I miss the sound of the rickshaws, buses, motorbikes and car horns as I clench onto my seat with no seatbelt on, the fear and high blood pressure I get when I experience the whizzing of the cars in congested traffic and the lack of control I have as my driver takes the wheel.
I miss the outdoor and non-airconditioned underground markets, the smell of the dust which sticks to the sweat on my supple skin as I walk with shopping bags in my hands and negotiating with local sellers fluently in my mother-tongue, Urdu.
I miss the side-road paratha rolls, deep-fried in used oil, brought straight to my car, the succulent barbeque kebabs and masala-filled tikkas, spicy papri chaat from small cafés and the smoked tandoori Karak chai given to me by my jeweller every time I visit his store.
I miss being invited to weddings regardless of whether I know the bride and groom, sipping through a straw my Pepsi in a glass bottle, feeling the unique-tasting fizz in short bursts and the smell of fresh jasmine as I wear my handcrafted flower bangles bought from a road-side vendor.
I miss the patriotism and hospitality of the people, the incredible culture and heritage, the polluted, hot air, the hustle and bustle of the streets and the opportunities to show small acts of kindness as someone knocks on my car window, even though I don’t miss the poverty and class divide.
I miss wearing shalwar kameez with matching chiffon dupattas, buying unique fabrics, embroidery and embellishments, designing my own custom-tailored clothes and being able to wear any colour under the sun without judgement of being too bright or over-the-top.
I miss the sound of the sewing machines as I complain to my darzi that he stitched my outfit wrong, feeling out of place in an upper-class hair salon whilst having my hair blowdried and hiding the fact that I am British so that I am not overcharged.
I miss the United Bakery chocolate fudge cake, the best I have ever had in my life, the tastiest chicken club sandwiches, Pakistani biscuits found in every grocery store, the juicy mangoes, freshly cut chikoo, seasonal kinnow, my Nani’s homemade malai paratha and chai made with EveryDay milk powder.
I miss the sweet paan handed out at every qawwali evening and the countless desserts, the gulab jamun, matka kheer and halwa which I wish I never rationed on in an attempt to control my weight because I was too conscious that everyone thinks I’m too ‘healthy’.
I miss standing on the rooftop feeling the cool summer breeze whisking against my skin, sitting on the front lawn on plastic garden chairs whilst drinking chai with my family, wearing a shawl to protect myself from the menacing mosquitoes and listening to the birds chirp in the background.
I miss hearing the beautiful call to prayer, five times a day, no matter where I am, placing a dupatta over my head as a sign of respect and the sense of spirituality invoked inside me and in the seemingly unsafe city, the sound of the whistle of the guard who patrolled at night.
I miss seeing the value of respect shown to elders, the importance of family, the strong sense of community, and the love, hugs and support given through the good and the bad, knowing that, whether there is a wedding, party or a funeral, everyone I know will be there.
I miss going to amazing restaurants, in particular for the Pakistani adaptation of Chinese food, being able to visit food places in the middle of the night during Ramadan before beginning our fasts and being taken to Pizza Hut because that was the supposed elite place to take guests.
I miss sleeping on a Moltyfoam mattress on the hard floor under a thick floral blanket in an ice-cold air-conditioned room, experiencing the unique eerie scenarios which turn into haunting jinn stories as great party conversations and the sound of the creaking jaali doors which keep the lizards out.
I miss the voices of vendors trying to make a living, the side road masala chips in a makeshift box made from old Tesco freezer food packaging, even though there is no Tesco in Pakistan and buying my favourite childhood hard-boiled Candyland Cola and Fanty sweets.
I miss staying up gossiping with my cousins all night then waking up late the next morning, playing Jenga or Carrom, fitting ten people in a small car when bazaar-hopping, afternoon naps and looking through metal trunks filled with my mother’s old clothes to see what treasures we could find.
I miss sitting with my grandfather as he would enthusiastically show me all the videos he had collected on his computer, sitting with my grandmother every evening to watch the latest TV drama and the intense dance practices with my cousins for the next upcoming family wedding.
I miss the love shown to me by all my loved ones, attending our family Eid brunch and receiving eidi from my elders, visiting countless houses within a day being forced to eat food at each and the culture of sitting together around the dinner table for every single meal.
I miss the shining pure silver handicrafts, the wooden carved furniture, the truck art designs on taxis and buses, the unique architecture of tourist sights and residential housing, the curved staircase in my uncle’s house and the iron front gates locked by the houseboy at night.
I miss going to shopping mall food courts wearing an assortment of colourful glass bangles, playing games in Sinbad even as an adult, carrying two phones: a phone with a Pakistani sim card and my UK phone, and connecting to Wifi at every place I visit.
I miss chatting with the housemaid, teaching her English as she swept the marble floor, I miss someone offering to iron my clothes even though I insist on doing it myself and the commentary I receive from my pedicurist who superstitiously believes the mole on my left foot is an indication I travel a lot.
I miss being able to visit my second home every year, having no restrictions, booking tickets, travelling to Pakistan whenever I want, the person I am when I am there and spending my vacations leading an alternate life where I truly switch off.
I miss the feeling I have when I arrive at Karachi airport, the feeling of knowing I am home, the adrenaline rush as I run to baggage claim knowing that at any moment I will be outside ready to live my Pakistani life and the excitement I have to see all my family who I haven’t met for so long.
It’s true what they say, you only appreciate what you have once it‘s gone.