The familiar strange

About 20 years ago, I left Pakistan and went to the UK for higher education. I did not know that I was permanently transitioning to immigrant status.

20 years prior to that I arrived in Pakistan for the first time, as a 6-year old. I have now spent more time in the Western hemisphere than I have in Pakistan.

Today, while praying namaz at the Shirley Gate Mosque, it occurred to me how much my life has changed over the years. As I walked back to my friend’s house, leaning on my husband’s shoulder, I thought how exotic this experience would have been for me when I was in Pakistan. Socializing with Tunisian and half-Turkish Muslims, White converts, making dhikr with them, praying together, and being eyed by first-generation Pakistani women at the mosque. How many cultural iterations I have been through, I can barely keep track.

As a young bookworm, I was fascinated by anything unfamiliar – Chinese Pakistanis, Anglo-Pakistani friends, international students, Sudanese medical students. Now I go back to Pakistan and I am fascinated by the everyday pieties and the cultural practices that were once normal, mundane, boring.

Anthropologists speak of rendering the familiar everyday things strange, and of rendering strange unfamilar cultures familiar. This has happened to me in my own lifetime.

I wonder what lies ahead.

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