This August of 2016 is my 20th anniversary of arriving in the United States.
Not the anniversary of my leaving Pakistan: that was October 1994, and I went to Cambridge in the UK. Nor the anniversary of my leaving my family home: I left in 1991, at age 22, with an MA in English, to teach English at the International Islamic University in Islamabad, a world away from my almost 20-year home in Lahore. In retrospect, I was an unusual case in my peer group, leaving my home, my hometown, and my home country as a single woman, purely for education, rather than accompanying a husband’s career. Each anniversary is laced with excitement and fear, anxiety and aloneness, fragility and courage.
I remember being on the bus from Walm Lane to Willesden Green station, giddy with excitement. A PhD program! I was about to take flight!
I quickly abandoned most of my possessions overnight – leaving it to my friend Aliya to dispose of them – and packed a suitcase full of clothes I considered nice (they were too “nice”, it turned out, for the American everyday).
Twenty years ago, I got a budget flight on the now-defunct airline ATA, delighted with the lighthearted American tone of the announcements: “Welcome to Hawaii!” as we landed in O’Hare.