I Feel My Roots

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| This is the 435th story of Our Life Logs |


There was a time when I scraped the dirt of the valley with my bare feet to make a home for a small hopeless seed. That was then, and then was long ago. Now—I water a tree as tall as a mountain.

-C.W.

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My city, Karachi, is simply magical. It’s one of the largest, most populated cities in the world and it is the economic hub of Pakistan. For a while, my family was right in the thick of it.

I was the second born of three kids in November 1988. My father owned a successful textile firm, we had a well-renowned background, and we were living a luxurious life. But sadly, a few years after my youngest sibling was born, father’s business suffered severe losses. It was like whiplash; one day we lived an upper-middle-class life, and the next, we couldn’t even afford milk for tea.

My father had no choice but to abandon the business. Once an employer, my father became the employee, working for others. My parents tried their best to cope with the rough situation, and the sacrifices they made for us were innumerable, but keeping up with bills and surviving became very difficult. Poverty entered our home and refused to leave.

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When I was four, my mother and father enrolled me in a local Urdu-medium government school. They wanted so badly for us to have an education, so we did. When I started, all my family could afford were old, torn textbooks and old school uniforms for us to wear.

If our shoes ripped, my baba (dad) would sew them back up for us. I had no pencil box, no cool stationery, and used school bags my mother found. Most of the times, our extended relatives and some of my baba’s friends helped to finance our textbooks. We couldn’t even afford fees and transportation. We used to travel miles and miles to reach our school.

You must think this life was very hopeless for my siblings and me. Well, that is simply not true. Torn shoe and weathered books are nothing. Hand-me-downs and stubby pencils are weak. They cannot stand up to the passion that my parents instilled in me—and did they ever. To keep our minds fresh with our lessons, my mother used to keep brown paper bags from the grocery so she could teach us math on them. We never had notebooks; all we had to practice on were those brown paper bags. For the materials that we could not find cheap, my father would journey to the local ragpicker and haggle for the items the picker snagged from people’s trash. For them, and for myself, I studied hard in school. In fact, their selflessness made me feel loved; it was like they believed with all their hearts that I was worth supporting.

This is to say that I was happy growing up. Happiness in such poor lifestyle INDEED was a blessing from God.

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What happened when I grew up a little? Due to limited resources at home, I innocently came up with a plan to help us make my family some money. My father used to bring home snacks for our school lunch when he had the chance. With the snacks he brought home, I set up shop outside our front door, placed a small wooden box in the mud, and started selling them. This was my way to help my family get by. I had no concept of “pocket money,” so I did not think to spend anything on myself. It was all for the people who did for me first. When I got a little older, I started selling goods in a small shop we siblings made ourselves at our door, including some embroidery work (a skill my mother taught me as an early teen). I quite enjoyed working, even when I was young. It was just how I was brought up.

Those from my extended family used to say to my baba, “If your children are too busy working, they won’t find success in education.” How could he respond to such a question? He had no choice but to send us to school with work. He was a brave man, and he had faith in God and his kids. He believed that his children would shine like a diamond despite the circumstances. He was right. Those challenges made me very brave.

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Time passed quickly, and I thrived, completing secondary school with all A’s. I was a hardworking and optimistic child with so many dreams in my eyes, wanting to attend college with all my heart. My mother made it her priority to seek ways in which to fund our university tuition, but sadly, it only led to a small sum.

When the people in my neighborhood heard of what I was trying to do, I remember how they turned up their noses. It’s the biggest issue in our society that poor families are discouraged to give their children more than a basic education because “They should be helping the family by working after that.” To an outsider, a long-term investment like higher education seems silly when a family can barely afford to put food on the table. They say, “If you can’t afford food, what’s the point of going to school?” What they’re really saying is, “You’re poor and you should stay poor.”

At that point in my life, I was tired of listening to what they say. I had spent many of my childhood summers selling small snacks at the shop to help my family survive. I worked, and studied during every free minute I encountered. The fact that we could not afford school fees is exactly why I wanted to go back. They did not get a voice in my success, because they did not have a footing in my struggle. I wanted to get out of poverty so I could get all my family out of poverty for good. I knew education would help get me there. So, steadfast, I remained.

The amazing thing was, miracles began to happen in our diligence. A few of my school teachers were aware of our financial issues and background and with their help, I was able to enroll in a local government college. My aunt financed my books and uniform, my school science teacher paid half of my college fee, and miraculously, Mother was able to pay the rest. If not for my people, I do not know what would have happened.

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While in college, I made the bold decision to change my schooling track in my final years. After 10 years of formal education being taught in Urdu, I decided to study in English. But let me tell you, I couldn’t afford a lot of the resources that were needed to make this medium change to English work easily. As a result, my overall percentage got lower than normal. The numbers began as a lump in my throat, but what could I do? I knew what I was taught; easy doesn’t guarantee a hearty harvest, and giving up doesn’t yield a harvest at all.

I did not let my circumstances dictate my chances of success, and consequently, the numbers did not reflect the good that followed. Choosing this path wound up benefiting me when I graduated because I found a primary school teaching opportunity in a well-known nonnative school and beat all the other candidates because of my English skills. And, about a year later, I was able to work at an international airport (which had NOTHING to do with my degree, I know), which allowed me to take on my family’s financial burdens when my father became sick.

These difficulties shook my foundation, but I remained unbroken. I am brave, remember?

After college I started dreaming to get professional qualification but it was also not a piece of cake. Huge funds and a full-time study were key to earning that degree. But I didn’t give up and strived hard to step into it. After some begging and pleading, I found a distant family member willing to finance half of my fees. I was beyond grateful and felt it was all a blessing from God once again. While still working at the airport, I earned a Master’s in Economics and obtained a professional qualification for the Associates of Cost and Management Accountants (ACMA) from the Institute of Chartered Management accountants of Pakistan (ICMAP).

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Today, I am Certified Management Accountant (CMA). I work with one of the biggest business groups of Pakistan, serving them in middle management in Deputy Manager role. I wear branded clothing and sit in a prestigious position where I manage others who respect me as I respect them. Today, I am watching my life from the mountaintops. And, when I think to my past, I raise my hand to the sky and say to God, I feel my roots and will never take my new life for granted.

 

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This is the story of Cidra Shar

Today Cidra is a professional chartered accountant in Pakistan. Growing up poor after her father’s business failed, Cidra’s parents still wished for her to get an international education (ICAEW). As she came to understand her family’s struggles, she decided she would get even higher education so she could find a more good position and help all of her family escape poverty. She learned that no matter what obstacles come your way, you must not give up and not stop until you reach your goals. Cidra also writes occasionally and gives on and off financial consultancy as a freelancer. Cidra may have a super autocratic style now, but she is very humble to the poor. She doesn’t call them by their name but as “Sir” or “Madam” out of respect for she knows their hardship and efforts. She believes such members of society are truly worthy for respect.

 

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This story first touched our hearts on August 29, 2019.

| Writer: Cidra Shar | Editor: Colleen Walker |

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To protect the privacy of the storyteller and those involved in this retelling, some of the names may have been changed. (1)

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