Brattleboro, Windham County
I fell in love with Vermont in October, 1961, when I arrived here to study at Marlboro College. I was a teenager, and it was my first foreign venture from my native Pakistan, where I had grown up in the Himalayan foothills very similar to Vermont. In the four years following my arrival, I became familiar with Southern Vermont and Brattleboro. I was welcomed by everyone and built lasting friendships. Vermonters were curious about the larger world and exotic cultures.
Most people who met me the first time thought I was either Puerto Rican or Afro-American, until I spoke, and then the confusion became worse, confounded with a strange accent. Sometimes when I said I was from Pakistan, some people thought I meant Palestine, but there was always good will and open curiosity. I put down deep roots in the community, and Vermont continued to remain in my heart when I went away for almost six years to Pakistan to begin a career in business.
When I returned in 1971, the country had become scarred by the Vietnam War, but Vermont remained unchanged though more foreign students and people of color had begin to trickle into Windham County, even some more Muslims and Pakistanis who found the same warmth and welcome I had known ten years earlier. A couple of years after my second coming I flew to Pakistan during Winter Break from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, married, and brought my wife back with me.
She too fell in love with Vermont, and Vermonters with her. A couple of years later, our first son was born here, but my wife had to battle an illness for an entire year. Subsisting on part time work depleted our savings, and we could not afford the medical bills. The doctors and hospitals wrote off the entire cost of treatment. This is Vermont generosity. But, we went off to make a living in Quebec, because the economic impact of the Vietnam War had been hard on the US economy
After a few years, we returned to our native Pakistan for 19 years, with memories of Vermont strong in our minds. When the three sons grew old enough to come to Marlboro College, we found the nest forlorn and followed them to Brattleboro. And now, we have decided to make this community our permanent home. It's been joyous finding quietude, friendship, peace, and welcoming during the past 15 years of immense upheaval and senseless wars our country has been involved in, with many Muslims and Pakistanis viewed with dark suspicion. But, our community has been protective, open and supportive.
Life hasnt always been a bed of roses. Suitable employment has been scarce and I have had to commute long distances, but we have preferred to live on less and be more frugal in order to maintain our home here. Most newcomers, like older Vermonters, will never be rich in material wealth, but there will always be just enough, and four seasons to nourish the soul.