Being an international student is an extreme sport – ESPN best start investing. Each term I pack my entire university existence into two suitcases weighing no more than the average well-nourished preteen, say teary goodbyes to my friends, endure a claustrophobic ten hour travel home to Pakistan, and pray that my bags did not get lost in transit. And all that is just the tip of the iceberg.
Being home is comforting because you get to revert back to what you know best: the language, the heat, the delicious food and the abundant mosquitoes. Home, for me, is waking up to the sound of birds chirping, the adhaan (call to prayer) booming from all directions and the kabariwala (scrap material reseller) singing out his wares. Home is getting creative finding spots to smoke around the house so my parents don’t catch on.
Oxford is definitely a place that spoils you when it comes to opportunities to voice your opinions and garner genuine and productive support for them. There are forces at play in the grander scheme of things to prevent you from standing up for the underdog – something you have to readjust to when you are back on the soil that begat you. Sure, I don’t support the legal witch-hunt on a certain religious minority every time I sign to renew my passport. But am I naïve enough to risk my life openly campaigning against it? And there are only so many dirty looks I can shoot and aggressive hand gestures I can make when men speak to my chest, before I too exhaust and accept my lot. All the raging and ranting about the corruption, rampant terrorism, lack of women’s rights and the intolerance has only lead to a realization that all this is a compromise, where I must exist in a calm and collected capacity so that I may effectively work to change archaic concepts and damaging thought processes. Away from the essay crises, late night Soloman’s trips and morning lectures of Oxford, home is a different creature altogether and it raises its own questions.
But apart from the sobering reality of life in a Third World country in its first few decades of democracy, home is where the actors that adorn the stage of your life are – the aunty who knows everyone’s business, the people who saw you take your first steps, the friend who is prone to pee if she laughs too much and the stray cats who love you only when you save them some leftovers. Sitting in the garden with some garam chai (hot tea) and tazay pakoray (fresh pakoray), catching up on all the gossip from around the city, you are reminded that home is where everything is almost back to the way it was, even if the rest of your world is in disarray. Some things have changed: you appreciate your parents even more after travelling and running chores on your own. Some of your friends are different, others are exactly as you remember, some have got married and the lonesome Afghan kuchi from next door has a growing family now. Curious new puppies peer at you through the bars of the gate as you drive by. What’s clear is that returning home is about love and learning.