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)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Ali

    Great thoughts!! bravoRecommend

  • Muhammad Bilal

    Nice oneRecommend

  • Parvez

    A nice bit of introspection……..also liked the way you portrayed the hypocrisy attached.
    You could have taken it a step further by writing about how we debase religious values to justify material gains.Recommend

  • Carl

    How typical and condescending of the rich to think the poor are “free”. If you desire this “freedom” so much, why not give up your wealth/privileges and join them? No, didn’t think you would…Recommend

  • tungi

    whose stopping you!go live in a tentRecommend

  • Necromancer

    Don’t whine about this do something constructive………for starters why not from the comforts of your Spanish luxury, start a little charity from your own pocket…….educate children not on huge scale just two or perhaps three and it ain’t gonna cost you fortune probably around 350 eurosRecommend

  • Rizwan

    I appreciate what ever you wrote. I got you completely. You are moving towards the stage of self Actualization. Hierarchy of needs. You had everything you never deserve to have. You got the extreme luxury one can have and then You realized that there are people who don’t have what you have. So you started thinking about them. very nice poem. Now is the time and the courage required to join them fully not by leaving all the luxuries but by sharing them with all.
    I wanted to send you a mail but it is not allowed i said it all there.
    thank YouRecommend

  • Rukaiya

    Uff yeh kaun log hain. There are plenty of DHA people who have gone to the same upper class schools and holiday abroad who speak good Urdu, watch desi fare along with high brow Hollywood films, listen to film songs and English pop, have travelled to other cities in Pakistan and are quite comfortable in other areas of Karachi. Similarly there are Nazimabad and Gulshan residing people who are just as educated and aware who are as comfortable in the burger environs.

    This idiot is obviously an entitled whiner with upstart parents who cling to their posh environment like a security blanket. There’s nothing stopping her from fraternizing with her colleagues from the other side of the tracks. Or even spontaneously exploring other areas just for a bite to eat or for shopping. There’s nothing stopping her from volunteering at a good charity to assuage her guilt. Or from getting an Urdu teacher to improve her language skills.

    She just doesn’t want to.Recommend

  • Arsal

    I like the idea, but it doesn’t hit the mark as a poem.Recommend

  • Mariah

    Atleast this person cares! I know so many people like the person described in the poem and all of them are engrossed in their fancy lives. And if this person cares enough to write a poem about it then I am sure they can and will do something to bring about a change.. No matter how little. And that will be done not by giving up their own luxurious lives but by using it to help others, impart education etc.
    Remember, Islam wants you to lead a life according toyour financial state so if u can afford a luxurious lifestyle then there’s nothing wrong in attaining it.. As long as it doesn’t make you arrogant or takes you away from rememberence of Allah.Recommend

  • Justice Miscarried

    My life changed the day I saw a teen aged garbage collector singing while collecting from a heap of garbage. I, then, realized, that happiness depends on enjoying what we have rather than craving for what we don’t.Recommend

  • nust

    Bibi ji agar show off ho gaya ho, tou ja kay ghareebon kay liye kuch kariye. Writing a poem won’t do them any good.

    Pathetic. Don’t exploit the poor for a few words of praise.Recommend

  • 1BDI

    oooh, poor you!Recommend

  • Marriam

    beautiful.. Recommend

  • goggi (Lahore)

    This life is a hospital where every patient is possessed with the desire to change beds; one man would like to
    suffer in front of the stove, and another believes that he would recover his health beside the window.
    It always seems to me that I should feel well in the place where I am not, and this question of removal is one
    which I discuss unceasingly with my soul.
    ‘Tell me, my soul, poor chilled soul, what do you think of going to live in Lisbon? It must be warm there, and there
    you would vitalize yourself like a lizard. This city is on the sea-shore; they say that it is built of marble
    and that the people there have such a hatred of vegetation that they uproot all the trees. There you have a landscape
    that corresponds to your taste! a landscape made of light and mineral, and liquid to reflect them!’
    My soul does not reply.
    ‘Since you are so fond of stillness, coupled with the show of movement, would you like to settle in Holland,
    that beatifying country? Perhaps you would find some diversion in that land whose image you have so often admired
    in the art galleries. What do you think of Rotterdam, you who love forests of masts, and ships moored at the foot of
    My soul remains silent.
    ‘Perhaps Batavia attracts you more? There we should find, amongst other things, the spirit of Europe
    married to tropical beauty.’
    Not a word. Could my soul be dead?
    ‘Is it then that you have reached such a degree of lethargy that you acquiesce in your sickness? If so, let us
    flee to lands that are analogues of death. I see how it is, poor soul! We shall pack our trunks for Tornio. Let us go
    farther still to the extreme end of the Baltic; or farther still from life, if that is possible; let us settle at the Pole. There
    the sun only grazes the earth obliquely, and the slow alternation of light and darkness suppresses variety and
    increases monotony, that half-nothingness. There we shall be able to take long baths of darkness, while for our
    amusement the aurora borealis(north pole lights) shall send us its rose-coloured rays that are like the reflection of Hell’s own
    At last my soul explodes, and wisely cries out to me: ‘No matter where! No matter where! As long as it’s out
    of the world!’

    Charles BaudelaireRecommend

  • seth

    Oh really if living in poor conditions make you feel liberated, free why not give up everything and start living in a rural, poor locality!
    I am amazed that you are actually a researcher at one of top institutes of Pakistan.Recommend

  • daisey

    you do not get her she meant she did not helped these people when her mind make this excuse that she can do nothing to help but in fact she has things she can help but its hard to do so in a way the writer is expressing her guilt that i am poor these people are rich that they are still smiling and happy when we are living luxury but still do not laugh so muchRecommend

  • daisey

    you do not get her she meant she did not helped these people when her mind make this excuse that she can do nothing to help but in fact she has things she can help but its hard to do so in a way the writer is expressing her guilt that i am poor these people are rich that they are still smiling and happy when we are living luxury but still do not laugh so much actually this happens in pakistan there are poor around you but they are so many that your used to it and it does not seem a big dealRecommend

  • daisey

    so what will do good that is the problem of Pakistan people like she at least wrote about it, writing is big thing it influences other and makes great changes and even if she helps them so will she tell you ?? its not exploiting its telling how they are happy and i have seen that as well they smile more than us but may be you have never observed them and please stop taking everything negative. she was not showing off its not easy to even say those words and write about it and what she did was great it made a voice and it will make many people help and what about YOU GO HELP THEN Recommend