Growing up, I wondered what lay across country borders. What makes their country special compared to any other? Why is their food so different from ours? I was always curious about what people from other nations were like, so I dreamed of visiting distant lands. My mother’s stories, stories I vividly remember, of her travels to neighboring countries encouraged those dreams; I had so much hope that one day she’d see the world. I’ve held on to her stories, sometimes returning to them as if they were receipts for experiences that I too might have.
My Last Few Months of Schooling in Zimbabwe
I was in a class of kids that, for the most part, grew up in the same society. As I remember it, there was one Pakistani girl — Raima. She hardly spoke to anyone, it seemed. She kept to herself. Whenever I’d walk over to say ‘hi’ and make small talk (maybe flirt a little), she would clam up. “Damn, this girl is shy,” I’d think after any attempt to befriend her. Now I can’t help but wonder, “Was it really shyness or maybe something else?”
In 2004, I relocated to Manchester, England. This was a move that would ultimately change me. At the time, my young mind hadn’t yet fathomed the significance of the transition: opportunity with responsibility, a gift and a curse.
Excited but Terribly Confused
The experience of being in a new country with unfamiliar customs and a different education system was exhilarating and baffling at the same time. I struggled to fit in and found myself in a tug-of-war between teachers who liked me because they saw my potential and teachers who felt that I was shown favoritism for being in “the minority group.” I can’t explain why, but I just couldn’t fit in, even with kids who had the same skin color as mine. I’d always thought of myself as a friendly and sociable individual. What was I doing wrong? It didn’t take too long for me to realize how Raima felt.
In hindsight, it was neither a problem of nerves nor a matter of what we were possibly doing wrong. It was simpler than that. This was about our differences ― having different backgrounds and customs from one another. Humans are predisposed toward comfort. We seek out individuals who most resemble our own selves, looking for a resemblance that, at times, transcends physical appearance. As such, I found myself becoming really good friends with two fellas ― Aamir from Pakistan and Bashir from Somalia ― who shared passion and interests similar to mine. We bonded over the realities of being outcasts.
One Year Later…