As I returned home from school one afternoon, my mother told me that our fifteen-year-old maid would not be working for us anymore. It took me by surprise because I was used to seeing the smile on Parveen Khan’s face for the last three years. I was silenced in horror when I was told that she was leaving us because she was getting married that weekend, to a man Parveen had never seen before. Hopeless and angered, I could only see her giving birth and registering to the needs of her husband for the rest of her life. This is the fate of thousands of girls in my country. My country is Pakistan.
At the age of fifteen, I managed to pass the Customs line while holding the crumpled plane ticket in my sweat-stricken hand. I was boarding a plane to a high school three thousand miles away from Pakistan. Since then I have been traveling and trying to comprehend the two worlds that exist apart.
The country that I am born in brought controversy regarding, race, ethnicity, religion and nationality. The word Pakistan has become symbolic to bombs, jihad, terrorism, Islamic militants, prevailing ignorance and oppressed women. This is the picture of Pakistan that mainstream media has painted – a picture that sadly and undeniably people believe.
By being born to supportive and liberal parents, I have been able to escape what has been the nightmare of many girls in Pakistan. I have been lucky enough to attend an international, English Medium school at the heart of one of the most progressed cities in Pakistan – miles away from villages and communities deep rooted in tradition. Ayesha Khan and I have been separated because of the bridge of patriarchal society and conservative mindsets.
What media fails to depict is that there are women like myself who have travelled far and wide to receive an education. That I am an ambitious woman who is determined to work hard, and make a name for herself. I have been fortunate to get the support from mentors like Terry Moore and Rajaram Krishnan through my journey. I didn’t do well in my Intermediate Microeconomics, but instead of being discouraged, I was motivated to take more mathematics courses. I believe that if I put my heart and mind into something, I can achieve it.
At fifteen, rather than facing the imperfection and volatility of emotions of adolescence, I was forced to transform into an adult overnight. I left my nation in its fragile state as I embraced the harsh realities of the new world. I feel a sense of commitment towards the community that nurtured me. I am determined to change Pakistan’s narrative in a positive way. I take it as my responsibility that every time I sit in the classroom, I should allow myself to gain deep knowledge and understanding of the world I am a part of. I do not want in my naïve to shut down the opportunity that has been denied to many in Pakistan.