1. KARACHI IS MY CITY, my home, but I was seven years old the first time I set foot on its soil. I was boarded onto a Pakistan International Airlines plane by my father from our exile home in Syria, and told I would be seated next to an old Sindhi woman who would look after me should I need anything. We never said a word to each other, the old Sindhi woman and I. She smiled at me nervously from time to time, and I grimaced back. I was anxious. It was my first time flying alone, my first time going home. Sometime after midnight the crew of PIA stewardesses, clad in deep green shalwar kameez with their pastel flowered dupattas neatly pinned across their shoulders, filed out along the aisles holding a cake and singing Happy Birthday to a Very Important Passenger. Everyone on board clapped and waited patiently for a piece of birthday cake. I didn’t sleep a wink that night.
My grandmother, Joonam as I called her in her native Farsi, picked me up that bright December morning at Karachi’s Jinnah airport. At the time, it looked like a small bus shed. Cement walls, grey and unpainted, dirty tiled floors and creaking baggage belts, badly needing to be oiled.
In the city, palm trees that bore coconuts, not the dates our palms carried in Damascus, lined the wide streets. The air was thick and smelled of the Indian Ocean, sweet with a touch of salt.