I am Pakistani, apparently

I wrote about Spice Corner in an earlier post, and I described the treat he gave me as a “three inch ball of a dense, fried dough, sweet and sugary.” I asked a friend of mine who was familiar with southern Asian cuisine and she told me that I most likely had gulab jamun. When I returned the other day, I didn’t realize that all of the items on the bakery shelf were labelled.

I ordered a pound of gulab juman (received a discount again) and then I thought to grab some pista barfi too. Barfi is simply condensed milk cooked with sugar and other ingredients. The other ingredient is usually a fruit – mangoes or coconut – or even a nut – cashews or pistachios. In my case, the pista meant pistachio. It is very dense and sugary – absolutely delicious. I recommend any flavor!

As I promised myself last time, I’d ask about some of the currencies next time I was in the store. After I paid and he handed me the treats, I leaned over and started to ask about the currencies. “So which currencies are these? I see you have Iraq right ther-” “And here is Pakistan. You are Pakistani, right?” “Oh, no no. I am not from Pakistan.” His face shuffled and he was staring at me as if I was lying or as if he was deeply confused. I smiled and left.

It wasn’t the first time that I have received a comment like that. A Muslim Pakistani man approached me on the train, swore I was both Pakistani and Muslim, and that he wanted me as a roommate. I would normally write that off as creepy, weird, but I was kind of flattered. Another time, I was in a touristy area and the shopkeeper was guessing where each of customers were from. “France?” She said to the people in front of me. “That’s right!” They replied. I laughed. “And, you! You are a Turk!” she exclaimed at me. “Oh, no, I am not a Turk.” “Where are you from, then?” “New York.” And then the conversation fizzled out.

Perhaps it is trivial, but I sort of take pride in these compliments. I am a Middle Eastern Studies (and Politics) major, so I think it is interesting to be considered as someone from there. But I don’t have a trace of any Middle Eastern country in my blood. I sort of thank my grandparents – who I resemble most in facial structure and skin tone – from coming from Italy, or even the Mediterranean. I know of another Italian friend who was thought to be Moroccan when she was in Morocco. She’s a little darker than me, but I can’t wait to travel around the region and see if I can blend in with the locals. They are sharp with Arabic dialects and origins, so I want to see how many I can confuse!

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