Updated: Jul 7, 2020
| This is the 195th story of Our Life Logs |
When I was a child, I would walk the streets of Lahore, Pakistan, while staring at the dusty pavement below. I did not want to look around. I did not want to see the screwed-up faces of the other children who called me “inbred” or wailed with laughter at my “funny appearance.” I had no idea what made them so mean. My reflection wasn’t hideous and I was no monster. Many times, I would cry to my oldest guardian Rani, demanding answers to my questions. Rani would comfort me and listen, but only said, “I will tell you when the time is right.”
I do not know when I was born. All I know is that I was very small when my parents abandoned me, that I then began living with five other people (my guardians) who were just as despised as I was, and that my guardians began to call me “Nomi.” Since I have lived in this community for about 30 years, I figure that I am about 35 years old now, born in Lahore, Pakistan in the 1980s.
I found out what made me different when I became a teenager. I started to feel weird about myself as puberty changed my body in both feminine and masculine ways. This physical rite of passage had morphed me into an outsider. And when I looked at my guardians, I knew why I belonged. I, too, was a member of Pakistan’s transgender community, which consists of people who are intersex, cross-dressers, or those who are born with the incorrect gender. When I was about 14, Rani felt that the time was right. I was told how my life would change, how I would face never-ending hatred, I would forever be non-significant, and I would dwell with my guardians in our compact home until I died. I remember how my tears fell down my face like two sacred rivers. This was my fate.
I have lived a very impoverished life, we all have actually. People refused to give us jobs and begging never made enough money for us. At the end of the day though, we somehow always managed to eat to our fill.
A transgender here in Pakistan is called a Khusra, peerlessly famous for the amusement they provide to people. Yes, that is what we do, we dance and clap at functions which, for some particular reason, is an amusement to the audience. Still, it is work. In my life, I have found that one’s dignity does not fill an empty stomach. So, my community has continued to bear the humiliation.
My guardians and I have been taken advantage of in more ways than just dancing. I have been assaulted and tortured by many men on multiple occasions. I never told anyone and never went to the police because many of them were corrupt and assaulted transgenders too. They know that we are vulnerable, that our lips are sealed.
Despite the hardships, I cherished the happy moments that happened. I remember crisp evenings in which I would dance and sing with many other people like me in the safety of our communities. I remember how boldly we would clap our hands without a fear of tomorrow.
Though I did not have formal education, Rani was my teacher. Rani taught me how to cook and prepare extravagant meals, and I got quite good at it. What Rani did not show me, I learned from television. While adding spices to a boiling pan, I was no longer dejected, I was magnificent. Every day after I finished dancing and begging, I would go home and prepare a meal for my guardians. Life was very difficult, but in these small moments, I smiled.
After about 25 years of begging and dancing for people, I longed to earn a good living and pay Rani back for all she had done for me. I knew who I was, and I believed in myself. However, when I applied for the janitorial jobs at parlors, offices, and malls, I was rejected by every single one. I even applied for a cooking job, but again I was rejected. For two years I received rejection from every business or small store I tried. During those years, it became harder to hope.
Many members of my community urged me to give up. They told me to accept the fate that patterned my life. Thankfully, my heart told me to keep trying, and that was the voice I listened to.
One day in 2015 while begging in the sun, I stopped under the cool shade of a tree near a traffic signal. I was tired of rejections and hateful words from people that brought tears to my eyes. It was all too much. I could have never imagined that anyone in their car that had stopped at the signal would notice me.
However, one lady did. She got out of her car and came to me. She patted on my shoulder and asked me what the matter was. I was too shocked to answer at first because I had never witnessed such kindness, and ever more, from a woman who was in her 50s, beautifully dressed in sophisticated clothing.
When I finally believed that it was all real, I told her the reason behind my sorrow. She pampered me in such a way that I forgot all my worries. She asked me to stop crying and gave me her contact number and told me to call her. She told me that her name was Saima Jee. I did not know who she was or why she wanted to help me, but she saved me that day. She was an angel, bringing me comfort in my darkest hour.
I went home and told Rani what had happened. She was surprised but excited and insisted that I call this woman without any further delay. Since we did not have a phone, I went to the nearest phone booth to call her. I was afraid that she might not recognize me, but to my surprise, she did. She asked me to visit her during her office hours. I found out that she was the principal of a government school not very far from where I lived.
When we met in her office, she asked me about my capabilities and what I was genuinely good at. I told her that I loved to cook. Without any further inquiry, she declared that I would be their new cook for the school canteen. I could not believe it! The salary was better than I expected, and for the first time in my life, I was being offered money for something other than begging and dancing. Saima Jee gave me respect that nobody had ever given me. She is an amazing woman and I was overwhelmed and speechless by her kindness.
This was a splendid news for my family, and of course, Rani wore the happiest smile. We celebrated and danced and enjoyed. Good days were coming for us.
I am a part of the transgender community, and I feel no shame in accepting this reality. Others are like me too, abandoned and despised by their respective families, but if the world has more people like Rani and Saima Jee, maybe it won’t have to be that way anymore.
The reason why I never gave up is because God makes ways. I enjoy my work and make hard-earned money now. I did not blame God for making me what I am because at least I am still alive. Why should I mourn over something that is not in my hands? I am living a happy life; a life worth struggling for.
This is the story of Nomi Bibi
Nomi now lives a better life than she was living before, working as a cook and living with her clan and Rani. At age two, Nomi was given up by her parents and raised by the transgender community which is a highly mistreated group in Pakistan. She had no idea why she was abandoned or how she fit into the community until she hit puberty and it all fell together. As she got older, she decided to search for a job despite the discrimination she faced and eventually found kindness in a woman who offered her a job. Nomi enjoys her life and now makes ample money for her community. Her miseries might never be compensated, but she has always taken life as a challenge and never gave up on it. The government hasn’t done much to help the transgender community except in 2014, the transgender community were issued identity cards. Before then, they were considered identity-less. Because Nomi does not have a last name, her ID card reads: Nomi Bibi. “Bibi” means “lady” in her local language. After years of discrimination, the identity cards were a step in the right direction, but the country has a long way to go. Nomi lives as a proud transgender today and hopes that her people will get equal treatment someday.
This story first touched our hearts on October 24, 2018.
| Writer: Noor Pasha | Editor: Kristen Petronio; Colleen Walker |