I’ve been in Pakistan for one week now and already I have seen and experienced a communal bond that I’ve never witnessed during my 20 years in the States. This is probably the one thing that I will miss the most about this place.
With my family in Karachi, people come and go in each other’s homes without invitation (because it’s not needed) and sometimes even without knocking. One day when I was sitting in the living room a family friend came to see me and she didn’t call or let us know beforehand. The front gates were unlocked and she walked in but it was completely normal. During the day, everyone in our neighborhood generally leaves their homes unlocked. There is no worry about how the house looks, whether anyone is home (someone is always home) or how one is dressed. It’s very refreshing.
Another thing, when someone visits from afar, everyone who is able makes an effort to come visit. Even if they stay for 10-20 minutes, all that matters is that they came and said Salaam.
In Karachi resides my dad’s side of the family. I went out with my aunt one afternoon and five minutes into our walk to the bazaar three men greeted us. She told them that I was “Shakil ki beti”, or Shakil’s daughter and they were happy to see me and asked how my dad was doing.
Then, we went to a gold shop to buy jewelry and the shop owner asked my aunt who I was and he too was pleased when he found out that I was Shakil ki beti. My dad’s family has been buying jewelry from that shop since my parent’s wedding 25 years ago. The shop owner told me that every time someone from our family shopped there, they would write my dad’s name on the receipt. When we were done with our shopping I told him to write my dad’s name on the receipt and he laughed and said, “So you’re continuing the tradition”.
I have had many exchanges with people I do not know but because they know my dad and were close with him there is a sense of a communal relationship present. Some of these people do not even know my name but it doesn’t bother me because I feel proud when someone refers to me as Shakil’s daughter.
Karachi has showed me another level of affinity and allowed me to appreciate my family’s history and background. Though I was not raised there and do not have the same relationships with people that my dad grew up with, there hasn’t been a moment where I felt like an outsider (except when people on the streets stare and trust me, they stare a lot). This city has taught me that family exists well beyond the bloodline.