It’s raining in Neukölln as I’m writing this. As far as I know, smell activates memories. The scent of rain activates my own from a childhood vacation in Khyber-Pakthunkhwa. I find it soothing to think of the days I spent in the province of Swat, which is now caught in a violent power struggle between insurgents and the Pakistani military. Especially since it prescribes against feeling overwhelmed by the uncertainty and hopelessness that has framed the weeks since my expulsion from Yemen.
I’m not exactly sure what’s so relaxing about it. Like now, I was in a setting where I did not speak the language. Since I was five years old, I was ignorant to the fact that the groundwork was being laid for violence that would come to frame my generation’s entire worldview. According to President Bill Clinton, as I was examining ants on a local farm, there was a failed plan in motion to kill Bin Laden. As my mother was removing a sharp rock from the bottom of my sandal, Pervez Musharraf was beginning his ascendancy to executive power in a coup. The world was complicated then, as it is now.
Yet there is something that I cling to about it, even if it was just childhood innocence about what was happening around me. I wonder if that is something everyone does in times of crisis. Invent a time, or geographic space, exists outside of the violence, and then yearn for it desperately.
I guess it’s projection. I’m seeking something that can embody my own desired sense for calm, and have settled on a vacation that I barely remember.
But isn’t that something all immigrants do from time to time? We desire a sense of home that isn’t being met in our current location. Thus, we find an imaginary paradise that we can use to ask ourselves “Remember when?” Remember when everything was okay? Remember when it was all simpler than the difficulties that define us now? I suppose that everyone needs something like that to believe in when times get tough.
I don’t want to rationalize it too much. That would deprive the magical feeling I get when I smell the rain. It reminds me that the world does have moments of bliss and calm. And it is especially necessary for Pakistanis now, as the country we love is twisting into something altogether unpleasant.
Is that so bad? Don’t we all deserve a safer place to call home?
Photograph courtesy of Daniel Daranas. Published under a Creative Commons License.