From June 29 to July 9, my younger sister Anita and I went to Toronto, Ontario, with my aunt, uncle, and their 2 children for my cousins wedding. This was the first time I attended all parts of a traditional Pakistani/African wedding of such a close family member, and it was one of the BEST vacations I have ever had in my entire life.
Arriving there was a bit hectic, since we flew from Atlanta to Buffalo and then drove from there, and it didn’t help that my uncle decided to take a “break” at two in the morning that ended up unexpectedly lasting all night. On our way there, we also stopped by one of their old family friends houses for dinner, which was fun because they were such a great family, but we ended up making it to the wedding house an entire day late. Either way, I loved the city as soon as I got there.
Toronto is a very clean city compared to Atlanta, but it’s people are what set it apart from the U.S. the most. They are very active walkers with a lot less junk food varieties and fast food restaurants available in the states. They are also really laid-back and relaxed compared to people here; they don’t seem to always be stressed, worried about money, or in a rush to get to the next thing. Most of all, they are friendly. Everyone I met was a good, friendly, person who smiled and made eye contact and gave off a positive vibe. Even their dressing style was a bit different, although I can’t quite put my finger on specifics. My cousin Saif, the groom, actually took the time out of his very busy schedule to take Anita and I to a Canada Day celebration with fireworks, food, games, rides, and live music (where I was front row to see, talk to, and take a picture with Jesse Labelle)!
To my extremely pleasant surprise, Toronto also has a very large Ismaili population with at least 20,000 Ismailis and over 30 Jamatkhanas, including established Khane’s as part of some of the city’s top Universities. The Jamat had many Ismaili’s of East Asian/Chinese and African descent as compared to the primarily Pakistani and Indian backgrounds of Ismaili’s in the U.S. Because of this, the style, culture, and even the rituals inside of the Jamatkhana’s were a little different than what I am used to, but it was wonderful to be exposed to so many more of my Ismaili brothers and sisters with a bond that cannot be explained to anyone outside of this Shia Imami Ismaili Muslim faith. I was also incredibly lucky to have gone at the perfect time to attend the Khushyali Dandia celebration where all the Ismaili’s in Toronto gathered in one place to celebrate Imamat Day!
However, the best part about the entire trip was my family. Each family member I encountered, and especially my first cousins from both my mom and my dad’s side, went out of there way throughout our time there to make sure that we felt comfortable and cared for–I have never felt more loved in my life, other than by my own immediate family. We only have two cousins on my dad’s side, Salman who is 26 and Karim who is 21, and it would be more appropriate to call them my brothers. It was great to go out and eat Chinese Indian cuisine and home-cooked biryani (Yum!), and I loved the movie night consisting of two of the best movies I’ve ever seen, but the part that felt most like “home”, was the home video presentations they had prepared of us growing up together in Dallas, Texas. My only wish is that we could’ve spent more than one day/night with them.
The house I stayed at during the rest of the trip was actually the groom’s house, which was all family on my moms side. Every morning, 20-30 adults and children would come over and we would all talk and laugh and eat and listen to very loud Indian wedding music all day long. Sometimes, we would go out and about to explore the city, and in the evening we would obviously have the wedding festivities. The first day of festivities was Mehndi, where someone came and did beautiful Arabic style henna tattoos on everyone. The next day was the Pithi, where we performed the designated rituals, EGGED/WHIPPED CREAMED/MUSTARDED the groom, and of course ate and danced the night away. The only thing I can say about the actual wedding in Jamatkhana, in accordance with the Ismaili council and government of Toronto, was that it was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. That is all. We also had a wonderful reception that night and Greek buffet brunch the next day, for which a lot more people came and of course, and we all again danced the night away.
Since the main purpose of this whole vacation was the wedding, I feel it necessary to mention the bride and newest addition to the family, Ceisin (yes, a unique and beautiful name with a great story behind it). She is so beautiful, inside and out, and one of the smartest and kindest people I have ever met. She volunteers a lot, has a great family and life of her own, and has known Saif for 23 years; I could not have chosen a better bride for such a great cousin and person myself, and I couldn’t be happier for the two of them!
As amazing as this trip was, there was also some bad that I guess you could say balanced it out. There were two things that happened, one on my mom’s side of the family and one on my dad’s side, that really shook my faith in humanity even though they did not have anything to do with me directly. This, in combination with the responsibility of caring for my sister and her problems, was really stressful and scary and took quite a toll on me. However, after praying about it and writing about it and talking to my mom about it (the one person I know I can trust), I remembered that there will always be bad within the good, but that struggle is the meaning of life and it is what makes us human. As long as I know who I am and what my life is all about in my faith and God, I know that life is short and everything will be okay.
On our way back home, my aunt and the family all actually woke up at 5am just to leave early so they could take ME to see Niagara Falls, because earlier in the week I was upset that they went to see it without me. I didn’t get to spend much time there, but the just the thought of them being so considerate to go out of their way just for me was one of the most satisfying feelings ever. Here are a few more pictures that will be able to speak louder than any words I have to say. What I will say is that I can’t WAIT for the next family wedding to go back to Toronto!