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Sunday, January 30, 2011

One year - a retrospective re-evaluation

This is a shortened version of a note I wrote on FB in the summer of 2010 to mark one year of our stint in Houston, TX. It provides an appropriate background to the stuff you'll be reading here in the future!

It’s late evening on the 1st of July, 2010. At this time last year, my husband, son and I had landed at George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Houston, and were being driven home by my husband’s uncle (who I had met for the first time). It was an evening quite unlike this one: dry, hot, sunny – your classic, long, Texas summer evening.
As I sit here comfortably with my cup of chai, looking out at the deluge that Hurricane Alex is dumping at our doorstep, the memory of that drive to a temporary apartment in an alien city resonates strangely within me. I remember making small talk with Raza Mamoo while taking in the bland, cemented landscape of the freeway, then the one-storey buildings with their generic neon signs, and finally the beautifully manicured, clone-like apartments of San Brisas.
I remember walking into apartment 1401, which was to be our abode for a month, and noticing the chill of the air conditioning and the scent of an unfamiliar air freshener. I remember that through all of this, all I could think of was that my real home was very far away. Oh, and also that I couldn’t cook, dammit.

It’s been a full year today; a year through which at many points I hated Houston, seriously doubted my abilities as a mother, and generally disliked what I had become: your typical, lonely, stove-bound Pakistani housewife, saddled with an infant – the highlight of whose day was her husband coming home from office. At least, that was the case in the first few months of being here.

I should mention at this point that what made things worse was my thorough incompetence in the aforementioned role of housewife. I didn’t know the first thing about putting together a meal, had zero experience in running a house, and possessed precious little patience for the behavioural weirdities that my child kept demonstrating (all of which, it turned out, were perfectly normal for his age). I didn’t even know how to thread my eyebrows.
The end result was that Azfar would return from office to a wild-eyed bush woman in a nightie who would promptly dump a baby in his arms and either bound off into the shower or scurry to rescue whatever strange concoction happened to be bubbling on the stove. Dinner table conversation would be about the mysteries of potatoes, the many colours of baby poop and what we should buy next because that advert on television said so.

So you’ll understand why, by the time 30th June 2010 rolled around, I was under the impression that the past year had been a bit of a disaster. Except then I started thinking about it, and was pleasantly surprised to realise that that was in fact not the case (at all). All one could really say was that it had been a very eventful year – one that had actually taught me a lot. Which brings me to the real point of this note: to list everything I managed to do right by the end of these twelve months.

First achievement (this one’s nothing short of a miracle) – AFIA CAN COOK. Hurrah! When I landed in the US in 2009, I couldn’t boil rice without consulting a recipe. Last week, I made nihaari (from scratch – no Shan masala for this aspiring chefni).
As of today, I’ve tried my hand at pizza, lasagna, quiche, rosemary chicken, tarragon chicken, garlic cheddar chicken, chicken in mushroom sauce, ginger-glazed mahi-mahi, fish with lemon and garlic sauce, T-bone steak, beef burgers and several pasta dishes . In Pakistani cuisine: chicken malai kabab, tandoori chicken, chicken karahi, chicken haandi, methi chicken, butter chicken, paneer karahi, qorma, nargisi koftay, qeema, pulao, baingan ka bhurta, andday ka saalan, vegetable jalfrezi, several aaloo dishes and a few different kinds of daal (this is all I can remember at this point, unfortunately. Oh wait, stop the press – I made meethi tikiyaan for niaz). In Far Eastern cuisine: chicken corn soup, chowmien, chicken and vegetable fried rice, beef khowsey, coconut fish curry and Thai fish cutlets.
Not all of these turned out fantastic, but no one can tell me I didn’t work hard in the kitchen this last year. I slaved it out, and in most cases, I made it work.

By now you’re probably beginning to tire of this never ending ‘note’. You’re thinking I’m nothing but a big, fat show-off. You’re right! I am big and fat.

Which brings me to my next point: I’M PREGNANT! (AGAIN!) We’re expecting our second baby in August, inshallah. And yes, it’s going to be a challenge caring for an infant when Suleiman’s not yet two years old, but you know what? If all goes well, in another month-and-a-half we’ll have completed our family. That’s not too bad as achievements go. And yes, the next few years are going to be tough, but after that I’m going to be free to pursue other dreams at a time in my life when I can still be productive and get great things done that will CHANGE THE WORLD! (This note gives the world a few years to prepare.)

Which brings me to my third point: chuck that stove-hugging, home-chained banshee image out of your brain because I’ve just become Editor of a South Asian literary magazine (something that spawned out of a writers’ community that I co-founded five years ago with a bunch of truly amazing individuals). Soon, you’ll be able to read regular pieces that I’ll be posting on the community’s blog, which will tell (far more concisely than this note, mercifully) stories of all the weird and wonderful things I’m experiencing as Azfar and I travel on the road of life together.

Which brings me to my fourth point: in the last year, we’ve managed to see New York, DC, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio, and made a trip back to Pakistan for my brother-in-law’s wedding (I went to Dubai for the first time on that trip). At times, we even managed to make it to downtown Houston! We’ve seen a U2 concert, the world’s most famous circus, the rodeo and a top-rated Broadway show.

And last, but most important: today, I’m a better mother than I was this time last year. ‘Nuff said.

Not bad for a fumbling, bungling housewife in one year in a foreign country, eh? Next on the agenda: dance classes! But that’ll have to wait until after I’ve produced our second butter-chugging machine.


  1. When you said: "I remember walking into apartment 1401,..... that my real home was very far away.."

    It reminded me of Jhumpa Lahiri:

    "..While the astronauts, heroes forever, spent mere hours on the moon, I have remained in this new world for nearly thirty years. I know that my achievement is quite ordinary. I am not the only man to seek his fortune far from home, and certainly I am not the first. Still, there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have travelled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination."

  2. Ahhh, no. I must disagree. Jhumpa says so much with so little, and I am quite the opposite.