By Kehkashan Jamil (YES 2021-2022, Pakistan, placed by PAX in Cottonwood, AZ)
I am Kehkashan Jamil, a YES student from Pakistan, placed in Cottonwood, Arizona with the Elm family. On August 6, I was greeted in the airport by my host dad; he brought me some drawings that his daughter, my host sister, had drawn to greet me.
My exchange year has been really great so far, but something special that I already got to do is share an important holiday with my host family. Pakistan's Independence Day is August 14, so I knew that even before I arrived in Cottonwood, I would get to celebrate it with my host family. I wanted to share everything that I am used to doing with my natural family with my host family. On August 14, we all woke up early in the morning, had breakfast, and my host family asked me to play songs that Pakistani people listen to on their Independence Day. Then, I gifted my host sisters and mother some traditional Pakistani jewellery and clothes. I gave my host mother a hand-sewn shawl and my host father ajrak, a famous type of cloth in my city. I got dressed up in white shalwaar kameez and a green dupatta. The two colors, green and white, symbolize the colors on the Pakistan Flag. Green represents the Muslim majority and white represents the non-Muslim minority.
With the help of my host sisters, we decorated the house with small flags and assigned a photographer to take some pictures of the family. Later, I made a dessert of vanilla custard and green jello to represent the colors of my home country's flag. I also applied henna to my hand and to my host sisters' and mother's hands.
Then, my host family decided to take a road trip down to Sedona and Flagstaff from Cottonwood. We made a few stops and I got to see so many different, old mountains such as Thunder Mountain. We even stopped at an Indian jewelry shop, where I got to buy some accessories. I also found out that turquoise gemstones and cacti are very common here.
Celebrating Pakistan's Independence day feels like an ordinary occurrence in Pakistan even though it reminds us of the hardships of our leaders. I am thankful that I was able to celebrate Independence Day here with my host family because it not only made me feel that it is an important occasion to celebrate but also how it actually feels to celebrate freedom with someone whom you just met.