The recent decision by the United States to close its consulate in Lahore was based on what has been called a credible threat by the U.S. State Department. Given the fraught relationship between the Washington and Islamabad, Pakistan might not seem to be a desirable destination for American citizens to migrate to at first glance. Indeed, wherever Sonia and Ammar Rizki go in Karachi, they are asked the same question: “Why did you come back to Pakistan?” At the doctor’s office, the school and the grocery store, everyone wants to know why two young Pakistani-Americans with great jobs, a home in downtown Chicago and two young children would choose to move back to Pakistan, with its present-day turmoil.
“Everyone thinks that we lost our jobs, couldn’t make it in America, were discriminated against or are joining a sprawling family business in Pakistan,” Ammar said. “But all these supposed causes are wrong. We came back for one reason – to be closer to both our families. Why is that so hard for people to swallow?”
Perhaps it is because so many people who have an opportunity to leave Pakistan seem to grab their suitcases and not look back. The political unrest, ethnic violence, kidnappings, robberies and power outages in the country don’t help the situation either. However, the opportunity for their young children to understand their family’s heritage makes the move worthwhile.
The 30-something couple were mentally prepared for a completely different lifestyle than what they were used to while growing up in Pakistan, or what they were used to in Chicago for the past 15 years.
They moved to Karachi with their family, a city with a reputation for violence and crime. “I know I cannot just go to the bank any time I want or keep a fancy smartphone,” Ammar said. “I have to keep a low profile and not attract unwanted attention inside the house or out.”
Beyond the dangers in Karachi, this young family is relishing the time spent with immediate and extended family and a true sense of belonging, especially during the month of Ramadan. This year they didn’t need to request a day off from work for Eid al-Fitr and captured the Kodak moment of three generations going together for prayer.
Another positive development that has taken place is that their children can easily relate to their cousins – something that would have been harder 30 years ago. There are no language barriers and they share similar interests in food and entertainment. In contrast, when they were growing up during the 1970s and 1980s, they had very little in common with their cousins in the United States. The Rizkis hope that their children will remember growing up in Pakistan and the time spent with their grandparents on a daily basis as opposed to their short visits to Chicago every couple of years.
When people ask the Rizkis how life in Karachi is compared to Chicago, they are right to say that it is an unfair comparison.
“You cannot compare a country with a 60-year-old history to one with a 400-year-old history,” Ammar said. “But I see hope. The judiciary is getting stronger, we have a freer media and the country is trying to pave its path to democracy.”
Their biggest hope with the new administration is a boost to the economy and reduction in unemployment. They hope that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s background as an industrialist bodes well for the economy. They feel investment-friendly policies will help improve the economic climate, which in turn will automatically reduce terrorism, crime and poverty.
They both believe that a growing middle class, a strategic location (with neighboring giants such as India and China) plus a younger, more educated generation equates to a hopeful tomorrow.
“It is definitely a different life, but one that we consciously chose,” Sonia said. “Some days when we hear guns being fired down the street or schools being closed because of a strike, we think of coming back. But then when we get to calmly sip the evening cup of tea with our parents every day, we know exactly why we made this choice.”
Kiran Ansari is a writer for publications including the Chicago Tribune, Daily Herald, Halal Consumer and Azizah Magazine. She lives with her husband and two children in the suburbs of Chicago. THE DAILY STAR publishes this commentary in collaboration with the Common Ground News Service (www.commongroundnews.org).