I was talking to a Muslim brother a while back, and he was telling me about his upcoming summer trip to Bangladesh. He was born and raised in the U.S., and it’s been 8 years since he’s been back in Bangladesh. Naturally, everyone thinks he’s going back just so he can get married, but he avers that the real reason is so that he can “hang out with his old homies, eat paan and guavas, and buy some peanuts from the peanut man.” I laughed, and he turned serious. “Actually,” he said, “I just want to be able to hear the adhan from my house.” It’s so indescribable and enlivening, he told me.
I know what he means. After I spoke with the brother, I was trying to figure out why i kept feeling a sense of deja vu. I finally figured it out the other day when, while backing up my computer files on a disk, I came across an old essay I was written for my 11th grade English class back in high school. It’s dated February, 1999. Dang, time flies. I don’t really remember what the prompt for the essay was, but based on my piece I guess it had something to do with the time span of sixty minutes, and how life-altering such a short period of time can sometimes be. The brother’s remark about the adhan had reminded me of this essay and the 18 months I lived in Pakistan during 1994-95 (which means I was 13-14 then).
Anyway, my spring break has so far been providing me with ample time for reflection and nostalgia, and a lot of that has to do with who I was while I lived in Pakistan, who I am now, and the changes i’d like to make in myself, insha’Allah. I might talk more about all that during the next few days while i’m still going through my Let’s-Analyze-The-Yaz phase. For now, I thought y’all might find my essay interesting.
The Turning Point
Although sixty minutes may mean nothing more than a very short period of time to some, to others they can characterize an event of great importance. One hour can make or break a man or woman. It can impart a message of hope, or one of misery. It can dash a dream to smithereens or rebuild one from ashes, and thus have lifelong effects on a person. The most important sixty minutes of my life were spent sitting on a rooftop in Pakistan and looking down upon the world.
In the beginning of 1994, I traveled with my mother and younger brother and sister to our ancestral village in Pakistan, where we lived for the next eighteen months. Anticipating that my stay in the village would be a grand adventure, I was chagrined to find myself homesick for good old California the very same day I disembarked in Islamabad. Instead of decreasing as the months passed, my longing to be back on American soil had reached a nearly unbearable level by the end of the year. In December, I almost reached the end of my wits. It rained everyday in the village, resulting in muddy streets, slippery courtyards, and wet socks. It also resulted in my disgruntled moods and wistful daydreams about the California sunshine.
December 8th, however, was a day straight out of my dreams. Not only had the rain stopped, but the sun also shone, drying up any vestiges of water puddles from the day before. As usual, we began lunch at half-past-eleven. We were finished at noon, and my brother, Nasser, after much persuading, convinced our mother to let him climb up onto the roof of our house. He borrowed a ladder from a neighbor and, unlocking the door of the house next to ours (which had been empty since the death of my great-uncle and the subsequent immigration of his widow and children to America), carried it inside and propped it against the side of that house, because the walls of our house were too high for a ladder to reach the top. He then called for me, and I followed over. It was a wonderful, sunny day, and I excitedly clambered up onto the roof behind Nasser.
We walked back and forth along the roof, enjoying the sunâ€™s warmth. After a while, our sister, Shereen, joined us, and we explored the roof together. Soon I felt rather warm, so I removed my sweater and, leaving it to dangle from a rung of the ladder, sat down at the edge of the roof. I gazed around me, seeing the now-familiar sights from a new perspective: the slender, dirt street that ran the length of our neighborhood; the surrounding houses; diligent housewives preparing lunch or placing firewood on their roofs to dry; green-leafed trees; our large brick courtyard and the smaller one around which this house had been built. The sky was a deep blue, in sharp contrast to the earth tones of the village and the brighter garments the women wore. Sitting cross-legged on the rooftop, absorbing the sunâ€™s long-absent warmth and feeling at peace with the world, I was overcome by a peculiar thought: This will be a part of my life forever, I suddenly realized. It will stay with me wherever I may go. Rather than being overwhelming, the concept was calming. I felt more content and happy in that moment than I ever had before or have since.
Locked in my thoughts, I had forgotten the passage of time. Glancing down at my watch, I found that an hour had passed. Almost as if on cue, the beautiful strains of the call to prayer began to ring out from the minarets of mosques throughout the village. I remained seated, hugging my knees, until the last note faded away. Only then did I stand up, brush off my clothes, and start down the ladder.
That long-ago afternoon on the rooftop did much more than just chase away the winter blues. I realized that day that no matter how homesick I felt for America or how much I resented being in Pakistan, the latter had become my home. The memories I had collected while living there would remain with me forever, and no amount of self-pity could ever eradicate them. Nor would I ever want it to. For, as unbelievable as it seems, sixty minutesâ€”such a short span of time!â€”can bring with it, in oneâ€™s most unguarded moments, more profundity than one expects to encounter in years. If one accepts this philosophy, one will learn that a vulnerability can be strengthened, that a prayer can be answered, and, most of all, that one hour can impact the rest of oneâ€™s life.