The tough New Yorkers of Lahore

Published: December 16, 2011
Email

We, who have left our families to work and send money back are the true New Yorkers of Pakistan. PHOTO: REUTERS

I moved to Lahore from my home town of Faisalabad, to pursue higher education at the Government College University. Although I didn’t know it then, Lahore was to be my home for a very long time.

My MBA years flew by when I lived in the university hostel. My needs were simple; I wanted nothing more than the 15 x 15 cubicle that I shared with a room-mate. There were no air-conditioners in the summer, no heaters in the winter, no maids to do my laundry, and no home-cooked food. Yet, I survived. Even though the winters were bitterly cold in Lahore, my room was warm with the companionship of some great friends.

We wore layers of clothing to keep us warm in the winter and bathed ourselves in prickly-heat powder before sleeping at night during the summer. When one of us fell sick, the other would warm milk in the hostel’s kitchen. On weekends, if we were not travelling, we would take enjoyable trips to Liberty or Anarkali. We once sneaked into this huge cathedral on the Mall because we wanted to see how Christians offer their Sunday prayers. No one noticed us and the priest simply smiled.

The washrooms were alright. Marbled, varied between being clean and not-so-clean. Sometimes you had to wait your turn to use the shower, especially when everyone was getting ready for the 9am lecture in the university, which was one kilometre away from the hostel. I didn’t have the luxury of a car and neither did any of my friends. No problem – we would walk to university every morning; it kept us in shape.

I got a job in a renowned organisation as soon as I graduated. Luckily, I was offered a place to stay with my relatives. Once again, life seemed easy. I had a place to stay, I found a great job as soon as I was out of college – I owned the world.

Unfortunately, life was soon to take a turn for the negative. The head of the family, who I was living with, passed away and  my relatives decided to move to the States. So just like that, I was homeless. I needed to arrange for accommodation.

It was a Wednesday, and I remember searching the Sunday newspaper in the hopes of finding a suitable place to live. I took note of a few telephone numbers, made a few phone calls, and visited a few homes.

I ended up feeling really low. I wished I was just an unmotivated stay-at-home woman who was taken care of by men around her. “Why am I an independent career woman?” I wondered in anguish. When I cribbed about my plight to a friend, I was told that I should stop being a cry baby, because what I was doing and the way I was living was something that “Tough New York girls do all the time”. This statement made me smile. I felt a wee bit better, if not perfectly happy again.

During this time, I came across a lot of people like me. A lot of single women and men who were living the same life away from home, trying to make careers for themselves in a city that was not theirs. I came across people from Islamabad, Karachi, and Multan, excited about their new jobs, but worried about their accommodation needs.

Although being worried about where you are going to live may sound strange to married couples or those living abroad, one must understand that in Pakistan, people generally do not live alone. We don’t move out of our parents’ home because we want to be independent. Pakistan does not accommodate people who want to live alone in terms of security or infrastructure. Thus, finding a place to live alone isn’t as simple as just calling a property dealer, looking at an apartment and moving in. I don’t even know if there are any one-bedroom apartments in most cities here – a starkly different concept than New York or LA.

During my struggle to find a place to live, I came across many young women and men committing themselves entirely to their careers, yet, skipping their lunch breaks at the office to meet with property dealers. We were all in the same boat. When one girl would have car trouble, she would instantly call her “other-single-independent” girl friend to come to her rescue. They would together fight the man at the workshop who was charging them an absurd amount for a simple punctured tyre. When one guy would miss his family on his birthday, his friends would throw him a surprise birthday party to make him feel at home. This is how we “Pakistani New Yorkers” stuck together.

Here’s to all those who are living alone or are moving to a new place for work or even to study; to all those who have been brave enough to pursue careers in a foreign land and deal with the difficulties that come with it; to those who are right now, at this very moment, saving salaries because they know that they need to pay the next month’s rent and send some money back home too.

All of you, you are the tough New Yorkers of Pakistan.

Hyra.Zaka

Hyra Zaka

A business graduate from GC University, Lahore who is now working in a MNC.

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