Pack, Unpack

With the school year so quickly coming to a close, I find my mind already beginning to pack up in my mind. I’ve thought briefly about the prospect of moving out of my room, trying to decide which things could even go one of these weekends and make the final move a little easier. Questions about the next step, the next place, the next home, have all started to seep into to my mind, swirling around my head at night when it’s time to be sleeping. I’ve started to begin the mental preparation that comes with packing up, pulling in the loose ends and getting ready to eventually pick up and go.

Packing has become almost second nature to me. Only a few months after I was born, my parents were packing up the things that they would take with them as they headed out to Pakistan, twenty years ago. We were always packing. When I went into boarding in sixth grade, packing suddenly became something that I had to deal with alone, joining all the other elementary kids doing the same. My mum would send me a packing list of what I should be bringing home for breaks, and slowly I would work my way through it, making sure not to forget anything I might need. Usually I would wait until the evening before we headed down the hill to the airport, before I would decide to suddenly throw everything together. That way I wouldn’t be needing things that were already packed. That was my excuse, at least. I can’t say that our houseparents were all too pleased with this method of packing, but it was pretty standard for most of us.

After a year or two, I didn’t need the lists anymore. It became pretty routine. Now, in college, I have a mental list of the essentials and I tend to leave my packing till the hour before I head to my grandparents’ house for the weekend, usually throwing my toothbrush and toothpaste on top just a few minutes before the bag is zipped up and I’m out the door and down the stairs. My bag seems to get a little bit lighter every time I travel. I’ve slowly learned not to take things like that extra pair of jeans or t-shirt that I’m not going end up wearing anyway. Travelling makes you realise how heavy your things become, so you learn pretty quickly to shed any weight you can.

Unpacking however, has been different. In high school I would come home to Hyderabad on school breaks for a couple weeks and decide to leave all my things in my suitcase. My mum would always tell me to unpack my things into the dresser and kind of “settle in”, but that never made sense to me. Why unpack a suitcase that was just going to get packed again in two weeks? Instead I would just slide the whole thing under my bed, so I could pull it out any time, get things out of it, and slide it back under — nicely out of the way. Only a day or two later, I would come into my room to find that my mum had unpacked everything into the dresser and the closet. “It’ll make you feel more at home,” she would always say. I would always argue, but I knew she was right. It did. Unpacking makes you feel at home.

Over the past two summers between my years of college I pretty much lived out of a suitcase for the entire time. I would pack my suitcase to go for two weeks at a time on a travelling construction crew, staying in hotels while we were away. When I came home I would stay at my uncle and aunt’s house, where I didn’t usually bother unpacking, since either I was about to go out on the road again, or if I was working in town, I would soon be packing to go stay with my grandparents for a weekend here and there. And of course, when I was visiting family in Pakistan, it was much of the same. I think my first summer I had four or five t-shirts that I cycled through my entire time in Red Deer: two blue, two green, one grey. I’m an extremely varied and exciting person, as you can tell. I’m sure people wondered if I actually even owned any more shirts. I just told myself that no one paid enough attention to realise that they kept seeing the same five t-shirts every time they saw me.

I have gotten a little better at unpacking though. Near the end of the summer I did eventually unpack into the dresser in my room in the basement of my uncle and aunt’s house, and made myself feel a little more at home. However I still find it hard to get passed the dilemma of whether it’s really worth unpacking, when in a few days or weeks I find myself putting everything back into my suitcase again. And this feeling doesn’t just end with packing “things” in a suitcase.

One of the first questions I faced coming to Canada in 2011 was: how much do I unpack? I was heading into Bible school in Saskatchewan, and everything was new. I knew I was only going to be there for eight months, and I knew I probably wouldn’t keep up ties with most people after the year was over, since I would be heading to Alberta, to a new college, in a new place, and would have to make new friends. I’ve heard, and witnessed in my life, that friendships with missionary kids tend to take on two forms, which I described to my roommate like this: “Either missionary kids go really deep really fast and drown a person, or they decide that that person isn’t even worth investing in anyway, since they’ll be gone before they know it.” That has characterised so much of my life. I feel like I’m constantly making that call, and sometimes I fear I lose some friendships along the way. It’s just that MKs say so many good-byes, again and again, and again. They know people don’t stick around forever, or that they themselves won’t, and they want to get the most out of the short time that they know the person — in an ‘all or nothing’ mentality. Thankfully I have eventually learned to handle friendships a little less intensely. I’ve learned to accept that every friend doesn’t have to be my best friend, and that, just because I may not see a person again, my friendship isn’t worthless.

I’ve always a question of how much I unpack. Do I let myself get settled, put down some roots, make friends, and enjoy a place? Or do I keep the roots short and thin to make sure they rip off easily the next time I have to pick up and leave? In this last month of school, I find myself beginning to make those little incisions around the roots, beginning to get ready for that moment when I’ll have to pull away from the things, places, and people that have been a part of my life for the last two years. I’m beginning to edge toward the door and put on my shoes and coat, so that all that’s left at the end will be to say a quick good-bye and disappear behind a closed door. That’s life.

When travel is a huge part of your life, packing and unpacking become second nature. But it’s always hard to know if we should let our roots grow and go through the pain of slashing them when it’s time to go, or if we should try to make the job at the end a little easier — a little less painful. Thankfully I’ve still managed to unpack during my two years here. I’ve managed to make good friends, that I imagine will continue, though they will probably be different. I’ve let myself enjoy things and invest in people and places, but I know I’ll pay a price soon. Before long I’ll be packing myself back into my suitcase. There will always be pain involved with packing up, but it doesn’t make it less worthwhile to unpack. On this, my Mummy is right. It’s taken me a while to learn that, in all aspects of life, but I am learning, slowly. And I’m encouraged by the fact that if we are rooted in Christ and not people, we’ll always have something to hold onto when everything else has to be ripped away. “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Heb. 6:19). So pack, and unpack — it’s worth it; but cling the whole while to the Anchor that will not change, will not leave and will not fail.


Today I’m sick. I’ve been sick the past couple days, but today I feel especially sick, because I’ve done nothing. So far I haven’t left the house, and I don’t really intend to before I go to sleep tonight. I feel like I’ve spent all day just going to the bathroom. I think that annoys me more than anything else. My throat hurts, so I drink tea. Then I may gargle some salt water, which I may mix with baking soda to try to fight a canker sore I have. Then I’m thirsty, so I drink water. Then I sit down to read. I cough a little, my throat hurts, and so I drink some more water again. Bathroom. Refill bottle. Read. Feel tired again. I want to sleep but my brain doesn’t turn off. Tea again. Eat something, which hurts. Drink water. Brush teeth. Gargle salt and baking soda. Drink water. Bathroom.

I’ve spent time pondering useless questions in amongst all this. Is it better to gargle before or after I brush my teeth? Should I just stop drinking so much water? Am I just drinking it because it’s there, or do I actually need it? How much tea should I be drinking? I’ll have to drink more water to make up for the tea I’m drinking, since it dehydrates me. I don’t want to be drinking tea all the time. Should I try to sleep, or will that just make me sleep less tonight? Why have I woken up twice really early in the morning and had a hard time going back to sleep again? Should I feel like a sissy for not doing anything yesterday and today, or is this what I should be doing if i want to get better? Why is anything that’s not warm feel so cold? Why is there no perfect way to sit on a bed and lean on a pillow against the wall? What a drag.

I miss having family around. If only I had someone to hug. But then I would make them sick. Never mind then. I’m happy being alone, I guess. I would hug someone who was sick, if I wasn’t, but that’s because I have an underlying pride complex in which I think I’m immune to sickness. I know that I can get sick, but I rarely do, so I don’t really take precautions around sick people. I guess that’s partly why being sick annoys me so much. This isn’t supposed to happen to me. I’m supposed to watch other people feel sick, be glad I’m not, and feel sorry for them! I’m the person who brushed his teeth with tap water in Pakistan because I figured a little dose of germs on a regular basis could probably be helpful. Sometimes I would have a little drink too, if I was thirsty before going to bed and couldn’t be bothered walking down to the water cooler at the end of the hall. Over Christmas I jumped eight feet down onto a concrete floor in my bare feet, thinking…(I’m not really sure what I was thinking, or if I was thinking at all) that I would just bounce? It took weeks for me to be able to put pressure on my foot normally. When I got back to Canada I played frisbee with my room-mate in the snow for fifteen minutes, wearing snow pants and a t-shirt because it felt pretty warm. I mean, it’s just snow. When we finished, I came inside to lie in my bed, curled up a ball, and moan in pain, clutching my arms to my body as I felt the warm blood pulsing through the veins in my numb forearms and fingers — a dull, burning pain tracing through my skin. It hurt so much that I was feeling pain in my stomach too, as if I’d been punched in the gut. And that’s just from Christmas until now. I’m an idiot. I assume my body will just take anything because, so far, I guess it has.

I’m pretty sure the sickies I am feeling now are all stress and tiredness induced. It seems a lot like my yearly sickies that I would get in high school, just after exam time and as soon as break had started. But this time I feel like I have no real reason to be sick, since I haven’t been overwhelmingly stressed or tired. Yes, I’ve had some late nights, but I was getting plenty of sleep, feeding myself well and balancing my homework. It just feels like a completely uncalled for sickness. But I guess it really doesn’t matter what caused it — only that now I’m reduced to floating between my bed and the couch in the living room, cloaked in my grey shawl. And of course, to the bathroom. Again and again, and again.

The Sky in Canada has Diarrhoea

It’s snowing again. Sometimes I feel like I am about to get over my weariness of all this snow. The sun comes out, water runs underneath the huge white mounds everywhere that have grown and grown over the winter, but even then — it’s only to freeze and leave tiny skating rinks here and there. A few weeks ago, while helping my roommate film a movie for class, riding our bikes, I found myself suddenly lying on cold glass of what was supposed to be the sidewalk. It happened twice actually — only one of the times was almost on purpose. What amazed me the most was how quickly and painlessly I went from being on top of a bike, to being right down on the ground, sitting on my bum or lying on my back with the bike out in front of me. I imagine the long line of traffic waiting at the light had quite the time laughing at the show I was putting on. Thankfully my roommate and I were also able to have a good laugh, bent double, my sides aching, trying to imagine what I must have looked like. I only wish I had been filming at the time.

I’m tired of defrosting windows and sitting in a cold car waiting, shivering until I can see enough of the road to start driving. I’m tired of coats and layers. And what are the benefits of all this snow? We’re not even on top in the Olympics! At least the Jamaican bobsled team has nice warm beaches to go back to after their time at the Olympics, but us? We have snow; and a sky that has the runs and can’t manage to hold it through till the next autumn. Instead it’s intermittent dumps of snow, again and again and again. But really, I shouldn’t complain. Winter can be beautiful at times. I do enjoy seeing the trees after a fresh snowfall, or watching the sun glitter off the little ice crystals that blow in the wind some brisk mornings.

Every season has its ups and downs. Personally I prefer the ups and downs of summer, especially here in Canada where it never quite gets hot enough to suffer. Summer in Alberta is like winter in the Sindh — pleasant. But, I guess I’ll have to live through it, make the most of winter and try to enjoy it’s beauty, even when that beauty decides to attack my face every time I step out of a warm building.


Sindhi Sandals

Photo credit: Stephen Wiley (2014)
Photo credit: Stephen Wiley (2014)

I’ve been meaning to change the name of my blog for quite a while now. I only meant “Something Different” to be a kind of interim title until I could think of something better. I had been playing around with different possibilities for quite a while, but nothing really seemed to stick. Finally, while sitting in McDonalds at the Karachi airport with my parents, the new name came.

I have owned the same pair of sandals for as long as I can remember. Not the exact same pair, but the same style — I just buy a bigger size every time I grow out of them. They’ve gone with me everywhere. I’ve picked up huge thorns in them dozens of times, snapped the straps on some and worn other pairs right down till I could feel the road on my bare heel. I love them. They’re comfortable. After a number of years, my sandals (I actually call them chapals, as they’re called in Pakistan) have become even more significant to me. They bring back all kinds of memories from growing up.

They make me think of the dust that would cover my feet while I played outside, until I would finally wash them off with a hose and see those strange white toes peeking out at me. They remind me of the intense heat in the summer, when wearing shoes is just plain silly. I always wished my sandals had been part of my school uniform when I was little, instead of the hot, stuffy shoes I had to wear. Besides, you never have to polish blue, rubber sandals. I would have probably been barefoot outside all the time if it wasn’t for the sharp rocks and bits of garbage that were everywhere outside. My sandals remind me of arguments with my mum over whether or not the floppy, blue things were really church-worthy attire. I tried so many times, but I always lost. After being in college in Canada for over a year, and with my parents on the other side of the world, I did actually wear them to church once, in an act of rebellious defiance and newfound freedom. I suppose that’s one of the privileges of being an adult.

While visiting my parents over Christmas, I remember being told the news that my younger brother, Stephen had recently bought a different pair of sandals — not the blue ones. I remember voicing all kids of complaints, pretending to be so crushed by this break in his loyalty to our blue sandals (it’s been a tradition for both of us). I wasn’t seriously heart-broken, but there was a little part of me that was genuinely disappointed. It was serious history. Thankfully when we picked him up that evening from the airport, we found out that he hadn’t actually bought a new pair. There had been a miscommunication. He had actually decided to wait and look for sandals in the Sindh, because he couldn’t find the blue ones up north. My faith in my little brother was restored.

The fact that both of us have always had the exact same pair of sandals has been a little bit of a problem at times, but we’ve always managed. It used to be that we could tell the difference because mine were always the bigger ones, but those days came to an end quite a few years ago. When in doubt, we could always tell them apart by putting a pair on. The rubber sandals have a way of forming to your feet, so putting on my brother’s would mean I could tell straight away that they weren’t mine — their strange surface feeling like a foreign species to my toes. Sometimes we would take each others on purpose, or wear one of each, just to hear the other shout, “Give me back my chapals now! Yours feel so weird!” This last time we were home, Stephen decided it would be easiest to just write his initials on his pair, since they were both fairly new and hadn’t had time to get worn-in.

So, after all these years of my love story with my blue sandals, I was all ready to get onto the plane at the end of my Christmas break and fly back to Canada wearing my blue sandals. I had put on a collared shirt, and a nice pair of pants, because wearing at least semi-formal clothing when travelling tends to gain you a little more respect and friendliness. It was then that my mum made the comment “You know Josh, you’d look like a normal foreigner if it wasn’t for those silly Sindhi chapals.” Finally I had my blog name. I really would look like any other foreign businessman if I had decided instead to wear a pair of nice dress shoes. But instead, my façade of being Western was destroyed with my blue sandals. They have a really hard time matching with any and everything I wear — though I try hard to ague that they do.

The sandals aren’t really Sindhi. I’m pretty sure they sell them all over Pakistan. But I’ve never actually bought them anywhere other than the Sindh. Not only that, but all the memories associated with them take me back to my years growing up in the Sindh, playing in the streets with friends and running around in my blue chapals. They’re just one little reminder of the fact that, although almost everything about me makes me look like I should be a Canadian, my silly blue sandals make sure that something about me is always a little different. I just hope they keep making these sandals, because if they ever stop, I’m not really sure what I’ll do.

Perfect Imperfections

While I was home in Hyderabad, some family friends and the boys of my family took a trip down to the Indus River. We don’t go out to the river very often. In fact, we usually just go to show it to people who are visiting at the time. This time, as we drove out to the Indus and over the big barrage, it reminded me of earlier days — of the times we would go as a family, to a swimming pool further down the road. We would load into the car with our towels, books and toys and drive down the familiar road, enjoying the cool breeze. Once there, we would switch into our swim trunks in the neglected change rooms, watching the wasps closely as they buzzed around the warm window, or hid themselves in the cracks of the doorways to the toilets. Going to the bathroom was dangerous.

We would leave wet footprints all over the hot concrete around the pool as we made our leap into the water, calling for attention from our parents, who were trying to relax and read on the side. Around the edge of the pool were hollow, stainless steel railings, and we kids would go to opposite sides, shouting and making silly sounds through the pipes to each other, or would try to blow water from one end to the other. It never worked. In the very early days we could get food there — usually french fries or pop. I would always have a Fanta. I rarely do anymore. I think I’m afraid that it won’t be the same. The pool eventually changed management with the departure of the British engineers who had lived there, and over the years it became green and cloudy. More and more of the areas were closed, and when the bottom of the pool eventually disappeared into the emerald haze, we finally stopped going altogether.

There at the river, the dark blue water was low in the river bed, and a few of the gates on the barrage had been opened to allow the buildup of silt to be cleaned out of them. They too had suffered through years of neglect. The British may have left some negative marks in Pakistan, but their influence left some quality infrastructure behind. Unfortunately their departure has meant neglect and disrepair for many buildings and systems around Pakistan. The barrage is one of these. Climbing down the steep steps on the bank of the river, we made our way across the flat expanse of sand toward the thin channel that the Indus had become at that point in its journey. There it was still and quiet. The sun hung low in the sky, throwing small shadows over the ripples in the sand as we walked along.

I kept my eyes focused on the ground, falling behind the rest as I stooped to pick up two halves of a clam shell in the sand. I had forgotten that shells could be found in the riverbed. I suppose having only seen them in the ocean before, I didn’t expect them here. With the shells in my pocket, I continued along, keeping an eye out for more. Before long I found another, bending to pick it up from the sand. It was small, and as I ran my fingers across its surface, the outside of the shell flaked like old paint on a wall. It wasn’t nearly as big as the others and, with its peeling surface, I was just about to toss it back down into the sand when I stopped myself. I ran my thumb over its rippled flaking surface again. It was so imperfect — so perfectly imperfect.

Sure, it wasn’t large, or very smooth. It was small and simple. It had its imperfections. It wasn’t the picture-perfect shell I had been looking for, but that didn’t make it worthless. Did I really want a flawless, picturesque shell anyway? In some ways it was the fact that the imperfections existed that made it valuable. It was real. It was raw.

My experiences, my home, my life — have all been like that shell. They came with aspects that weren’t always perfect or pretty. They came with imperfections. Is Pakistan a bed of roses or the first choice for luxurious living? No, but I love it. It’s beautiful. That shell is beautiful too, with its patterned exterior peeling and chipping away. It’s beautiful, imperfections and all.

There was only one shell that came home with me in the end. I left the others to keep the smallest one. Now it sits in a little clay dish on my desk in my room as a reminder. Something doesn’t need to be perfect in life for it to be valuable. In fact, it rarely is. Life, experiences, places and people all come with issues and disappointments. Make the best of the them, because there’s beauty in the imperfections.