By Rutbaa Ayaz Shaikh (YES 2021 - 2022, Pakistan, placed by AFS-USA in Phoenix, AZ)
At the beginning of October, my host mom and I went to Pennsylvania to attend her cousin’s wedding—my first ever American wedding! I have always wanted to see one; and I couldn’t wait to see the cutting of the cake and the bride walking down the aisle. Naturally, when my host mom told me we were attending a wedding, I was on cloud nine.
When we arrived at the wedding, we sat down and waited for the bride to arrive. The bride walked down the aisle, and the bride and the groom exchanged vows and their rings, both of them looking gorgeous. After the ceremony, we ate and danced late into the night. I especially enjoyed the traditional Pittsburgh cookie table, and it was so great to see what an American wedding looks like. From the love that I received that night, I learned about how accepting and welcoming people can be towards the newcomers in their community if you respect and participate in their celebrations and joy. A Pakistani and an American wedding may look poles apart, but one thing remains unchanged: both of them unite people on a dance floor, in the name of love and happiness!
Although Pakistani and American weddings are poles apart, they are both incredibly beautiful in their own way. Pakistani weddings usually last three days, which includes the Mehndi, the actual wedding day called a Shaadi, followed by a reception called a Valima. The bride dresses up in extravagant clothes, usually in a bright red on the actual wedding day, and the groom typically wears a Sherwani. On the day of Mehndi, the friends and families of the couple hit the dance floor and groove until their feet hurt. Pakistani weddings also consist of many traditional rituals performed by the bride and the groom, known as "Rasoomat"(رسومات). All in all, Pakistani wedding shenanigans are worth experiencing at least once. I believe that American weddings, on the other hand, are more on the simplistic side, and that's my favorite part about them. In my experience, the bride's white dress, the ring exchange, the cake cutting, and the speeches made by the bridesmaid and the best man were the stars of the show; each moment was heartfelt and emotional. And of course, just like you would at a typical Pakistani wedding, we hit the dance floor and danced until our feet hurt.
How this great wedding turned into a very memorable cross-country road trip is quite a story. Our flight to our home state got canceled, and the next flight wasn’t available for a couple of days. So what did we do? We drove from Pennsylvania to Arizona, a 30-hour journey. Kudos to my host mom and cousin for taking control of the steering wheel! At first, none of us were thrilled about this, but we decided to make the best out of our circumstances and experience the many sights across the U.S. Our first stop was at the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, a historical monument that celebrates the role of St. Louis in westward expansion. We continued across states like Missouri, Oklahoma, Indiana and finally reached Amarillo, Texas to sleep for the night. The following day, we continued our trip from Texas to Arizona, and crossed New Mexico, where I saw snowfall for the very first time. I remember how I jumped in the backseat when my mom exclaimed that it was snowing. We parked at a gas station and played with the snow for a moment before starting on the road again. As the brown plateaus, mountains, cacti, and the famous Four Peaks came into view, it indicated that home was nearer than ever.
This trip made me realize that things don’t always go according to plan, but as long as you are with the people you love, a supposedly miserable drive can turn into an amazing opportunity to make lifelong memories and explore places you have never seen before.