I am a brown woman of Muslim origin. I come from a troubled part of the world where human rights are extinct and terrorism is a daily routine. Although my people love to laugh hard and eat their hearts out, it is still an unsafe place to be.
It is a land of clue rivers, white mountains and green fields that blossom with yellow mustard flowers at the advent of spring. It is a land of women with thick black hair, men with a hearty laugh and children with sparkling eyes. Despite everything, it is still unsafe. Terrorism (of sorts) has plagued my country to the extent that now there is a rapid brain drain. Though our hearts are still set in the green fields and the yellow mustard flowers, we still choose to leave our country with a heavy heart. Leaving behind the warm comfort of home, you still choose to walk out.
Yes, I am from Pakistan. It is next to India and loves cricket, as I tell all my Australian friends who never heard of this piece of land from another hemisphere.
I, like many other Pakistanis, immigrated to Australia in the hope of a better future both in terms of work and safety. Hence, a safer and more secure hope for blue skies and a better life. It is not easy leaving home. It is never easy. Making a new place your home is a struggle. And yeah this struggle is pretty real.
It’s been only four months in Australia, by the way. Despite being away from my home country for four years now, Australia was a whole new experience. Landing on the Sydney airport after an eighteen-hour flight itself came with a package. The moment I landed I knew I couldn’t run home to mom catching a short flight if she needed me. Actually, the thoughts that crossed my mind were even more intense but let’s not get into that for now. Some other day, maybe.
After one month of missing my friends and parents back home, I realized that it could not go on like this. I had to accept this as my home. If I had made a physical move, I had to make it emotional too. I had to assimilate in the new country and now call it home.
Although I had always heard of racism, I rarely came across it. I generally found Australians to be happy and friendly people who loved beaches and smashed avocado on the toast.
They were far more chilled out than folks back in the Middle East and Pakistan who were mostly stressed. Australians would merrily walk barefooted on the concrete roads and sandy beaches alike. I also started enjoying sand in my feet, smashed avocado on toast, long black coffee to kickstart my day, caramel slices, long bush walks with rustling leaves, unusual animals, sitting for hours by the Balmoral beach, looking casually at the Sydney Opera House because I passed by it every day and yeah barbies (they call BBQ barbie here). I was at home. I felt belonged.
All rainbows and unicorns until one Friday afternoon I received a text from a friend telling about shooting in not one but two Christ Church mosques. I was out and about for a regular day. Sydney seemed pretty normal and casual as usual. I wasn’t. Being a brown girl of Muslim origin it did ring a bell. Soon more news started pouring in.
It happened during a Friday prayer congregation which is a Muslim ritual. You find the greatest number of people in a mosque during Friday prayers. The perpetrators knew it too. The terrorists started killing as many people as possible without any pause. The house of Allah was soon splattered with blood and echoed with cries for help.
From 71-year-old man to a three-year-old child, all suffered the same fate. The terrorists not only executed this act of hatred with a passion but also pride. Yeah, a Facebook Live feed to share the ‘joy’ of killing unarmed innocent people who had no idea of what life had to offer them.
A death by appointment!
Soon the world media came into action. New Zealanders and Australians were in grief and pain.
Many could feel the pain Muslims had to go through during and after this incident. Racists slurs also came in but it was overall shared grief. New Zealand’s Prime Minister is probably my new favorite person for being a true leader of the hour, admitting her failure expressing her grief. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison also called a spade a spade. However, this incident and some of the reactions did introduce me to white supremacy and racism.
People coming from conflict zones are generally more resilient. They know how to manage grief and move out of it real soon. I have been through days we would go shopping and eat out despite terror attack threats. I do not enjoy glorifying resilience but sadly we learned it the hard way. We learned to normalize many catastrophes. But I somehow am unable to walk out of New Zealand Mosque Shootings.
It feels being stranded on a lonely island with no lifeboats in sight. It feels like losing a new home, a sense of belonging that I had just clung to. I am standing on a cliff with no inkling of what the future holds for me. I am completely clueless about home. There is no anchor. Being a woman of brown Muslim origin, I have a thick skin. I have been brought up to beat the blues. But this time I am scared.
I am very scared.
I don’t know if it is the fear of being shot down in cold blood with my family struggling to identify my dead body or the fear of losing another home. I am unsure of the reason. All I know is that I am scared to sleep alone now. I check my apartment’s door many times at night. I do not want to rush down the busy central station at 9am in the morning tomorrow. The thought of being out on a weekend night runs chills down my spine.
I hope I overcome my fear soon and this country is home again. I hope I can still cling to my dream of retiring by a beach house in New Zealand.
I am scared but hopeful.