Remodel Me

August 5, 2011
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There’s a lot I have experienced that I believe others haven’t. This isn’t something to brag about or consider as a treasure to myself, rather it’s a blessing. Over the nine years that I have been in America, living in a culturally diverse and different environment has taught me many things. One of the most important is empathy, where I can see myself in a different culture and respect them for their beliefs and for what they have been through, as have I. This statement comes straight from my heart, to tell my story in a way that I’ve always written stories. There’s only one intended goal and it’s only to tell you what I’ve been through.
There are these arguments I get in, mostly with my sister about the most useless topics. One circled around whether “nothing” exists as a term or if it was necessary to pay respects to a younger sister which she objected didn’t even exist and then that led into the very first brain popper. At times, I want to reach out, find an off button, which I believe is at the nape of her neck, and furiously press it until she shuts down. Then, I personally want to hack into her nervous system and reboot her entire thought process. That’s the kind of drastic changes I want to make sometimes.

You would think I grew up normally, trying to classify change as the kind that I want to make in the world, the stuff you repeatedly hear from fourth grade and on. Those Be the change you want to see in the world! posters are a little pressuring to me, instead I like to narrow it down and criticize things that nag me. Complete waste of time, actually. But I learned it was a way to realize and appreciate the way things are and turn out to be.

Another thing other than my sister’s irrational and dizzy intellect, it’s my mother’s way of talking once she is confronted by someone who isn’t capable of speaking any language other than English. Her ability to limit herself to verbs in the present tense and throwing in some adjectives here and there never ceases to amaze me. It’s like watching a sitcom, as if she does it on purpose. But I really don’t think she’s aware of her automatic swap of pronunciation.

I would be watching her cook while doing my homework and she’d go on for a straight fifteen minutes of perfect grammatical English before switching back into the irrational Punjabi language.

“I know how to make a good deal with people. When he calls, you’ll see. He’ll beg to buy my couch.” She would say with a hint of a British accent by elaborating her Ls and Os. “Oh my gosh! What is this? Oh my gosh, I have so much stuff to do all of a sudden!”

She was now mocking the rail thin pasty-white old woman, Sharon, which she had worked under for only a week. She had instantly tagged Sharon as a “Messed Up American” on her first day. She was now alternating, pacing and chopping in the kitchen, walking on her tippy toes and exaggerating hand gestures as if she had written her own little version of The Idiot’s Guide of Being American. I had gotten up for just an occasional visit to my email and when I returned, I found the kitchen table rearranged at a different direction than I had left it. Her new obsession of constantly rearranging and picking up the scary amounts of telephones that had now suddenly appeared in the house was the very result of her being a stay-at-home mom. I didn’t mind until she started periodically organizing my closet. In the morning, I couldn’t find the other parts of my wardrobe or didn’t recognize half of the things that I suspected were her replacement of my clothes or perhaps I should say “American Rags”.

And then one of the many phones would ring. Our neighbor across the street was buying our couch. Anything with an easy sell and easy buy caught my mother’s attention so she trudged towards the phone like it was the last, most sincere businessmen deal made on earth while I wanted to haul ass and take cover. Our neighbor’s name is Jim. Her phone buzzed under the name “Gym”.

“Oh, hello Gym!” She would pause to laugh hysterically like a hyena, “You come today. Couch ready to go in your home. I help you much.” And her nine- year immigrant evidently came clean cut through her accent and terrifying increase in her voice.

Our culture not only comes with serious housewives but the urge to yell any sort of communication at any given distance, more like a physics problem, only the answer is the same every time.

If jogger A (my mother) was moving at a velocity of 2m/s and jogger B was 2ft away jogging at the same pace, at what volume would jogger A be talking to jogger B? Answer: Full volume/sec. Students would ace the class in no time.

What I love is that knowing the nine year influence America has had on her, my mother doesn’t even bother to talk like she perfectly had before. She wouldn’t change it for the world, because it is after all, a part of her.

Apart from my share of embarrassment with these odd cultural differences, I choose to not work around it. It’s too late anyways because it’s been infested inside me already. I just can’t seem to even want to turn things around anymore.

A funny thing change is, when it’s compeltely unnecessary and unexpected, you laugh it off and secretly wish the situation had gone differently. But then looking back, you’ve surely learned something. Unfortunate events are more likely to succeed in shocking you, I’m sure you’ve had a bunch, but we forget that they leave with a little more awareness. In the back of our heads, under the Did That Just Happen? file, we find more than something than an unfortunate event. It remodels something from within, even if it is involuntary.

I wasn’t exactly dragged to America nine years ago, nor was it an unfortunate event, but I sometimes catch myself wishing I had spent more time in my homeland. Pakistan is where I was born into a rich parental family and grew up in a joint family system in one large bungalow. My grandpa owned a factory business which is where most of the money came from and trust me, it was plenty to make us all materialistic snobs. While growing up, I became jealous of my cousin Ali, who’d become my grandpa’s favorite. From the very beginning, I was young and easily driven into unknown roads with my carefree mind. Jealousy being my weakness, I started dressing up like Ali, acting like him, and even got daily haircuts, which were low bob cuts made out from plump bowls. I was really convinced that appearance was the problem. As drastic as it seems, this became a major part of my personality. I turned into a silly class clown, a tomboy, and no doubt, a trouble maker in my early years of school. Blazing hot summer and wet winters of Pakistan became familiar to me and I was enjoying life. A typical day consisted of going to school and making each forthcoming day without murdering Ali. We didn’t have chores since we had hired enough workers to help keep the house running clean. Although other kids in the house wasted their free time in videogames and TV, my mother held us back from most of that influence and gave us creative projects instead. My eldest sister began to discover her artistic ability and my other sister realized her passion for teaching, the profession she is still aiming for today. In my free time I caught the habit of writing particular stories that consisted of some sort of lesson. I wrote about almost everything that I saw in my daily life. While normal people slept, I wrote. I even kept a collection of my own books in a small wooden chest and let my father, being my only fan, check one out once in awhile. Our personalities were forming fast and well, thanks to my mother but our environment still depended on our financial stability. Our own family took vacations, designed a special birthday party for each member, and most likely got whatever was asked for. It’s safe to say that we were quite spoiled.

One day, after I had turned seven, my parents sat down with my sisters and I and told us something that I’m sure none of us had any insight on.

“We’re going to America,” They blurted out.

There was silence. I looked over at my sisters who were already jittering and their eyes spoke of mere excitement. As if stressing over selecting a piece of candy from the store, I didn’t know which emotion to feel. My parents hadn’t specified whether it was a permanent move, so for the remaining time, I left my questions unanswered.

America grew on us as soon as we set foot on the tile floors of O’Hare Airport in Chicago. It was rather odd to see machinery that gave you food once a couple coins were put in them and the towering buildings that were neatly aligned with astonishing traffic systems. We were so intrigued, it was kinda scary. Everything was different but it brought a wave of morbid curiosity.

Before I knew it, we were settled in Naperville. Pakistani currency is cut short once converted to US dollars, so we were close to losing our whole motive of moving. Realizing that, my parents immediately found jobs and my sisters and I were shoved into school. I knew then that this was definitely not the kind of vacation I had suspected it would be; it was a theme park of horrifying roller coasters that we had yet to ride.
Truth be told, school in America made me lopsided. It was less work, though it was more complicated work. If that wasn’t enough, I had to learn how to fix my English to avoid further being mistaken as either deaf or mute. I didn’t talk much since I was too afraid people would think I didn’t know proper English or dislike me for being an immigrant. At home, things weren’t any better. I didn’t find much time to talk to my sisters because they were busy adapting as I was. My parents were almost always gone and if they were at home, they were exhausted. It was my mother’s first time working for someone and I could tell it was one of the most difficult things to adjust into. We had constant chores to do now because we didn’t have enough money to hire someone. Since we grew up in a constant spotless house, we would now freak out if a single thing seemed out of place. Family time was rare, maybe sometimes around the dinner table or during our efforts to keep up birthday routines. Anyhow, I found my comfort in my newly found friendships. I was just like any other kid; I wanted what everyone else wanted, I acted like everyone else did, and I did whatever they did. Worst of all, I forgot my passion for writing within the chaos. I thought since my grammar needed improvement, so did my ideas and stories. Taking that into consideration, I put it all behind me and focused on my friendships. I was first friends with a preppy girl, hence my clothes, taste of music, and way of talking slowly resolved into her ways. Then it was a whole transformation to the ghetto group followed by the goth group. I even had a whole Jack Sparrow phase.

It all worked out, depending on how satisfied I was. There was something missing though, but I was so busy in the overloaded influences around me that I avoided finding out. The gap between me and America grew smaller and smaller and it came at a cost of growing distant from myself. I can see it now, when I look back in pictures and I question myself why I had simply forgotten who I was.

After six long years, we went back to where our faded memories had once been created. From there, I had a perfect view of comparing and contrasting the two worlds I had grown in. I was once again reunited with the extended family I once used to know, who had stayed the same, valuing money over happiness and never the other way around. Ali was the same too, considering we fought and competed every chance we got. I found stories that I had written and a whiff of my passion for writing came rocketing back into my senses. I ended up writing that entire summer and decided that it was the profession I would look into. Meanwhile, I was given another set of memories and laughs to snuggle along with me and I found myself realizing that I had experienced something that most people haven’t. Discovering what I had erased behind gave me a sense of respect and love for my country, my background, and my people. Consequently, I felt respect for myself and my personality, finally accepting who I was. As much as I loathed the struggles and differences that were painful to look back at, I was glad we had moved to America. If I hadn’t, I would have been oblivious to responsibilities, independence, and attaining success through hard work. I wouldn’t even know what hard work was. And I have proof: Ali was asked a simple question of what whites were washed with; he was not aware that whites were supposed to be washed alone.

I know change because I have experienced so much of it. My mother hates to see it and I can only imagine how hard it was to deal with my constant change of personality. Her own personality never managed to wobble into another and that is my inspiration now. She worries about me time to time and doesn’t forget to remind me by criticizing my occasional “American Ways”. She has nothing to worry about though, I have realized enough. I wouldn’t go back to the way I was, confused and unaware. I know I cannot change some things, like my sister, my mother, or turn back time to never have moved, but I know I like the way things turned out. I have not only found myself but discovered new traits and capabilities that I would have never encountered before. I am now responsible and I know how success is obtained. I’ve watched my parents build their lives around them from scratch and I know what hard work is. Through my own changes, I’ve learned to be empathetic to others, which I think is one of the most important qualities to have in order to understand the diversity that is in America today. And finally, I learned as a whole, which makes this move to America one of the most important parts of my life.

And now I think I’m ready, for more challenge, more effective struggles, and lastly, those darn changes that I have yet to face.





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