A Family of Strangers
A few weeks ago I decided to take a trip to Virginia with one of my friends to visit her family. Although we have only been friends for 7 months, and this wasn’t even her immediate family, I thought, “what the heck”, and decided to tag along. As we hopped on the sketchiest MegaBus ever, I spent the 4-hour bus ride feeling car sick, debating whether or not to use the bus bathroom, and wondering what I was getting myself into for the weekend. All she had told me when I asked about her family and what to expect, was that “we eat a lot”.
As soon as her two older cousins picked us up from Union Station, I could tell it was going to be an eventful weekend. When we arrived at her aunt’s house, I was greeted with lots of hugs, kisses, Salaams, and questions along the line of: “Beta, have you eaten?”, “Beta what do you want to eat”, “Beta, why aren’t you eating?”. At the end of our first night, her Uncle- to whom the kids referred to as “the Godfather”- let me in on a secret: due to my lack of Urdu skills, South African/Indian ethnicity, my Hindu sounding name (Yumna Patel), and overall lack of knowledge of “the brown culture”, her family had spent much of our anticipated arrival attempting to figure out if I was Muslim or not, and if “I ate everything”. Their worries were put to rest however when I greeter them with “Salaam” and told them the names of my siblings: Ihsaan, Imaan, and Muhammed.
The weekend was filled with family, fun, food, food…and food. The first morning when I said I would have cereal for breakfast, I was given multiple looks of confusion. Instead I was given a “garden omlette” (eggs with onions, peppers, and every other Desi vegetable) with paratha. Parathas for breakfast? It was a bread-lovers dream come true. My world was turned upside down: brunch quickly turned from pancakes and omlettes, to kheer (love at first taste), aloo paratha, and lots of indiscernible variations of chickpeas and potatoes. The one, and only, Urdu word that I picked up on was “khana”. Food.
When I wasn’t eating, or smiling and pretending to understand what everyone was saying, I was mostly laughing. Whether it was with, or at my friend and her relatives, it didn’t really matter. These people were complete strangers to me- my friend’s uncles, aunts, and cousins. But over the course of the weekend, they became a part of my family, just as I became a part of theirs. The jokes that they told and the stories that they shared, whether I understood them or not, made me feel like I was home. Living in New York City, and going to school so far away from home, it’s easy to feel lonely, and get caught up with the trivial things that surround our daily lives. As strange as it is, it was nice to get away from everything and everyone, and be with new people, and elders in particular. We are constantly surrounded by students and people our own age that we get so sucked into our superficial lives, and we forget what it’s like to be around family, and those mother and father figures who make us feel loved and cared for every single day. Even though I was just the random white-washed friend coming to visit for the weekend, and didn’t technically fit in at all, there was not a single time where I felt uncomfortable or unwelcome.
I left that weekend on a Tripper Bus (slightly less sketchy than MegaBus), with a content heart, clear mind, full stomach, and a slightly bigger waistline. Not only did my love for kheer and Pakistani desserts grow, but so did my love and appreciation for my family who lives so far away, and my friends here at NYU that I often take for granted. In my almost full-year here, I never understood my friends who lived close by and went home every weekend. But now I get it. If I could hop on a train or bus back to Texas every weekend, I would. Because there’s nothing quite like being surrounded by family, parents, and home-cooked food.