Big or small, everyone makes plans for their future. As a girl who loved to dream, I had made plenty. Whether we lose ourselves in daydreams or map out a series of realistic goals, it seems that life rarely gets the memo. It is only through certain elements — patience, deep faith in yourself, and relentless sight of your passions — that we are able to get past all obstacles and achieve what we have always dreamed.
Since I was very young, I had three ambitions in life — to write, to study, and to travel.
I was born in 1988 in Pakistan as the youngest of five. My father was an army officer, which meant my siblings and I had a traditional army upbringing — disciplined, yet relaxed; loved, but not spoiled.
In my free time, I filled up dozens of diaries and journals with my needless blabber. I would write about everything and anything under the sun. As I grew up, I began typing long emails to cousins and friends. This taught me how to meld the creativity and clarity of words.
In Pakistani culture, we look up to our parents and try to fulfill their expectations. My parents were self-made people who valued education, so my siblings and I worked hard in our studies. My good grades translated into happiness for my parents, and by proxy, my happiness. Everything was going normal — from standards of an average upper middle-class life in Pakistan. I stayed in the same city for high school and college, soaking up the academia like a sponge. I completed two Master’s degrees, and made my family — and myself — very proud.
When I was young, we moved around a lot for my father’s job, and I fell in love with travelling very early on. But after settling down, our family didn’t get to travel much except for family vacations. We would go to other cities in Pakistan, but I wanted to travel far and beyond. I had made air-tight plans to travel and to study abroad. I painted the future that I knew would make me happy.
But, my plans changed.
I got married in 2012 and I went to live in my in-laws’ house where there was a great contrast in culture, family setup, living conditions, habits and norms — so pretty much everything. I molded myself to adapt to a new house and family customs. Marrying into a traditional Pathan culture meant adhering to certain boundaries, like not travelling alone, observing limitation regarding contact with others — especially males, and preferring home chores over anything else.
Soon after getting married, I had my daughter and shifted my priorities to home-making and child bearing. I started to feel like I’d never find a way of getting past the obstacles of a traditional married life of a Pakistani mother.
While I tried to put my old ambitions to rest in order to prepare for a family of my own, I couldn’t. Most days during my pregnancy, I remained at home, but not idle. Instead, I started my freelance writing career. This wasn’t an easy concept to share to those around me with traditional values. I mean, I was supposed to be eagerly folding mounds of clothes and prepping my recipes for motherhood, wasn’t I?
Not everyone thought so, though. I was so fortunate to have a loving husband who supported me, who knew I wanted to keep studying, and who encouraged me to apply for scholarships. He helped wave away my doubts to make room for the dreams I had held so dear to my heart.
Not long after my daughter was born, I was awarded a scholarship to study for two years in China, my dream — within reach! At the same time, my husband found a great job in Pakistan. Too many blessings forced me into one of the most challenging and critical decisions I had ever made in my life. Do I take the scholarship and go to China? I’d be away from my husband for two years, and I would have to take my daughter with me. I told my husband that I was thinking about staying in Pakistan, that maybe I should settle into the role that so many people wanted for me. My husband wouldn’t accept that excuse. He persuaded me to seize the opportunity. And I did.
I had to endure lots of backlash from people (those who mattered and those who didn’t) when I decided to move to China for studies. One particularly nasty comment that was made (by pretty much everyone except my immediate family) was, “What are you going to do after studying? Obviously, you are going to raise kids, so what is the point of studying further?” I was told that it was “a bad choice” as a mother, wife, and daughter.
Thankfully, my husband, parents, and in-laws told me to chase my dreams. They told me that I could do it. With their relentless support, my daughter and I went to China in 2014 so I could pursue a Master’s Degree in Journalism. I loved it.
Living at Hebei University in China enabled me to travel, study, and write more often, even with my daughter in tow. I had a babysitter who stayed with my daughter while I went to classes, allowing me to experience all that I had dreamed of. I felt as though I was living among the clouds. After each semester was over, my daughter and I would travel back to Pakistan for the break.
Just as I was feeling content with the way my life was going, I got pregnant again (oops!) before my final semester. I was jolted back to reality. It wasn’t that I didn’t want another child — of course I wanted to be a mom again! I just wasn’t ready to go back home. Living in a foreign country for almost a year and a half, studying, taking exams, raising my daughter — all while being away from my husband — was going to be all for nothing. I felt scared, depressed, and utterly confused. I couldn’t go back to Pakistan without my degree. I owed that much to my family, my husband, and well, myself.
But it wasn’t going to be easy.
When I needed the most help during my pregnancy, the babysitter who took care of my daughter was unfortunately unavailable. The bigger my belly, the more I dreaded the flights of stairs, and the long walks to a bus stop in the scorching heat (my doctor advised me against using my primary mode of transport — bicycle), only to come home and have to cook, clean, and maintain. On top of all this, I was always, always exhausted.
Luckily, my friend Terry from Kenya, who was also a student in my program, stepped up. She helped me with my daughter while I was going through the strenuous times of exams, presentations, thesis defense, panel interviews, long queues for printing, and document attestation (just to name a few). Thanks to the support around me, that difficult phase in my life became just that — a phase. I even graduated with the highest grades in my class! Woo! All the pain and discomfort had finally paid off. If I could manage graduate school while pregnant, I could do anything!
I came back to Pakistan and had my son in 2016. As it turned out, there couldn’t have been any better time for that unexpected pregnancy to occur. That same year, another opportunity came our way. My husband got a scholarship to complete his PhD in New Zealand — it was his turn to travel and study. I graciously stayed in Pakistan with the kids while he moved to pursue his PhD.
I will say it again, I had three ambitions in life — to write, to study, and to travel.
A year later in 2017, my kids and I joined my husband in New Zealand. Once more, life opened up a bigger door. I was able to write, study, and travel, and this time, I was able to do so while surrounded by two beautiful kids and a supportive husband. My husband and I understand each other and our passions; we have withstood distances, pressures, and difficulties, and I think that has made our family stronger.
It has not been easy to travel with limited resources, to study with kids, or to write with other pressing matters. On many occasions, I was given the advice of letting go of all the plans I had made for myself. But I’m no ordinary woman, and I’m glad I never listened to them or stopped short at the closed doors. Because if you love to dream as much as I do, then it is very rewarding to see what you accomplish at the end.
This is the story of Qurat ul Ain Shahzad
Qurat currently resides in New Zealand where her husband is getting his PhD. Despite many obstacles along the way such as gender expectations and pregnancy, Qurat never abandoned her passions and through the support of her husband and in-laws, she was able to pursue them even after having children. Right now, she is striving to make the best out of her time in New Zealand. She is determined to help and support her husband and give the best upbringing to her kids. There is so much she wants to do. She hopes to write a book, to start her PhD, and to travel more places so that when she looks back on time, she will have a very happy and fulfilling memory of these years even with the struggles.
Life Log #166
This story first touched our hearts on September 10, 2018.