Where We’re From: Maria Sheikh

We all want a place to call home. A place where we fit in, feel loved and can put down roots. But home is so much more than a building or location. Home can be transient, on-the-go and span thousands of miles across the ocean. It is inside us and all around us, too. It is the life we create, the memories we keep and the people we love.

Here, people share their stories of what home means to them. While their experiences are different, many of their thoughts are the same: Home is what and where you make it.

Maybe home can be everywhere.

Even as a little girl, Maria Sheikh remembers a lingering feeling that she didn’t quite belong.

Born in Pakistan, Sheikh moved during her early years after her dad found work in Saudi Arabia. Though she has wonderful memories of a carefree and charmed childhood where Pakistani families lived in communities of their own culture and comfort, it was not her ancestral land. The religion was the same, but the language was different, as were some of the cultural norms. Early on, without consciously deciding to do so, Sheikh learned to create a home within herself, acknowledging and building on her thoughts, activities and internal associations. It was a home cultivated from the inside out. 

“There is a flailing involved in doing this, but also a freedom,” Sheikh says. 

Much of the life her family crafted was based on memories and senses. Home became the sights, sounds and smells of all the places they’d been. It was fresh jasmine every morning and marigolds and pink roses, flowers often used in family celebrations. It was the clothes they wore, the food they made and the books they read. Books were an escape into imagined worlds and experiences. Those things were home.

By her tween years, Sheikh was back in Pakistan. And in her late teens, she transplanted again, heading onward to America for education. Feeling uprooted and alone, Sheikh dug deeper into her spiritual roots and found connection there. She says God became her anchor, keeping her grounded while living big city life in Philadelphia, Miami and New York City, with her husband, Ahmad. 

When Ahmad was offered employment at Saint Francis Healthcare System in Cape Girardeau and they looked at the town, Sheikh was excited about the possibilities. With an active Islamic center, she could serve God and her community here. Plus, she fell in love with the library, and there was a bookshop within one mile of their home.  

Now, 14 years later, Cape Girardeau has become the city where they have lived longer than any other. It’s the city where they are raising four children. A city they call home. 

“I love the size, diversity and pace of life,” Sheikh says. “It’s not too fast and not too slow.”

Being an immigrant, Sheikh has learned to carry home inside herself and pair down what she actually needs. Immigration is a lifestyle that has been passed down from her grandparents, and the ability to preserve home has been passed down, too.

“You get a chance to really pollinate and mix and choose your own hybrid sense of lifestyle,” Sheikh says. “You take the best of what you’ve learned and see the best in your new situation. It’s what you do.”

And because of that, she can live anywhere. 

Currently, her family lives in a home they are renovating, and Sheikh jokes, “Home is the place you have to clean all the time.” But also, she believes, “Home is a space you can improve.”

Whether that home is within you or around you, Sheikh knows it’s a privilege to have the ability to do so.