I wish I didn’t feel like such a foreigner

Published: January 31, 2014

Sometimes, I wish I didn’t feel like such a foreigner, in my own country, among my own people. PHOTO: MANAL KHAN

Sometimes, I wish
I wasn’t born in such a big house
Didn’t watch so many Disney cartoons,
Or read so much Enid Blyton, when I was young…

Didn’t go to the poshest all-girls private school in town,
Or eat at the best foreign restaurants
Hadn’t ever been on a plane,
Ever outside the country
Didn’t know the words to every English song on the radio
Didn’t have a big air-conditioned car
Didn’t live in Defence
Didn’t always get what I wanted.

Sometimes, I wish
I didn’t feel like such a foreigner
In my own country
Among my own people
That I wouldn’t be polite,
Embarrassed, awkward
That Punjabi or Urdu would flow from my mouth
As effortlessly as English
That I could talk to beggars
Street children, village women
Without cringing inside
With guilt, helplessness

Who am I to feel guilty
When they laugh, tearing down the streets
Barefoot, in June heat
Straddling their babies, eyes shining
In faded, tattered hand-me-downs
Dirt-streaked and sunburnt
Knotty, sun-dyed hair
Lolling on a charpayee,
In a threadbare canvass tent.

And I turn away,
My eyes blinking with tears
Shameful, cowardly tears.

What is it that pains me?
Their destitution, their plight
Or me, having more than I deserve
Than I earned to deserve?

My four-walled two-storeyed brick home
My running tap water, bathroom and AC?
My fridge full of food, my mattressed bed, my car
My clothes and shoes, my education?

They are not destitute
They are not as poor
As we imagine them to be,
Sitting here in our sound-proof,
Sightless soap-bubbles
Feeling sorry, because there is little else we can do
Self-reproaching, self-guilty, shallow.

How wrong we are! How thoroughly mistaken!
How frustrated, dissatisfied
While they, homeless, unread,
Embrace the day with laughing heart
Revel, in every
Sunbright, moonlight, raindrop moment
Of absolute freedom.

This post originally appeared here.


Manal Khan

A freelance writer and photographer based in Madrid, Spain, who loves old cities, tall trees, dark chocolate, and being inspired. She is a graduate of the UC Berkeley School of Journalism and a Lahore native. Manal blogs at "Windswept Words" (manalkhan.wordpress.com)

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