Where I Belong
Third Place Winner, 2014 Bethesda Magazine Young Adult Essay Contest
I can almost make out the curve of the earth as I drive down the long stretch of road that runs smooth for miles without a hitch. The sun sets to my left and I am thankful for the prolonged days of summer when the notorious DC humidity simmers down. It’s just enough so I can drive without my thighs sticking to the leather of my mother’s car as I chase the last moments of precious daylight.
This specific night, I’m still donned in the navy blue polo shirt every country club staff member is provided and the khaki shorts to match. My hair still sits, save for a ponytail, matted with sweat under a blue cap with the club’s logo that all summer employees are required to wear. I’m driving, a few miles over the limit, with my father in the passenger’s seat scrolling through the news in Urdu on his phone.
I had barely been home for 10 minutes when my mother, sitting on the sofa catching up on her Filipino entertainment news, sent my dad and me out to the opposite side of the county to pick up dinner from our favorite Pakistani restaurant. “Kye Hal Hai!” dad greets the man on the other side of the phone, as we drive down the barren freeway. He orders the usual two chicken tikkas, lamb kebabs, and lamb karahi. I drive past the masjid where I spent every Sunday from the ages of 7 to 13, learning Arabic, which I have now since forgotten, and the teachings and stories in the Qu’ran, which I will never forget.
I pull into a parking space and rolled down the windows as my father runs in to pick up the food. In my khaki shorts and my head missing the traditional headscarf, I couldn’t imagine being covered up, like Islam and my father would like me to be. Leaning back in the seat and feeling the cross breeze of the summer evening and the dissipating heat transports me to bustling Manila, where the air lays as thick and as sweet as honey. Soon, we are on the road again, back home where the rice cooker has plenty of sticky jasmine rice that has complimented my every meal. I scoop some, still steaming, with the luwag, and let it absorb the sauces from the karahi in my bowl. “Sige na,” mother says, taking her seat at the table, “Pagkaon na tayo.”
Many ask me to choose, but in the end, I don’t belong to Pakistan or the Philippines. I’ve struggled saying that I belong to America as well when, in reality I belong to the driver’s seat, traveling back and forth. I belong to three different independence days. I belong to wearing shorts and shalwarkameez. I belong to my family, mom and dad, the balance between two distinct cultures, and being able to call them both mine.