They smile as they crouch in the tall grass. It’s a game, hiding from their grandfather as he rants about unripe fruit being wasted. Hiding in the graveyard of green, unripe plums they created, the Wadood sisters giggle as their grandfather starts romping around the farm looking for them. They’re not worried, though. He doesn’t have his glasses on.
Senior Sana, junior Yasma and sophomore Mariam Wadood haven’t seen their grandfather in nine years. They don’t have plum or cherry trees in their backyard, or Peshawar ice cream around the corner. That is all 7,000 miles away, across the Atlantic Ocean in Peshawar, Pakistan where they lived until 2003.
The Wadood sisters left Pakistan with their mother, Bushra, two years after their father, Ali, left to start a life in Kansas as a civil engineer.
“I don’t remember him leaving, but I remember being sad,” Yasma said.
Mariam doesn’t remember much because she was only six when her family moved, but Yasma and Sana have strong memories of what it was like to live in Pakistan.
“We had a huge backyard,” Yasma said. “We also had a chicken coop. Sometimes we’d go back there, but I was too afraid to pick them up because they’d flutter. My sisters could do it easily, though.”
The first day of school for the three sisters at Leawood Elementary was full of adventures and misunderstandings. A new environment, different people and no uniforms. In Pakistan, it’s expected that a student asks to enter the classroom before doing so, and when Sana asked her teacher if she could enter the classroom on her first day, the teacher was caught off-guard.
“It was confusing at first, and I was anxious because I had to make sure my sisters were in the right classrooms,” Sana said.
Yasma went through a similar experience. Since the English she and her sisters learned in Pakistan was British English, picking up on American phrases was difficult.
“This girl asked me, ‘do you mind if I sit here?,’ and I thought she said ‘can I sit here?’ and I said yes,” Yasma said. “She walked away and I figured out I was supposed to say no. I had no idea what was going on.”
Yasma was only eleven years old when her classmates started calling her names.
“Pakistani whore,” they called her.
She laughed to be polite. She didn’t understand, but they were laughing, so she copied them. She became good at laughing at her own expense. She laughed when boys in her English class chanted “USA, USA,” when she walked into the room on the day that Osama bin Laden had been killed. She laughed when girls asked in her French class if she had her green card. She even laughed when they made fun of her language.
She wasn’t always so polite though. In the early years of elementary school, when Yasma’s classmates first began to realize that she was a Muslim, she behaved quite differently.
“Sometimes when people used to say the “F word” towards my religion, I would get a temper,” Yasma said. “I would sometimes kick them. When my grandfather found out back in Pakistan, he was like ‘that’s my granddaughter’.”
Yasma tries not to take the name-calling and bullying seriously. When people call Yasma the Taliban or a terrorist, they don’t realize how very real and terrifying the Taliban can be to people living in parts of Pakistan. Her uncle suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder when a car parked in the street near him exploded. One of her mom’s phone calls to her sister was dropped when a bomb went off near her sister’s home.
That’s the family the Wadoods left behind, and it’s what they miss the most about Pakistan. Since they’ve been in Kansas, they’ve missed their cousins’ weddings, their grandparents’ funeral, and the birth of their cousins.
“I miss Pakistani weddings,” Yasma said. “They’re so colorful.”
Yasma and her family are so far away from their first home, but they’re never far from their Pakistani roots. The sisters all wear long sleeved shirts and long pants, and they sometimes wear a shalwar kameez, a set of loose trousers and tunic. They pray five times a day, once in the morning and four times after school, always facing Mecca. When they’re at home, Yasma and her sisters speak Urdu, but they also speak Arabic, Pushto and Hindi.
Being Islamic, it’s part of the Wadood’s religion to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, the birthplace of Muhammad. When a Muslim goes to Mecca, he or she prays and walks around the Kabbah seven times. It’s the same journey that the Prophet Abraham took. The process takes 10 days, and for those who travel far to get to Mecca, they could stay as long as a month. At the end, a celebration is held where meat is sacrificed.
The reason the Wadoods haven’t been back is mainly because their family has expanded in the past nine years. Since moving to Kansas, Sana, Yasma and Mariam have welcomed four new siblings into their family. First came Khalil and Ahmea, the twins, then Bakbakwara, also known as Coco, and then Hussein, the baby. Caring for the younger children takes up most of the older sister’s time. With such a large family, a vacation across the Atlantic Ocean would be very expensive.
None of the Wadoods have made their pilgrimage to Mecca, but they hope to one day. Yasma even has plans to attend the Peshawar University in Pakistan after she graduates from Shawnee Mission East.
“I would be in college already in Pakistan,” Yasma said. “I have some friends over there and they are in college and they’re like ‘did you get held back?’ I told them they have school here for two more years and they feel so bad for me!”
Mariam is unsure of where she wants to go to college, but Sana is certain she wants to go to a college in the U.S.
“I mean, I’m studying for the SATs and it just makes sense to go to college here,” Sana said.
Wherever the Wadood sisters end up, they’ll always have a home in Pakistan and in Kansas.
“Every day at school is an adventure,” Yasma said. “Stuff happens to me that wouldn’t happen to a normal person. And it’s fun, and I’ll miss that.”