There are figs roasting in my oven. They are covered in honey and they were purchased at this fantastic grocery store called Fresh Farms yesterday morning on a not so exciting adventure I took in my car to Niles. I love grocery stores and a good one contains people from all walks of life. A good one does not contain an ethnic or international aisle because everything in it is from other countries. Fresh Farms was perfect. I was in heaven. Every time I walked around a corner I would gasp aloud to myself in wonder at really good Turkish cheese or hot smoked salmon with black pepper and honey or rhubarb. It was full of everything, and I was in a zen place, but I was all by myself.
It’s coming up to three years since I moved to Chicago, and occasionally I will look back to the person who moved here. I was naive, I didn’t think all my problems would be fixed by moving countries but I also didn’t expect to go through any more difficulties mentally once I’d moved. I was wrong. Moving broke me apart and over the last few years, I’ve experienced some of the worst lows in my life. But out of that, there was growth. Standing in that Fresh Farms, squealing over boxes of fresh figs and thinking of what I can make with them, seeing a pot of Labneh and knowing it would go so well with them. Just being happy all by myself, that’s where it sort of hit me. I am an anxious person, I have issues with trust and myself from years of bad decisions and people, but I am finally very much okay with just hanging out by myself. That void, that feeling of isolation and loneliness I used to carry around with me has almost gone, I don’t think about it often.
It’s hard to be truly alone in this day and age because connections are everywhere. We carry around phones where we obsessively check social media, share things with people, are always plugged in. I’m guilty of that too, in the past way more so than I am now. Watching other peoples lives play out in front of you over Facebook and Instagram Stories can be hard, especially when you’re not there joining in. In High School I never had any idea what my friends were doing because they only way I would know would be to call them on a landline, I spent 90% of my time creating in my room by myself entirely happy with music blasting from my stereo. I’m sort of getting to that again, but a version of that that still spends time with my friends, people I do love, doing things that I love.
Someone incredibly wise once told me that I don’t have to put everything I write on the internet. He encouraged me to keep a diary and even if I was writing blog posts to read over them and make sure it was something I wanted to say. Every time I write I think about that now, especially since I’m trying to write books and graphic novels. There needs to be time, where life is quiet and still, where the light outside is coming in through the windows just right and it’s not too goddamn hot in my apartment, and I sit and the words just pour out of me. That same person told me that I need to stop being so scared of making my points, that I need to be more open. He didn’t know I would take that advice a year or so later and try and just apply it to my whole life.
Moving made me connect to my Pakistani heritage on a level I had never even thought of before. South Asian culture is so important to me now, it’s an essential building block in the person I am and its acceptance is key in my healing from events in my past. I read any book written by a South Asian author, to see what other people are doing, what stories they are constructing and putting out there. I am trying my best to learn Urdu but I’m terrible and it. I want to go back to Pakistan so badly and see where my family came from and appreciate that. My fear of accepting my cultural background was always that I would always be the ‘bad’ kid, I would never live up to the standards and I would feel lost again. Learning that those standards and rules placed on me as a teenager were wrong, facing that fear and finding people who share experiences like mine, that helped me accept who I am. Helped me to forgive family members and other people in life and move on from the past.
Chicago is too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter. It’s a city that brings out those extremes in the people that live in it too when I first moved I was so manic. Highs and lows were all over the place. But I learned to calm down, I learned to relax and I learned to be at peace with myself. This city is my home now, and it’s not perfect and neither am I. But working on myself constantly I hope to stay in it to continue to figure out my life, to heal from my past and to grow into a person that I’m proud of. To do a lot of good in my own community and to help as many people as I can feel less alone.
Maryam Hassan is a 32 year old Photographer, Montessori Teacher, Wearer of Yellow from London who transplanted herself to Chicago in 2015. She likes punk music, hash browns, animal facts and mangoes.
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