Goodbye Los Angeles! Hello Karachi!

A couple of months ago, a friend took me to the Business Network International event in San Fransisco Bay Area where everybody gathered for networking. Someone came up to me and asked, “what business do you do?”

“None!” I replied.
“Do you work for someone then?”
“No. I don’t!”
“Do you plan to start something then?”
“Nope.”
“Where is home for you?”
“I am actually homeless!”

She shook her head in disbelief and excused herself.

I wasn’t lying. I have been homeless. Not once, or twice, but thrice in my life.

Me at the age of 10.

When I was 10, my dad beat me up so much that I ran away from home, vowing never to come back. I stormed out of our house and zoomed across the narrow streets of our Mohallah (neighborhood). I headed towards Lorry Adda (Bus Station) to catch the next bus leaving for Lahore so I could live as a free person. As I ran out of breath, I slowed down and eventually stopped running. When I looked right and left, it was business as usual at Chaubara Road, Layyah—street vendors pushing fruit carts; a Mashki (water carrier) with a large goat-skinned water bag strapped to his shoulder spraying water on the dusty footpath; and shopkeepers casually sipping tea outside their shops in the late afternoon light. I had barely covered the half distance to the bus stop when I realized I had no money. “Where will I sleep? What will I get to eat? What will I do without money?” I stood at the Layyah Minor Canal bridge for a while watching the water flow silently beneath the bridge. I couldn’t go ahead and instead wandered for a couple of hours.

As the hunger overtook me, my legs dragged me back home against my will. I sneaked into the kitchen and feasted upon zucchini curry with roti which mom had cooked earlier. Food had never tasted this good before. Then I went up to the roof, located an empty charpoy and lied down on it with a big sigh of relief. After that, I never ran away from home no matter how hard my elders beat me up. It was scary to even think of becoming homeless.

Presenting my journey at Baithak in LA. April 2019

It wasn’t much later in life that I became homeless for the first time in my life, albeit for different reasons. In 2015, I quit my job and apartment in Germany to travel the world by bicycle. For the next five years, every day of cycling, I would be asking the same questions I had asked myself a couple of decades ago, “where will I sleep? What will I get to eat? etc.” But somehow, the universe conspired to make things happen for me. Help came from strangers. I also learned to make myself home at abandoned places, in deserts, under trees, open skies, and under tiniest roofs, I could find.

When the Canadian winter caught me in fall 2018, and I had nowhere to go, my friend, Nasir sheltered me in his house in Mississauga for six months. I joined the gym, tried out new diet plans, played with his kids, and made a lot of friends in the Toronto area. During this time, I almost forgot that I was still on the journey. In Spring 2019, when I left his home to resume my journey north, I became homeless for the second time in life.

With my friend Nasir and his family in Mississauga, Canada. April 2019

The far-flung roads of Canada and Alaska were my new home, a place I shared with bears and other wild animals. Every night, it was an adventure pitching the tent at a new place. In the morning, it would take me a few seconds after waking up to remember where I was. When I finished my bicycle journey to Alaska in August 2019, instead of flying back to Pakistan, I flew to LA upon the invitation of my dear friend Azhar Bhai. His friend Naveed Bhai had a vacant house where I stayed for quite some time before moving to Azhar Bhai’s home. Azhar Bhai and his wife Farah Bhabi took me everywhere, be it birthday parties, dinners, talks, or fundraisers of all sorts. We went to music rehearsals, meditation sessions, and movies. We had musical evenings at their house against the backdrop of Los Angeles. Though the couple has two adult sons, it was as if they had adopted me as a new family member. I cycled the JoshuaTree National Park with their son Daniyal.

With Yaroo and Zojja in LA. February 2020.

They have the most beautiful German shepherds in the world—Yaroo and Zojja. With them, I became a dog too. I played and went for walks with them in the afternoon. Through the big windows of their house, I could look at the expansive view of Los Angeles for hours. Every time, my eyes would trace the mountain skyline at the horizon.

A musical evening with Mala Gangly at Azhar Bhai’s place. December 2019.

In LA, all my cycling plans went to the back burner. I read books, took dozens of courses on lynda.com, visited film schools even though I had no money for tuition. Meanwhile, I had long and countless discussions with Azhar Bhai about possibly every topic on life. In him, I found a teacher who had a great influence on me. He introduced me to the world of non-profit work. We recorded songs and created videos, presentations, websites, ads, designs posters, flyers for upcoming fundraisers. He and Farah Bhabi supported me in everything. My heart is full of gratitude for them and many others who have been so kind to me.

A music demo to Emu (Füzon).
With Hassan in LA. February 2018.
A view of LA from Griffith Observatory. February 2018.

I loved the LA sunshine. I loved the breeze, the blue sky, and the rain. I loved the Pakistani community here. It became my most favorite place along the journey. In total, I spent about eight months in LA. It is the longest I have stayed anywhere other than in Pakistan and Germany. Before coming here, I didn’t know even a single person here. Now, I have a family in LA.

A very warm welcome to LA by Jamshed and his family. February 2018.
A musical evening with Ustad Shafqat Ali Khan. February 2018.

When finally it was time to leave, the world got hit by COVID-19 and everything turned upside down. Suddenly, nobody is talking about going to work, being productive, growth rate, or even pursuing dreams. From sports to entertainment, schools to offices, and mosques to temples, everything is shutting down. Coronavirus has rendered everything irrelevant. Oddly enough, Azhar Bhai’s house in LA is located at via Corona street.

Nothing else matters now, only survival. I had always had the impression that the common enemy to the human race would be some aliens coming from another planet. But our new enemy has come from our own planet. Most of us who grew up without experiencing the trauma of a major war, displacement, famine, or wide-spread pandemic diseases, we had started believing that we were in charge of the planet and that the whole universe revolved around us. If there is one thing that COVID-19 can teach us, it’s humility. How fragile we are even in comparison to a microscopic thing. It is a reminder that though we may be the superspecies on this planet, our existence and evolution from a single cell is nothing short of a miracle. We will always be vulnerable and at the mercy of mother nature.

Although, about 25,000 people die because of hunger every day, and about 14,000 due to poor healthcare, something we could do something about, the reason why we are so concerned today is because everyone’s life is in danger. Our new enemy doesn’t care if you are rich or poor. Unlike us, it doesn’t discriminate based on wealth, race or religion. This enemy will bring out the worst in us. Some people have already started to hoard critical supplies to exploit others later. But it will also bring out the good in us. After all, we have a common enemy and our survival is linked to the survival of others. We have to cooperate if we want to win this war. This is the only way to evolve. The largest quarantine in human history has given us a great opportunity for introspection, that we are all in it together. The Coronavirus is demonstrating what Climate Change will do to us in the future.

Take off from LAX airport. 19th March 2020.

Yesterday, I took the Qatar Flight from LA to Karachi via Doha with my bicycle on the plane hold. The journey to the Americas which began four years and two months ago finally came to an end. With people wearing surgical masks at the airports, I felt being in a hospital emergency ward.

When the plane took off at LAX airport, I left behind a part of me in the Americas—a part of me cycling somewhere on a long road leading to the horizon; or camping in the wide-open tundra in midnight sun; or, sipping tea at the terrace of via Corona Street watching friends smoke Sheesha and exhale clouds of smoke against the backdrop of the twinkling lights of LA. A part of me is still chasing two golden balls of fur, Yaroo and Zojja, in the sunset rays.

And when I left LA, I became homeless again. This time, for the third time in my life.

Group photo with Azhar Bhai’s family. 19th March 2020.

At Karachi airport, the immigration officer checks the expiry date of my Pakistan Origin Card and flips pages of my passport.

“Where are you coming from?” he asks.

“Los Angeles,” I reply

“Wahan kya position hay? (What’s the position there?)”

“Koi position nahi hey meri (I don’t hold any position there!)”

He grins and says, “no, I mean to ask, how is the Coronavirus situation in LA?”

“Oh!” I smile sheepishly.

So long Los Angeles. So long Americas!
Hello Pakistan!

Arrival in Karachi. 21 March 2020 at 1:50 am.

41 comments

  • God bless you Kamran Bai, you live a long life, you are now global rather universal asset.

    • Kamran bhai..
      Wish you all the success in this life and beyond..
      Hope you got closer to Allah during your journey. There must have been so many right moments
      God bless.
      A p
      Pakistani from Dubai
      🙂

  • AsalamuAlaikum, Kamran Bai,
    Please delete my first comment because I have by mistake mentioned my ID and address details, and mentioned about internet blockade
    Sorry for inconvenience.

  • Thank you for your message straight from the heart. Sending you lots of love from Karachi. Stay safe! Lots of greetings to your mom.

  • Kamran Bai,
    Please delete this comment, by mistake I mentioned my ID and address details, and the internet blockade. Sorry for inconvenience, I thought it is going to your email.

  • Good to know that you are back home.
    Love to meet you somewhere someday.
    Lots of best wishes For your health.

  • May Allah be with you Kamran Bhai. I have been following your stories for quite some time now. Your story of being homeless reminds me of my homelessness when I traveled from Peshawar to Gawadar with nothing in my pockets. Just a handbag and 2 pairs of shoes. Its been about 8 years now since i have settled down in my life but deep inside my soul crave for that freedom and my soul chasing down the flock of brids along side the river Channab. Sadly i never documented any of this because it was more like a fortress of solitude for me.
    Whenever you visit Islamabad be my guest Kamran Bhai.
    “Khoob guzregi jo milbethenge dewane do”

  • I guess it must be the last flight back to Pakistan before CAA stopped its international flight operations.

    Welcome Home Kamran Bhai!

  • You are an inspiration for many. Those who wants to follow “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish” as a concept in life. You have transpired so many to believe in following your heart and it will surely take you the best destination. Good luck for your future endeavours. Welcome Home 🏠

  • Hello Kamran! Welome to Pakistan.
    I have been thinking since I have followed you, about your Job, martial status and other related life’s things that how do you manage all these. Even I assumed that you might have some sort of business in Pakistan and you’ve got people to run it for you. Anyhow, today I got all my answers.
    I think God returned you to Pakistan again to bestowed you now with Ghami Janan and Ghami Rozgar and I wish God fulfill it for you.
    Ameen!

    Regards:
    Kashee khan;
    Swat, Kpk pakistan.

  • Welcome to our city

    I have been following you since your first journey from Germany to Layyah. Your photography and narration is amazing.

    How long are you staying in Karachi. Any chance to meet you?

  • Been following your awe inspiring journey and welcome you to Karachi, my hometown. Please reach out to me for anything related to the city at +923008555428, ideally on WhatsApp, for any assistance. If you are around longer than the lockdown, would love to take you out for lunch.

  • Kamran bhai, I missed the oppurtunity of meeting you. Today after reading this narration I got awared that you lived some good six months in my backyard. However, I am connected to you through your amazing stories. Yours pictures and specially narration of your experiences is too captivative. I wish someday we get to meet each other. May Allah protect you in these strange times. Take care of yourself and keep us posted for your further plans.

  • It is always such a treat reading your articles. It reminds me of the fact that there’s no bigger drama than reality itself, the life we live. We think we’re in control but actually we’re just walking on timelines that are already set for us

  • Bonjour and Welcome back to Pakistan Kamran Bhai!
    As Dr Shah from India wrote it, I had been following you too for all your adventure journey for the past 4 years now.
    I heard about your trip through a French newspaper called “Courrier International”.
    I have gone through all your Facebook posts and stories, I posted some on my wall (the last one “Thank you” from 12.10.2019 is not my favourite because of the end of this very interesting and instructive bicycle travel).
    You did a wonderful travel to the Americas, took impressive pictures and told us some wonderful stories on and off the road.
    It was a wonderful opportunity for introspection to know yourself better (go to the limit and beyond). Am really impressed, chapeau l’artiste !
    God bless you. long live to you and your upcoming projects.
    With best wishes and regards
    Arnaud Breitenstein

    • Thank you for your kind words. Lots of greetings to you and your family. Stay safe.

  • What an amazing journey Kamran bhai, so inspiring! My dream is to travel around the world, not having to care about financing or anything else and just enjoy life, just like you. It’s amazing to hear about all the people that took you in and accommodated you just out of love. I say once this coronavirus pandemic is done, get back to your journey and continue to enjoy your life. -Moiz from Mississauga

  • Your coming back home reminds me of thomas jefferson quote:
    “Peace is that brief glorious moment in history when everybody stands around reloading”.
    Though, there is no direct correlation but the Peace you have now is a brief moment until Corona is gone and you are up for a new journey. Best wishes for you Kamran Bhai!

  • I absolutely love the way you put life in your words. I hope your stay back home, will let you write more about stuff happening around. Welcome Home & Stay blessed.

  • I just love the way you bring your words into practice. I hope you’ll stay around, let you write more about things going on around you. Welcome Blessed Home & Live.

  • salam sir
    im from faisalabad
    i love to travel, recently done some mile in pakistan across khanjrab to gawadar and jewani border on car
    done a bit travel international too …
    would like to meet you, i could come to layyah if you are in pakistan
    regards

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