A tale of three cities

By Zainab Khawaja
Tue, 01, 17

Each one of us has a gripping tale to tell and so do I. I have led quite a nomadic life; wandered on bustling streets in various cities, made friends belonging to different cultures and relished exotic dishes with names I can’t even pronounce.


Each one of us has a gripping tale to tell and so do I. I have led quite a nomadic life; wandered on bustling streets in various cities, made friends belonging to different cultures and relished exotic dishes with names I can’t even pronounce. Also, I have lived in more than just one city and although moving can prove to be a hassle, it does have its perks. This article captures a tiny bit of the essence of my time in three cities, cities which feel like home. 

 The luxurious Riyadh (Saudi Arabia)A tale of three cities

The city where you experience your first day of school, make your very first friends and face adolescence; leaves a beautiful mark on your heart forever. This somewhat describes how I feel about the Capital and most populous city of Saudi Arabia. We migrated from Jeddah to Riyadh in 2001 and gradually, I fell in love with the soaring, flashy towers and spectacular highways. In fact, the Kingdom Centre, which is the world’s third tallest structure with a hole, was completed right before our eyes in 2002.

Some people might think that Riyadh is just a place hit frequently by severe dust storms, where women have to wear black cloaks and aren’t allowed to drive. But there is so much more to this luxurious shopper’s paradise and food hub. Life in Riyadh is quite slow-paced. During my early teens, I found the routine to be terribly monotonous. But other than that, I loved learning about the rich Saudi culture and making sincere friends out of other expatriates. On a typical weekend, we would either meet up with family friends or go to shopping malls, built by world famous architects. My mother would satisfy her cravings for bargains while we would gratify ours in the food courts. If we felt adventurous, we would zoom upon the smooth highways heading towards Dammam, so that we could enjoy the salty waters tickling our toes. Yes, there is no beach in Riyadh, but the quad bikes and bowling venues make up for it.

Out of the many things that I miss about the city is the beautiful Azan, to which people respond by shutting down their respective shops and offices, and rushing off to the magnificently structured mosques.

It was always at the back of my mind that someday I would have to leave all this behind for the sake of education. On my last day, I stood amidst the busy tangle of streets and highways, my abaya swaying in the cool breeze, staring at two gleaming skyscrapers which had created a silhouetted skyline in the evening, thinking of what a beautiful life I had in this city and afraid of what lay ahead.

The City of Lights, Karachi (Pakistan)

I came to Karachi for higher education. Although, my heart ached at the thought of being away from my parents, I happily obliged as the feeling of being independent and amongst my clan was quite exhilarating. Initially, the Karachi heat that blazed through me like a bright comet, the brutal mosquitoes and some capricious folks made it unlikely for a meek person like me to survive. But with the help of sincere relatives and friends, I continued to blossom. A whole new sense of freedom washed over me as I had always depended on my parents for the smallest of issues. Let me give you an example. Big, fat weddings, decorated by dynamic fusions of fire-works, spectacular dresses and of course, the ‘jalwas’ on the dance floor proved to be more than just enchanting. Events like these helped me (a quintessential tomboy) to groom and work on my make-up skills. Moreover, I also mastered the techniques to deal with fussy tailors and obnoxious aunties.

A tale of three citiesDespite a few bad experiences, I loved witnessing the simple everyday encounters which one does not get to see anywhere else in the world. For instance, fitting ten friends in a small Suzuki or squeezing a goat between two people on a motorbike is a piece of cake here. Coming to Karachi’s ever-growing food palette, it’s always hard choosing between some piping hot ‘gaajar ka halwa’ and a rich slice of blueberry cheesecake. No matter, what you decide on, it’s all made to perfection.

It wasn’t long before my parents came to the City of Lights, eager to start a new chapter of their lives. But unfortunately, things didn’t go according to plan and we had to move. On the last day, I escaped from our overcrowded house and sat staring at the infinite sky and endless sea, thinking where exactly a gypsy, like myself, belonged.

My safe haven, Indianapolis (USA)

The car was filled with a blend of upbeat songs and conversation, as we made our way from Louisville to our next destination. Oblivious to it all, I was lost in the picturesque scenes outside. We passed through looming trees, meadows decorated by quaint little cottages and cattle feasting on hay. I should have been nervous about starting all over but I wasn’t. I knew I would miss the enchanting call to prayer and eating Halal chicken in any restaurant I chose. But I was also thrilled by the idea of exploring every nook and cranny of yet another new place, especially the famous Eagle Creek Park and Barnes and Noble.

A vivid arc of prismatic hues welcomed us and I couldn’t help but wander around our new neighbourhood. I pulled my jacket tighter as the crisp October breeze made my teeth rattle vigorously and formed a mist upon my glasses. The leaves were painted in spectacular shades of red, golden and orange. Transfixed by the glorious cascade, I realized I had never been this close to Mother Nature before.

Yes, we have our fair share of problems that we have yet to overcome. An example would be not knowing how to drive. Due to living in Saudi Arabia for such a long period, my mother and I never thought of getting behind the wheel, but now, it seems, we can’t be dependent on anyone else but ourselves. Apart from a few obstacles, Indianapolis is starting to feel like a safe haven because of the genuine friends we have made here. Because there are no toxic folks who show an enormous amount of interest in your matters, rather than their own. Because a young girl can easily go to the supermarket, without the fear of being mugged. And, no worries! You don’t have to miss out on desi craziness, as Pakistanis here indulge in all sorts of fun activities and the grand weddings make you feel as if you are right back in your own homeland!

The mellow autumn mists have finally made way for harsh winter chills. Just a few days back, I stood on the threshold of our house, observing our snowy neighbourhood, particularly the little cottage on the other side of the road, which looked like a delicate cake, the snow serving as its icing. I smiled and waved to the children making flabby snowmen, feeling grateful for the crazy journey life has been.