What I realised on my visit to America after 18 years

My best friend in high school would constantly doodle the famous skyline of New York while trying to pass the time in class. Her dream, like so many others, was to go to NYC and eventually move there.

One summer, she finally went and came back totally crushed because what she expected was something completely different.

I would look at her in disbelief when she would describe it as being dirty, chaotic and people being extremely rude. It definitely didn’t sound like the picture of perfection and one of the top cities around the world.

It’s not until this summer when I finally went to the US that I realised what she was saying was, in fact, true.

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My trip began in New Jersey and my first reaction was, “Have I gone back in time?”. The houses, roads and construction of the buildings was old fashioned and simplistic. It was exactly how I remembered it. That’s because it doesn’t change or need to.

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What really amazed me was how white and fluffy the clouds were here (thanks to no pollution!).
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Outside my cousins home, it was so beautiful and serene! Truly heavenly for a tree lover like me.
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Isn’t this the perfect lounging spot? My cousin’s cat definitely seems to think so.

My background from constantly developing cities such as Riyadh, Dubai and Karachi seemed so much newer because it actually is. The US has been developed since so long that it has started to look old (the irony).

My aunt’s house is quite close to NYC, which gave me the chance to visit a few times. I caught the bus near her house, which dropped me to Penn Station beneath Madison Square Garden.

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My first sight of NYC was the New York Times office! I felt like walking in for a personal tour.

As I walked through the busy streets of Manhattan, I noticed the cleanliness (rather, the lack thereof!). I had to hop over gutter on the busy streets of Times Square and hold my breath as whiffs of pee kept welcoming me.

I could hardly take photographs because as soon as I would stop to take one, I would end up being pushed aside by the the impatient New Yorkers.

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The only photo I managed to take – the sea of people was just unbelievable.

There was a sense of insecurity I felt being in the city as I passed by so many homeless people who were either high or sleeping underneath torn pieces of cloth with only cats to accompany them.

This certainly wasn’t the picture I had in my mind of NYC in the many movies and TV shows I have seen that were filmed here. But then again, everything looks better on screen!

It was so hot and humid that day and I was about to pass out from starvation and thirst. I couldn’t find any restaurants in the area and I asked a shop keeper who told me there’s a great pizza place nearby.

I saw &pizza from a distance and bolted towards it, but little did I know it would be the best pizza I’d ever had!

It was so light and flavorful and I couldn’t believe how many different ingredients there were to choose from, not to mention the huge range of sauces that made the pizza even better!

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My day was saved by this delicious, other worldly make your own pizza place.
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I loved the neat, minimal interior here as well. The perfect spot to grab a pizza on the go!

My second visit to NYC was solely to see the world renowned Central Park, which was SO gigantic that I can’t even begin to explain. I had to reserve an entire day to roam around the park because it literally did take up the whole day.

It was hard to believe that the park dates back to 1857! I could feel a tinge of being back in time when I saw the gorgeous horse carriages filled with tourists getting rides.

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One of the many statues of historical figures – interestingly enough, all of them were men!
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“I’ll be there for youuu!” – didn’t ring a bell? This is the infamous F.R.I.E.N.D.S fountain!
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Interestingly enough, some parts reminded me of Venice with the gondola rides and the design of the fountains. I am wondering how the Italian influence creeped into Central Park!
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Such a perfect place to sprawl out and relax on a Saturday afternoon.
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These huge bubble makers were in every corner and were so much fun to capture!

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My next stop was Delaware, which is the smallest state in the US after Rhode Island. The roads were definitely wider and more spread out here and the residential areas felt like a depressing piece of suburban America.

We stopped for two days to visit my cousin who lives here and her kids were simply adorable and so helpful.

The best part of our trip was Tarbiyah School, an Islamic school which my cousin started and is running so well.

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Her kids were incredibly excited to have us over and it was so much fun spending time with them, not to mention how much they loved playing pranks on us!
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When someone’s intention is good and purely for Allah, things start to progress!
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I was surprised to see how impressive and well managed the setup was.

It was comforting to see the Muslim community so close-knit here and how many families would drive up from so far away just for their children to have an Islamic education. Everyone seemed so dedicated and passionate here and didn’t expect anything in return.

It made me wonder why Muslim countries didn’t have this sense of community, which is so important to American Muslims whether it’s at the masjid, conferences or educational institutions.

I realised this more after attending the Afterglow retreat in Ramadan, which is the only place where I actually had this communal feeling. Islam is a religion of being together and helping each other throughout our struggles.

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My best friend from childhood was visiting her parents house in Virginia and I couldn’t be more excited! It was just a two hour drive and my cousin insisted that she would drop us there.

I immediately noticed a difference while we were there and noticed some new developments. I was incredibly surprised to see that the park near their house was filled with hijabis with their children or just having a chat with their friends.

Trump’s America was clearly not stopping Muslims from following their faith and I was relieved to see that.

I went to Washington D.C. for the first time and actually loved it. As the capital, it was so well maintained and the style of architecture seemed very European.

It was so convenient and great that D.C. was only 10 minutes drive and we spent the day exploring.

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The Washington Monument built in memory of founding father, George Washington. 
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Out of so many museums to choose from, we went to the Museum of Natural History.
A lot of people asked me if I experienced anything because of my hijab, but honestly I didn’t have any trouble.

I did feel this unexplainable tension in the air and I think it’s the racism in general that has sprouted because Trump is enabling the public to do that. The only time I did experience something was at the White House, believe it or not.

As expected, many tourists were snapping away photos in front of the White House. As soon as I went for a photograph, a guard carrying a gun trying to look very macho kept coming behind me.

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The entire time I was standing there, he would purposefully place himself behind me as though I was carrying a bomb inside my scarf!

The funny thing is, as soon as I walked away I saw him going back to his original place. Discreet much?

The best part was within walking distance of the White House, we found a Halal Arabic restaurant that had fantastic falafel and shawarma sandwiches that I was missing so much, especially during Ramadan.

I was whisked back to my days in Riyadh while having the crisp falafel tucked in between the crunchy, fresh veggies loaded with flavorful sauces. Craving satisfied!

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My next stop was to Houston and I had to catch a flight from Washington. I chose United Airlines and had good expectations because of its popularity.

My thoughts were quickly crushed when I saw how the self-check in counters had absolutely no help whatsoever for senior citizens. My father had to pick up heavy baggage and nobody even bothered to help.

I was thinking of how people go out of their way to help in Pakistan, which our own people living abroad criticise so much. It really is saddening to see how American Pakistanis think so low of their own country. I don’t think there is any other nationality who criticises their country as much as Pakistanis.

In all honesty, I wasn’t impressed by the services in the US and couldn’t believe there wasn’t anything served in our three hour flight besides a lousy packet of pretzels.

I was also shocked to find that each bag had a price tag of $25. If we had had extra baggage, it would have cost us even more which would have been a complete rip off. I have never heard of any airline that charges its passengers for every bag, unless it is a budget, no frills airline.

Houston as a city felt different and incredibly spread out. It was extremely hot but we were mostly indoors and didn’t feel it as much.

My two uncles and cousins all live there and it was such a nice feeling to be with them, as though time hadn’t passed since we last met.

Although I didn’t know some of my cousins that well since they have hardly come to Pakistan, we instantly bonded because I think it’s just an unexplainable connection with family.

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The pool party at my uncle’s house on the 4th of July was so much fun!
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Everyone was so relieved that the rain stopped as it was pouring in the morning!

When we went to my chacha’s house in the desi neighbourhood in Richmond, I was surprised to see restaurants such as Chai Shai (not the original one!) and falooda at Agha Juice!

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I had never tried it in Karachi and funnily enough, I had it halfway across the world thanks to my TCK stomach that hasn’t grown immune to unhygienic conditions.

There were even Arabic restaurants and shisha cafes in Houston where my cousins took me and it felt so nice and homely to be there.

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It felt more like I was in Dubai than the US here. I think we can always find little pockets of home in every city around the world!

I went to a few malls and kept feeling as though I was back in time in the 80s. There just wasn’t any comparison to the luxurious and grand malls in Riyadh and Dubai because of course they were much more recent and modern than those in the US.

I was fortunate enough to have my uncle drive us to Austin, which was so much fun and such a different city altogether. It felt like a more happening and lively city in comparison to Houston.

My father had the chance to visit UT Austin, his alma mater, after 44 years (yes, I’m not joking!). He was incredibly excited and couldn’t believe how much the campus had changed and hardly recognised most of the buildings.

The only trouble was that day it was unbearably hot and we couldn’t explore the monuments as much as we wanted to.

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I fell in love with the campus and so many shady trees, which made it even more picturesque.
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It was such a spread out campus and I was wishing it wasn’t as boiling hot that day to explore.
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We passed by the Texas State Capitol, where they even give tours to visitors.

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I think what most resonated with me throughout my trip was that the US wasn’t as it was portrayed to be. The “best country in the world” and highly advanced style of living was not as rosy as the picture had been painted.

Immigrants were mostly struggling here on the basis of being sold the idea of the “American Dream”, which was merely a mirage. For many, that oasis never becomes reality.

As TCKs, many of us end up taking our country for granted when so many are left as refugees or in a lost state because of the politic dishevel in so many Muslim countries in today’s world.

Even if we don’t end up ever going back, it’s important to not criticise our country or even encourage others negativity.

But there are always places to remind you of your true identity and where home truly is because everyone wants to stay connected to their roots at the end of the day.

We are eating the same food, wearing the same clothes, speaking the same language, meeting fellow TCKs who are from our country and constantly watching the news because we actually care.

At the end of the day, we can never truly be detached roots no matter how hard we try.

 

 

 

 

 

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