Yearning for a Home of Her Own: A Pashtun Woman’s Migration Story
Written by Mahek Basar
Shahista is Pakistani, Muslim woman in her early 50s. She moved to Canada about 11 years ago, with her husband and their two children. She works part-time as a seamstress, in addition to being a full-time housewife. Thus, she has a very busy lifestyle, but she still agreed to let me interview her. She is a Pashtun woman, and Pashtuns are a warrior race from Afghanistan and Northern Pakistan. They are known for their fair skin, tall stature and heavy builds. However, Shahista, while fair-skinned with green eyes, is quite petite. She was dressed in traditional Pakistani clothes of salwar kamiz: loose pants and a long shirt.
We conducted the interview in Shahista’s home. She lives in a three-bedroom apartment that overlooks one of the busiest streets in Mississauga: Hurontario St. We conducted the interview in her living room, where we were alone and away from distractions. Her living room was decorated with family portraits, graduation photos of her children, and frames with Quranic verses. There was a red Janamaz (prayer rug) in the corner of the living room. Throughout the interview, she felt nostalgic of her childhood home. She really missed living in a large house, with a beautiful garden, surrounded by her siblings and parents. In fact, when describing her childhood home, her eyes glistened with unshed tears. She liked her current apartment but it was obvious she still yearned for a home of her own. This was especially evident when she discussed her neighbours, who were “so fortunate” to have bought their own homes. She told me that while it wasn’t impossible for her family to own a house financially, her husband’s health discouraged them from taking such a big risk. Since the family was dependent on his income alone, if that source of money suddenly depleted, they would find themselves in a lot of trouble with mortgage payments.
Shahista felt a little envious of her neighbour, Bhabi (sister-in-law). Bhabi was an uneducated woman, but “Allah was kind to her,” and her sons were obedient and hard-working, unlike Shahista’s son. Bhabi’s sons graciously accepted their arranged marriages to cousins in Pakistan, and both boys worked full-time jobs earning six figures. Shahista felt that her son was more intelligent than Bhabi’s sons, but he was rebellious. He refused to marry any girl Shahista chose, and refused to find work despite having an accounting degree from University of Toronto. That’s why Shahista’s family could not afford a house, while Bhabi was enjoying the comfort of living with her son and grandchildren.
Mostly, Shahista blamed herself for her situation. If she had never brought her son to Canada, he may never have gotten so out-of-control. Here, she couldn’t scold him, because he was an adult and entitled to his way of life. Had they stayed in Pakistan, Shahista’s husband might have built her a bungalow next to her sisters’ homes. Or even in Canada, if she had retained a little control over her son, or not given in to his every wish, he may have grown up more responsible. In that case, he would be working now, and they could buy a house, with the promise of a second source of income. In her youth, she had always imagined she would be a home-owner by this stage in her life. She was, after all, married to an engineer, which was the second most prestigious occupation in Pakistan after a doctor. However, Canadian employers did not accept her husband’s credentials, so he resorted to becoming a taxi driver. This suddenly lowered her family’s socioeconomic status from middle-class to working-class. Thus, now belonging to a lower status in society, her family was unable to afford homeownership.
Mahek Basar is undergraduate student at University of Toronto, majoring in sociology and molecular biology. She would like to study and practice medicine through a sociological lens by providing health care to underprivileged populations.
She is the founder of EOFP-Educate Orphaned Females of Pakistan, a non-for-profit, charitable organization which seeks to provide underprivileged, orphaned girls in the rural areas of Pakistan with school supplies.