Pakistan on the Potomac

Published in The Washingtonian Dec 2008
December 1, 2011

“Being a cross-cultural parent in Washington can mean teaching your children the Koran — and then carpooling them to hip-hop class.”

Our flight touched down at Reagan National Airport three years ago, bringing us back to Washington after 15 years in Geneva, Bahrain, Paris, and Houston.

Diplomacy and law had taken us abroad; the pull of family had brought us back. As soon as my husband, son, daughter, and I left the baggage area, a dozen family members engulfed us with hugs. My heart smiled with the contentment you feel when you know you’re home, really home. As I settled into the back seat of my in-laws’ car, nestled between our children, all I could think of was how different it had been when my family came to America nearly 35 years ago.

“Where you wanna go? Where you wanna go?” I don’t think my father understood a word the cab driver said.

“This is our first time in New York,” he told the cabbie at JFK Airport in his heavily accented Indo-Pak-London English. “Please take us to a neighborhood that would be suitable for my family.” The cabbie shrugged as he tossed our suitcases into the trunk. We had left our country, our home, our sense of belonging—and now our fate rested in the hands of a New York cab driver from China.

The cabbie shrugged as he tossed our suitcases into the trunk. We had left our country, our home, our sense of belonging—and now our fate rested in the hands of a New York cab driver from China. We didn’t know anyone in New York. We had little idea of life in America. All of our belongings—some clothes, a few books, a Rosenthal tea set my father had bought in Germany—was in the twine-tied trunk of a yellow cab.

“Which is a safe neighborhood for my family? Where can I buy discounted furniture? What schools would you recommend for my children?” My father lobbed question after question at the cabbie, trying to gain some understanding of where to go and what to do.

My mother cried in the back seat. My brother and I—too scared to cry, too intimidated to speak—looked out the window. For a seven-year-old girl more used to seeing rickshaws than cars and who had never seen a tall building, this place seemed as far away from home as the moon.  Read full article


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