zipcode

The sun was unwavering, still in a windless blaze of mirages. In a solar light, shadows were blacker than usual and the blue sky was bleached yellow.

Within a poly-culture farm on the outskirts of an old city laid a village inherited by my father’s family. The brick houses paved with mud were absent of godsend AC’s; hours of energy shutdowns had denied the villagers of electricity. There, in this third, ostensibly separated world, I took refuge within a pomegranate tree with my third cousin during the summer before my freshman year.

“Amal, what do you want to be?” my cousin asked, unfazed by the heat. She tightened her dupatta, as I removed mine.

“A heart surgeon. I want to give people second chances at life. You?”

“Baba said I can’t become a physicist. Maybe a teacher, but women are only mothers.”

“What?” My eyes narrowed. I felt a foreign, feministic surge arise from my stomach.

Amna laughed, “It’s different in Pakistan than it is in America. In America, you can do whatever you want. Here…well, you can’t. I hope you do whatever you want with your life. I just hope that I’ll marry a man who can take my children to America. That’s all I can hope for. But you can dream for anything So dream big, Amal. Do everything I can’t, okay?”

I nodded.  She didn’t say any more and neither did I. I felt like a slapped child. Her father was my kind uncle, not some World History-textbook villain. What could I do? Change her fate? Perhaps. My stomach tightened. There are thousands of girls like her.  Amna pulled me off the tree. Silently, I followed her into the house.

Until that moment, I lived relentlessly in a shadow: an abyss of grades, an abyss of competition. Studying served the purpose to achieve a great grade, a grade in turn served in purpose as something to aim for in life. At fourteen years old, there wasn’t much to aim for except for what society expected: success in schools or sports. Yet, after meeting Amna, my mindset inverted.

Amna taught me that there is a wrong, pervasive determination in life: your zipcode dictates the life you lead. Two generations separated Amna and me; I was lucky to be born on the family branch that valued female education. When my parents immigrated to the US from Pakistan, they detached themselves from their lives in order to ensure that their daughters would receive the best education, and from education, a satisfying life of independence and influence.

Yet, Amna also taught me resilience and privilege. Though nowadays, she takes care of her home, I find solace in her words. When I took the opportunities of my life for granted, Amna instilled in me the courage to dream past walls of atelophobic insecurity and comfort. Amna taught me the power of an education – and moreover, she showed me empowerment.

Originally posted on WASAC’s Written Word. Photo courtesy of Alina Cheema.

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