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How are Americans treating him?
[Interview by Mayank Austen Soofi; pictures by Kazim Aizaz Alam unless specified]
Are Pakistanis considered pariahs in the world? How is a Pakistani treated in the West, especially the US? Pakistan Paindabad talked to Karachi’s Kazim Aizaz Alam, 25, who is in the US as a Fulbright student. I wanted to know from him if America - thanks to the growth of its ultra-nationalist Tea Party Movement and Islamophobia et cetera - is indeed becoming an intolerant society. Read this interview and find out yourself.
How you managed to get into the US?
One of my seniors at The News, the newspaper I was working in, got Fulbright scholarship in 2009. I thought of giving it a try. I took two English language tests -- GRE and TOEFL – and scored quite poorly. Still, the Fulbright Commission selected me for the 2010 master’s program. I'll be here for a year.
Where are you living?
I live in Hamden, which is in the state of Connecticut. The town offers both rural and urban lifestyles. The most striking thing is its greenery and scenic landscape. My landlady once aptly described this place as a “slice of heaven”. I cycle to university every day. On one side of the road is a 600-acre farmhouse that includes a golf course and a polo ground while on the other is the Sleeping Giant State Park, two miles of mountaintop that resembles a sleeping giant.
What are you studying?
I am doing Master of Science at Quinnipiac University in Journalism that includes courses on print, TV and radio journalism, besides studies on ethics, society and opinion journalism.
What do you miss about Karachi?
I want to go back now and stay with my father – he misses me a lot. I miss Javeria, my best friend and wife-to-be. I miss my colleagues and the heated debates we used to have on political issues. I miss office gossip.
What you don’t miss about Karachi?
It’s poor public transport system.
It’s your first time in the West? How is this new world?
Very kind and helpful. I live in a cozy apartment and the landlady’s family is my immediate neighbor. They handed me a fully furnished home. Refrigerator, microwave, stove, kitchen utensils, TV, lamps, food stuff for a week, everything I could need. Free of charge. They gifted me a cycle too. I don’t even have to purchase warm clothes for the approaching winter. One of their family friends has given me lots of winter clothes (that fit me well), which are going to last for the whole season. They invite me for dinner every now and then take me to parties, ice cream parlors, shopping etc. In short, they really care about me.
I had an evening class today and I was at university when it started to rain. I couldn't apparently cycle for at least an hour. It was already 9:00 p.m. And guess what? Mike (my landlady's husband) came in his jeep, put my bicycle in the back and drove me safely to my apartment. My landlady also left home-made delicious dinner in my refrigerator!
They are nice people.
Indeed. I never expected an American family could do THAT (sic) much for a stranger from Pakistan. Don't forget that the man behind the failed Times Square bombing bid (Faisal Shahzad) lived in the neighboring town -- and he was a Pakistani.
Are there Indian students too? Have you made friends with them or they have horns on their head?
On my first day in the University I was sitting in the library when an Indian-looking teenager came to me and said, “Hi”. We hit it off right there. Time is considered the most precious commodity in America, yet this stranger from India took me on a whirlwind tour of the campus and showed me around different departments. Akash was born in Karachi and his family moved to India in the ’90s because of the threats to successful Hindu businessmen from different mafias operating in the city. I was somewhat embarrassed by his kind and cheerful attitude towards me. After all, I belong to the city his family was forced to leave at a few hours’ notice.
How different are Pakistanis when they are abroad than when they are in their country?
I haven’t interacted with any Pakistanis here so far.
How different is Pakistan from this new world?
In Pakistan, car drivers don’t stop to let the cyclists go first – in America they always do.
How were you treated at the airport?
Politely. No one talked to me rudely. No one harassed me. No one bullied me. Immigration officials were all very nice and helpful. And the best thing that happened at the Bradley International Airport, Hartford, CT, was the presence of the host family members who had come all the way from Hamden to receive me in the state capital. I had boarded four planes in 25 hours and was about to faint. It was 10 minutes to midnight when I landed. They drove me to my apartment.
How is the behavior of Americans towards you? Are they eager about Pakistan?
Everyone is curious about Pakistan. From neighbors to professors, everyone wants to know more and more about my country. Sadly, all that the Americans get to hear about Pakistan in the mainstream media is bomb blasts, Talibanization and terrorism. They ask me about the lawyers’ movement that ousted Pervez Musharraf in 2008. They are often curious about the state of women in South Asia.
What do you wear? What do you eat?
I wear the clothes I used to wear in Pakistan: Blue jeans, shirts, sweaters and joggers. I miss home food a lot. Breakfast comprises bread with butter and tea. For lunch and dinner, there’s rice and pizza. You know what? Once I’m back in Pakistan, I’ll never touch pizza. I hate it now.
Mr Alam (right) in Jinnah's Memorial, Karachi (picture by Mayank Austen Soofi)
Somewhere in Quinnipiac University, Hamden
Somewhere in Hamden
Somewhere in Hamden
Mr Alam (left, sitting on the floor) with friends in Karachi (picture by Mayank Austen Soofi)