‘Am I Canadian Mom?’….
…….asks my 11-year-old daughter, who was born and brought up in Saudi Arabia, and then moved to the western land of Canada at the age of 7.
Soon to follow is the quip by my 6-year-old twins; ‘Oh we are Canadian, as we are born here! Not sure about you’…. Hearing this conversation makes me both wonder about the root of this differentiation even in my children.
My own parents left Pakistan, for the hope of a better future sometime in the year 1978. This was before I was even born. My parents remember the beautiful small bungalow on the shores of Muscat, Oman, which they called home. My mom made the trip back to Lahore to have me, but returned to Middle East soon after. Tales of living near the coast, and loud splashing sounds are part of their memories, as is of my older brother. I for one, seemed to concentrate on being a crying baby who came along in December of 1980. Soon after my birth, Jeddah called out and our family moved there. If I am not wrong, my first birthday was in Jeddah Gher.
Growing up in Azizia district of Jeddah, my world revolved around Kababish and its Mehran Resturant for satisfying my desi food taste buds. As a Pakistani family, we became friends with other Pakistani families, and all kids grew up together playing on the road and ridding our bikes. Horror stories of the Hadiaqa in front of the school, and rushing to buy 2 chocolate bars for 1 SR was such a treasure! All in all, being so young, we never thought much of our nationality, nor what it meant in the grown-up world.
Fast forward to 1990, the Gulf War, was a jolt to all of us. For families like mine, whose father was an Engineer or a Doctor, was restricted from leaving Saudi. Children were given training on how to wear a gas mask and to scramble under the table in case of an attack alarm! One of the hardest decisions that my father made was, to send my Mother and us 3 kids to Pakistan to stay safe. No doubt, there were many horror stories coming out of Kuwait and Iraq.
That one year was strange, as despite being Urdu speaking kids, my brothers and I associated more with the arab style of social interaction, more than desi. We spent a year in ‘Ibn Sina College’, a school located in DHA Lahore. Studying in Co-ed was a shocker. The sense of humor of the kids was another! Truth be told, we siblings felt like we are from another planet!
Once back in Jeddah, after the things settled in, I did not have to think about Pakistan again until grade 10th! Here again I was jolted to a new reality when I attended Esena High School in Lahore for Metric. This was followed by attending College of Home Economics Lahore for my Bachelors, and then Kinnaird College for my Masters degree. Honestly, any chance I would get, I would rush back to Jeddah. Of course the fact that my elder brother had left for USA, and the younger was soon to follow, did not do much to soothe my anxiety. I always felt more close and comfortable with my Jeddah surroundings and friends. Everyone would scoff at my choice of everything Saudi, and me even bringing snacks back to Lahore! (Hey! They didn’t have Cheetos in Pakistan at that time 😉 )
As fate would have it, I got married and moved to Al-Khobar (An east coast city of Saudi), and finally made way back to my Jeddah. I loved it! It was a different world! I had grown up! I worked as a professional! I could go out late for girls night, or stay out all night to attend a wedding! Or even so, I could shop to my heart’s content! Oh what a joyous place to be!
But wait! Things changed in 2006! I had my first-born!
I was wiser now, than when I was younger… so material things were secondary. Simple things started to bother me. My child would be considered last on the wait list of the best school as she did not have the acclaimed ‘Western’ passport. Additionally, she would never acquire the local passport! I saw myself in her, and realized that I cannot give her the childhood that I had. I had never localized to both Saudi Arabia, nor, Pakistan. I needed to look for an avenue where she can settle in!
This thought made my partner and I, to take the hard decision to move to Canada.
Let me tell you, it was , and still is, Hard! I miss the luxury and ease of Saudi Arabia. I miss the low-cost of living. However, I have broadened my horizon! I know that when I pay taxes, not just myself, but everyone has the right to Medical Care and Education. I do not need to look outside my car and wonder why people are making their kids beg in this country!
I think the best realization of this decision came, when I saw my eldest bloom! She was more confident. No teacher ever asked her where she came from, or treated her differently because of the color of her skin. In every situation I have faced with her, in school or outside, I have been amazed by the humanity and care that is so common to the value of Canada. What I love about Canada the most is the fact that you are not supposed to become a Gora! You can be a Canadian who embraces your own roots!
When asked by many, why we moved to Canada, I tell them; ‘We chose Quality of living, over Money’.
So people, to answer my daughter who asked; ‘Am I Canadian Mom?’. I always answer, ‘ If you value Canada’s humanity, system and people.. No one can stop you from calling yourself a Canadian’ 🙂
So tell me…where do you belong?