Monday, May 20, 2013

My American Cousins - Part I

The short story below is intended to address some of the misconceptions that Pashtuns specifically (and Muslims/South Asians generally) have about Pashtuns/Muslims living in the West or about Westerners in general. It'll be based primarily on my own experiences, especially during my visit to Swat, Pakistan, in 2011, and the way that everyone received me and my family and imagined us all to be before they met us again.

“Hurry up, everyone, get ready! My son and daughter-in-law finally fulfilled my wish and agreed to bring their children from America to visit us. God knows how much they must have changed,” Grandma said with teary eyes, her head shaking in pity for having lost her favorite son and his children to the infidel West. Sitting on the char-pai, a bed of sorts, designed just for her, with built-in foam and cushions and everything, she was motioning to everyone, assigning tasks to each idle person her sixty-five-year-old eyes could spot in the house. She often cried for my uncle’s being in America, saying that Zubaida, a teacher whom she visits weekly for women-only sermons in the neighborhood, had told her that God said He will not forgive any believer who goes to America. 

Grandma was now ordering one of our maids, eight-year-old Sakina, to clean the barn in honor of my uncle’s arrival. “Sakina darling, stop being so lazy with the floor and now go clean the barn. I’m going to give my son the good news that he can have all my animals on the condition that he stay here with me until my soul is to part. He must be a spoiled American now. People say Americans are clean people. We mustn’t let a drop of filth be anywhere near the animals.” Grandma always talked too much, sometimes saying several sentences without taking a breath.

“C’mon, Grandma – he’s an American now! They don’t have animals there. Why would he want your animals?” I teased. My classmates told me that they don’t have animals in America because no one wants to clean up their dung. 

“Shut your mouth, child, shut your mouth. Of course he is going to love my animals!” I could swear she was about to burst into tears. She cried a lot, especially during prayers. She was perfectly sure her son and his children are going to hell, so she offered extra prayers for them five times a day so that God might forgive them.

My uncle, whom us children call Dada, and his family were scheduled to arrive home in five hours, and the men of the household had gone to the airport to pick them up. The airport was about six hours away, and they’d called they’d be home soon. All the women were busy cleaning their quarters of the spacious open-aired house, the children were all gathered in the courtyard, and the neighbors were popping their heads in the holes of the walls we shared and on their rooftops awaiting Dada’s arrival. Everyone loved Dada. He used to spend a lot of money on the poor, and he always sent money to his two brothers, one sister, his parents, and the poor people in the neighborhood.

I was a few months old when Dada’s family left for America, so this will be the first time I’ll see my cousins. My parents tell me nice stories about them from their childhood. Sometimes in the evening time, Grandma, my aunts, and my mom gather in the courtyard during teatime and talk about my American cousins while staring at their pictures. Everyone says they are smart girls, stylish and stuff. They wear pants and shirts, they don’t wear saadar[1], may God forgive them, and they don’t wear the parruney,[2] either. There are a lot of floods in America, and my aunts say it’s because my cousins don’t wear the parruney there.

Minaaaaaaaaaaaaaal!” Grandma was screaming at me. I looked at her and realized she’d been giving me some orders all this time while I wasn’t paying attention. “God destroy you! Have your ears worn out from all the music you listen to? God forbid you all the peace in this world and the hereafter, start paying attention to people around you! They’re going to be here in half an hour and here you are, sitting uselessly, doing nothing! Go make me some tea!” There she was again, not knowing what to do with herself if any person around was not busy doing something she wanted them to do.

So I went on making tea for Grandma. She drank tea almost as much she prayed—and prayer is sometimes the only thing she does all day long. I wondered if they drink tea in America. I wondered if they have tea at all in America. What I know for sure is that if they do have tea in America, they sure don’t make it themselves. My friends say Americans are rich people, and they have lots and lots of servants. I see it on TV too. They are like the Punjabis.

I made Grandma’s tea and took it to her. She hadn’t stopped talking and yelling. This time, she was cursing at my cousin Zarina. “Zarina, God deprive you of sons! Come back and make this bed again. It’s not neat enough. My American grandchildren will not sit there! Haven’t you head how clean people in America are?” Poor Zarina. She would much rather be watching Indian films, putting make-up on, and sending SMS’s to boys on her cell phone that my uncle had bought her a few weeks ago. She was an only daughter and had five brothers, and her parents spoiled her. Everyone was against it, but her parents would always say she’s their daughter and they have a right to raise her as they liked. I wish my parents loved me like that, too. But my mom said Zarina was a bad girl. She worried that when I turn fourteen, I’ll become bad like Zarina, too.

“Ugh, Grandma, stop cursing all the time! It’s not good for your soul!” Zarina yelled. That made Grandma cry. “Nobody around me listens to me. Everyone is just waiting for me to die! I bet you’ll celebrate when I die, won’t you! God curse you all!” Zarina just shook her head and muttered something under her breath that I couldn’t hear. Maybe she really was a bad girl.

I was hearing laughter at the gate. Oh! They were here! My American cousins were finally here!

Part 2 coming soon.

[1] A piece of cloth intended to cover the head and upper portion of the female body.
[2] A body covering that covers the face as well as the entire body; required in certain parts of Pakistan of females once they reach puberty.


  1. I could imagine the Grandma's lines being said in my grandma's voice. Can't wait for part II. Let's see what you think we think about you peeps in Amreeka.

    1. LOL. I'm excited to post Part 2 as well. Thanks for reading!

  2. Replies
    1. Hi, Sangam! Thanks for dropping by!

      Not sure I get your question. This is a little story-ish that (I hope will) address some of the misconceptions that Pashtuns/other Muslims have about Pashtuns/other Muslims who have lived in the West for some time.

  3. Interesting !!!! love grand ma~ love your posts~ please post part II as soon as possible......... anxiously waiting :)

  4. waiiii zaaar :P cant waiiittt for part 2 :)


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