Ice Breaker

Recently, I have been unmotivated to do anything that requires any kind of effort. I’ve been spending too much on things I don’t need and spending too little time on actually growing myself in any meaningful way.

I was given the opportunity to join Toastmasters recently and used it to push myself a tiny step towards doing something new. I signed up for my first ice breaker speech and spent several days trying to figure out what I wanted to say that would be sincere and meaningful. Eventually, I ended up writing the speech I delivered the day before the event. It is the most real thing I have written in a long time so I decided to share most of it here today.

To be more than you once were, you must know who you actually are now. We are all many things. We are daughters and sons, wives and husbands, mothers and fathers. We are skilled in some things and lacking in others. We all have hopes and dreams, disappointments and accomplishments, joys and losses. We are all one thing above all – people with stories exclusively our own. Mine is the story of many but it is also mine alone. I am a story teller and so I am here today to tell you my story.

My name is Sandahl. Most of the world knows me as Sandy. I think of myself as both but each name carries with it a different meaning.

The reason I decided to join Toastmasters was simple, self-growth. I wanted to challenge myself to do the things I dread most in order to grow. I asked myself if I had lost my mind as I signed up for this first speech. I know, however, that true growth only happens when we decide to step outside of our comfort zones.

I have always disliked being the Other, the Judged, the Outcast, the Unfit, the Lesser. Diferent. I think these are things we have all experienced in some way or another throughout our lives. My experience has been made more poignant due to my background and who I am as a person. As a second generation American raised by my Pakistani American parents both in the States and in Pakistan, I have had the unique experience and, to a certain extent, the trauma of being from two vastly different cultures at once.

You see, everywhere I went I was either ‘too much’ of something or ‘not enough’ of something else. I was too American in Pakistan and too Pakistani in the States. I was too fat or too thin. I was too soft spoken or too outspoken. I was too religious or too unscientific. I dressed too conservatively or I looked like a wanton harlot. I wasn’t studious enough or I studied too much. There was no happy medium and no pleasing everyone.

Growing up, the only language I could speak was English. This was a major problem when I moved to Pakistan. The culture shock was immense to begin with. I was a tomboy in an environment where girls simply were not allowed to be anything but very girly. I had been torn away from the only home I remembered and displaced into a third world country at the age of 13. I had gone from a place of freedom and wonderment to a place where my every action was judged and controlled. It was not an easy transition.

In Pakistan, I lived in the port city of Karachi. It is a vast and very populated city housing people from all over the world. There are customs there that are unlike anything you would find here. The food, the clothing, the way genders interact (or don’t), the modes of travel, the resources, and the everyday conveniences we all take for granted are either scarce or absent entirely. Weddings are big to-dos that last for days and are extremely fun to attend. Beautiful, elaborate clothing and lavish feasts mark many of the celebratory events. The Azaan, or call to prayer, rings through the streets five times a day every day. People’s experiences and expectations, the social norms, and the opportunities available there are much different from here.

When I first began school in Pakistan, I was bullied for being the idiot American who couldn’t understand a single word they said. Several minor incidents happened until one that pushed me over the edge. I wasn’t new to being bullied, the same had happened when I went to school in the States. I knew how to handle it and move on. Over time, I made new friends, became proficient in the language and assimilated.

I was wrenched away from the life I had built once more several years later. I landed in Houston over eleven years ago and haven’t returned to Pakistan since. I made a whole new life here. I had nothing but my wits and my family when I arrived and I worked hard to achieve everything I have today. Along the way, in order to assimilate, I gave up bits of Pakistani tradition. I also stopped wearing the Hijab because I wanted to fit in. I didn’t want to be Different.

I have managed to reconcile the cultures of my parents’ home country with my own. I am no longer too anything or not enough of anything. I am exactly what I am – an American Muslim with Pakistani roots. I have had everything from independence to revering and taking care of your elders drilled into me. I am privileged to both have the freedom to make the choices I wish and traditions unique to opposite sides of the globe to guide me in life. I am different, I am both Sandahl and Sandy, and I am proud of it.

My story has had many ups and downs, many difficult twists and many uplifting scenarios. I hope that with the beginning of this new chapter in my life, I will continue to write my story in a way that the ending will afford me no regrets. To quote one of my favorite shows, Doctor Who, “We are all stories in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?” 

After giving this speech, I was pleasantly surprised to discover I had touched many hearts and moved many people. I felt accomplished and freed. I had spoken about something most people either don’t understand or relate to completely. In so doing, I had consciously healed a part of myself that was often torn in two for the better part of a decade.

No matter what is to come, no matter who stays in my life or doesn’t, no matter where my choices lead me, I will always be the sum of all that I am now and have been before. This may seem extremely obvious but it is something I often tried to forget. I can no longer deny parts of who I am and where I’m from. Instead, I embrace them openly and proudly.

Though this hasn’t cracked the shell of emptiness and loneliness I often feel, it has given me some weird sense of peace. I hope all of you can embrace all the parts of you and move forward in the strength of knowing exactly who you are too.

Happy Saturday. Until next time, ciao.


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