journey here were exhausting. My body is still recovering and adjusting.
Karachi’s On the Map
One change that has altered Karachi-life is the introduction of Google Maps. My street did not used to have an “official” name. My honours thesis in university centred around this fact, on the lack of official names for streets and how people used landmarks and anecdotes to navigate the megacity and give directions. That has changed. There is a very large blue sign denoting the name of our street; i.e, the new official name. I think this probably has to do with Google Maps. The streets need to become navigable in a way that’s not just restricted to locals or dependant on local knowledge and directions. I can now look up directions on my phone to get to places in Karachi and this certainly makes the city less daunting and more accessible (although I’ve heard the traffic is atrocious). I wonder what we are losing though, with this introduction of Google Maps. An entire culture and way of navigating spaces has now changed.
The introduction of Google Maps has also allowed different ride sharing apps to thrive here. Uber has arrived. You can order a motorcycle and the driver will arrive with an extra helmet. There’s also an app called Careem app. It kind of works like Uber, except apparently it’s safer and the drivers are all directly trained and hired by the company. I’m excited to use it and review it. I’m also curious to observe the effects of such apps and technology on local businesses and every-day life. It has a way making you feel both safer and more exposed. Nonetheless, I think the Careem app may be a way for me to see the city independently.
The most I’ve seen of Karachi so far is the route from the airport to the house at 4 in the morning, and what I’ve observed from the roof. I’ve been getting aquatinted with the neighbourhood bird life. The racket the birds make in the morning is astounding, as if there are hundreds of birds shouting at each other. There is a rooster in our neighbourhood that crows incessantly all day and has made my jet-lagged sleep very difficult. No shortage of crows here, either. They are loud, clever and obnoxious. They have a sharpness and alertness to them that catches me off guard.
The mosquitoes and flies too have advanced survival instincts. Despite wearing full length pants, covering myself with bed sheets, and having the fan on full speed when I sleep, I still wake up with mosquito bites all over my arms, legs, stomach, back, and neck. I really don’t know how they get there. I’m determined to figure out a way to outsmart these mosquitoes.
I am looking forward to recovering from my jet lag so I can get into a routine. I really do feel different here. I feel more creative, and I can feel myself wanting to write creatively again. I have different ideas of what I want to do during my time here, but I’m a little afraid of going out and about on my own because my foreignness really sticks out like a sore thumb. Or maybe it doesn’t. I’ve lived here before. I should give myself some credit. Although it doesn’t help that I’ve been mentally converting rupees to dollars to understand how much something is. I just need to get out there and adjust. But first, I must get over this jet lag.
Stay tuned, more to come.
…It’s 12:40 AM and that rooster is crowing.
when your writing becomes not about you but about addressing the gaze that others you. there is a loss there. but there is an immediacy to it – you feel compelled. no, you are compelled. it is demanded of you. i wouldn’t call it a phase (it will always be there). perhaps a passage. a necessary trap. it needs to be done, so that perhaps your writing can move on, and you can represent yourself without looking at yourself from the outside in, without always being angry and traumatized. and finally, find true liberation in your work. when i no longer always need to write about trauma, and can write about fuzzy caterpillars and dust bunnies and why i like my egg yolks runny.
history repeats itself. i, on my own, cannot change that. it is not my job to change that. it is not my job to change the world. i cannot. i can shout and be enraged and cry and be bitter, but there will always be suffering. many of us will continue to be outcasts our entire lives. empires of oppression have much longer life spans than i do. i am not responsible for humanity. i cannot end systems so much bigger than myself. that is too big of a task and i am not up for the challenge and i will always be disappointed and overwhelmed. change is too slow. i am brief, fleeting, flailing.
my task is to hold up the/a truth, always the truth, my truth, and what i know to be true. i cannot change the world but i can hold up the truth, side with it, be a testament to it, be a vocal witness to it. that is all i can do. and that is immensely powerful. hopefully, it is enough.
i’ve made a conscious decision to speak openly about my struggles with my mental health. i’m slowly learning what my body needs when i am anxious, depressed and the different ways my PTSD manifests itself. i am learning to become comfortable with how fragile and vulnerable i am as a human.
the last few days have been particularly difficult for various reasons. but i find that in those intense moments of pain and brokenness, help finds its way to me.
a few months ago i had just experienced a racist incident and was feeling emotionally and physically overwhelmed. a friend texted me out of the blue and asked if we could meet. she met me in the hallway right after my class. we held hands and cried. another time i ran into her, she slipped two beautiful bracelets into my pocket. i have been wearing them everyday and throughout the day run my fingers over them. they make me smile.
this past week has been especially difficult. the following words have been life lines extended to me.
Instead I took a deep breath. I channeled my outrage into a form of meditation. I reminded myself that I am a writer. My job is to observe and to remember. When push comes to shove, memory is my greatest self-defense. I can be a warrior but I would rather be a poet. Poets live longer.
5. I WISH I COULD “LOVE MYSELF” OUT OF SYSTEMIC OPPRESSION. TRAUMA IS A STRUCTURE, NOT A FEELING.
Your job isn’t to change the world. It is to hold up the truth.
you are so different from every angle and so beautiful.
My God, who has been so quiet,
This must be your work.
As baffling as all of your other mercies
love is not a cliche. i forget that sometimes. my anger is justified, but it should not overtake my power to love. anger should not be toward human beings but toward systems. and i must never forget love. i forget it too often as i grow older and sadder and angrier. my anger is justified and powerful. but i also have the power to be overwhelmed in and with love. and it makes me whole. anger is not sustaining. it is important but it is not everything. love protects me from myself, from my anger from becoming too consuming. love is empathy. love is the Creator. love is wholesome and the only place i feel safe, accepted, at home. the systems in place are cold, unloving, and i am always being cast out. why must speaking about love be cliche? it is all i have. why is it easier to talk about sadness or anger when what i really want is more love? and it is here, available, within me, always open, welcoming me in.
As a Muslim and as a Shia I often feel as if I live in an environment where I have to keep quiet about my faith and spirituality. Within Muslim circles, talking about being Shia is looked upon as inciting sectarianism and division and has lead to the further marginalization of Shia Muslims. In larger, secular circles, the mere mention of faith is seen as backwards and as a sign of intellectual inferiority. I’m tired of both kinds of silencing. Especially in a climate of islamophobia and anti-Shiism, I feel it’s crucial that I am vocal about my identity and refuse the pressure to be ‘acceptable’ by staying silent.
There’s a colonial history of coloured peoples made to feel as if they are lesser because of the beliefs and practices they hold – that they are backwards, uncultured, uncivilized, or in the words of our current prime minister “barbaric”. Being a student in Eurocentric academia, I am faced with a general assumption that spirituality has been “debunked” and those who continue to have faith (no matter what culture they’re from) are behind the times – that we should all think like the White Man now thinks.
This is a legacy of colonialism and empire. There are countless examples of this: from the way indigenous communities on Turtle Island were banned from practicing the potlatch, to the greasing of the gun powder cartridges used by Muslim and Hindu sepoys in the British army with pig and cow fat (which incited India’s First War of Independence in 1857), to the banning of headscarves and niqabs in France, and to the extremely racist and islamophobic rhetoric of New Atheists like Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins who continue to paint Muslims as “savages” in direct opposition to “liberal values”. Our beliefs and practices are seen as ignorant and irrational.
As a Shia, I have also often faced many misconceptions and judgements at the hands of fellow non-Shia Muslims. There is also a long history of anti-Shiism backed by ‘Muslim’ states. Many of these anti-Shia states are also closely allied to Western imperialism. Saudi Arabia, the gulf countries, Pakistan (my own country of birth), are places where Shia mosques, Shia professionals, and Shia communities are targets of severe violence.
I don’t want to be silenced as a Muslim. I don’t want to be silenced as a Shia.
Simply saying “Yes, I am Muslim. Yes, I am Shia. Yes, I believe in a prophet, his family, and a holy book” feels like an act of defiance and resistance.
Right now it is Muharram, one of the most important months for Shia Muslims. My community goes in to mourning. We wear black. We remember the legacy of Muhammad’s family – most of whom were starved and killed after his death in the plains of Karbala for refusing to pay allegiance to the tyrant leader, Yazid. Many of us identify with these stories, the characters of these stories, the messages of resistance, resilience, of social justice and resisting tyranny and oppression.
Zainab, the granddaughter of the Prophet and the matriarch of the family, had her veil and the veils of all the women in her family physically ripped from them the same night that almost all the men and boys in her family were brutally massacred. Zainab, along with the prophet’s great grandson and the remaining women and children were then dragged in chains through the streets of Kufa, whipped, taunted, and humiliated. Yet she rose resilient, refused to be humiliated into silence, and spoke with such strong words that she shook the very foundation of Yazid’s empire, which eventually led to his downfall. I have learned of this story from childhood. Every Muharram, I hear it again.
At a time when bigots would love to see me humiliated by forcibly removing my headscarf, I identify with Zainab’s story and it gives me strength to know that my history has examples of resilient woman who stood up for themselves, who spoke against oppression at the hands of tyrannical men, who lead revolutions and created social change.
I don’t need white liberal feminism. I have my own stories. I have matriarchs in my bloodline. And I will tell these stories and continue to hold fast to them, even if they make white liberalism uncomfortable.