I, Anjiya Karim, a Pakistani American Muslim, want to share my journey of struggle in which I found my inner strength and true identity. Life for me has been like a roller coaster ride with many twists and turns. My life took similar turns after my father’s sudden demise in 2015. This tragic incident left me and my family in utter shock. It changed our lives dramatically. I have realized that nothing can prepare you for the death of a parent. It felt unfair; it felt cold: “Why would God take away my beloved father? What will happen to my mom? What about my sister?” It felt that the light which had illuminated my heart was now extinguished all in a blink of an eye.
I would be lying if I said it has become easier over time; it has not. I think about my father constantly; every little thing, from his favorite meal of Biryani to seeing sparrows in our garden waiting for him to lay out sesame seeds, remind me of him. However, I realized that I had a choice to make, to either give up or to strive to move forward as he would have wished. I understood that the struggle will constant, but I had to get to a place where his memory would propel me onward.
Living in a male-dominated Asian society with people having a conservative mindset; it was difficult for a woman to do anything by herself. So, when my father passed away people of our society showed pity for us and thought about how we would survive now and make a living. These were the questions that were thrown at us from all sides, shattering our confidence and hope, but I did not give up. I first started with consoling my mother who had lost herself completely and then my younger sister who was also on a journey of her own. I supported my mother as she slowly went back to her normal routine or as normal as it could be.
There was another crucial thing to attend to, our economic well-being. With the passing away of my father, it was difficult for us to meet ends. I, therefore, decided to help my mother and started offering tuition to students looking for help with mathematics. I had been excellent at mathematics from an early age so now was the time to monetize it to support my support. This, however, had put pressure on my own studies. With a full day of school, followed by tuition, I struggled to manage time and do my own homework. However, my father had always wanted me to excel in school. His memory gave me extraordinary energy to continue to work relentlessly towards attaining good grades.
Eventually, by the grace of Allah, I was able to obtain outstanding results in my Cambridge O Levels and qualified for a merit scholarship for A Levels program. It was a dream come true. This achievement not only gave me inner happiness but also helped me to continue my higher studies in a good school in that adverse situation of a financial crisis. I would not say it was easy; it was very difficult indeed, but I knew that despondency was not the answer to our situation.
As I reflect on the past three years of my life and think about every milestone I crossed, I realize that we all have choices. We can either focus on what we don’t have and sulk or we can develop our talents, believe in ourselves, trust in God and continually move forward. Over these three years, my life had changed unexpectedly. I was able to uncover my inner strength and hidden potentials. I had made a transformation and viewed life from a different and more positive perspective. Last year my family decided to move to the US from Pakistan to create better lives for us. This transition brought a new set of challenges of accommodating in a new academic context, a different social environment and a host of culture shocks.
Growing up in Pakistan, I was fascinated by the American culture and everything Western. However, my perception of America was largely based on movies and pop culture but when I arrived here, I realized I had only seen bits of what American culture really is. Living in Pakistan is vastly different than living in America and here I have brought my experiences, my struggles, my cultural diversity, my joys, and my ethics to add to this beautiful mosaic of the American culture. Over the years I have learned to become more persistent, patient and resilient. My focus now is to be a good role model for my younger sister, to support my mother, and to strive for excellence in education as my father would have wanted me to.
My father’s memory has now transformed into an effective force that pushes me to excel and I am excited to pursue my future with the same energy and zeal. No matter what the obstacle may be, despondency is not an option and today I am proud to say that I have removed words such as cannot and impossible from my life. I am so glad to have reached this far and make my parents proud.