As I mentioned in my last blog, I came to the United States in 2012 as a young and naïve fifteen years old. When I came here, I had no idea what to expect and what to look forward to. The only thing that I knew I had to do was to get an excellent education, so I could go back to my home country and pay my dues of serving the community. Six years ago, serving my community was just an idea; an abstract thought that I perceived to be beyond myself. So, I memorized what I wanted to tell people when they asked me about my future, i.e., go back and serve my country. Six years later, my idea of serving the community has changed and so have the sentiments behind it. In these six years, the fifteen years old in me has grown into an adult who has yet to learn what it means to live life fully and be a model civilian. But! the twenty-one-year-old in me now (somewhat) knows what a fully functioning society looks like and what it means to serve the community. All thanks to my wonderful experiences in the US.
My first experience with US politics and election was when Barack Obama was running against Mitt Romney in 2012. Don’t worry, I am not going to talk about politics here. I have a point that I’d like to make. Anyway…the 2012 election was not only my first ever US election experience, it was also my first ever realization on how individual voices have a collective strength in them. I found that out watching my host dad come home every night, filling me in on the status of different candidates’ campaign, the number of hours he (my host dad) volunteered at his preferred candidate’s campaign, and the amount of money he donated to it. All of these seemed crazy and quite overwhelming to me. I had never seen people being so immersed and involved in politics!
You see, in Pakistan, politics is all about arguing with the people who have different opinions than you. It’s hardly ever been about caring enough to listen and being a better citizen, which is why not many people like to associate with politics. Volunteering for a campaign or at a rally is almost never heard of! (Maybe I am generalizing, but overall, it’s quite true.) So, my idea of participating in politics was limited and ignorant.
The day of the election in November 2012, I can’t tell you how much that day meant to me. I saw the excitement and anticipation in every one’s eyes. People everywhere in the US were constantly reminded to go vote. Those who had already voted that day were showing off their “I voted” stickers. You should have seen my host dad! He was running around and volunteering in different places. The atmosphere was just like no other; it was something else!
The meaning of politics and elections for me has forever changed because of that day. My host dad’s caring about elections made me realize what a blessing we were taking for granted: democracy is participating in an election without intimidation, that’s what makes a democracy a democracy! How can I ignore the fact that Pakistan was under martial law for many decades? I am not saying it was good or bad, I am just saying, imagine not voicing your opinions about the government or worse, not voting when you can! That’s what it made me realize.
Now I understand, charity begins at home! As a service to my community, my first obligation is to be an active member of the society by performing my civil duties, like voting or voicing my concerns when needed. Perhaps this is what makes America one of the most successful countries in the eyes of the world. It may have its issues, but at least most of the civilians try to perform their basic civil duties. And that’s beautiful. That deserves to be respected!
If you are wondering what made me think of the US election in the middle of July, the answer is simple and obvious to many Pakistanis around the world. Pakistan is having its General Election on July 25th, the day when the public decides who gets to be the Prime Minister of Pakistan for the next five years! Whatever the outcome of the election may be, I’d like my fellow Pakistanis to just go out and perform their civic duty of voting!
As my time in the US comes close to the end, my goal for the future is to be a better civilian, to be a better participant of the democracy that I live in, doesn’t matter if it is in my home country or anywhere else in the world. And maybe one day everyone will try to do just that and that might be just enough to lead the world into inevitable peace. Here’s to world peace! See you in the next one.
Nelofar Sultan from Pakistan is a senior studying English for New Media at Dakota State University in Madison, South Dakota.