For Mahomet’s Zainab Susi, the change is more than the obvious one.
Until last week, she spoke with her two oldest sisters on an almost daily basis.
Now, she sees them every day.
The closeness of the family is the overriding reason for the changes.
Susi’s sisters, Saeeda Susi and Sultana Mumtaz, have lived their entire lives in Karachi, Pakistan in the same home where they and five total sisters were raised.
For 13 years, Zainab Susi has filled out paperwork and waited — followed by filling out more paperwork and more waiting — in an effort to get two of her sisters permanent visas to live in the United States.
The women arrived on Monday, July 24, at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport with all of the possessions they now own crammed into two suitcases apiece, none of which could weigh more than 50 pounds.
“I brought what was important for me,” Mumtaz said.
They arrived knowing one person in Illinois (sister Zainab) and not much more English.
They arrived with smiles and, Saeeda said through Zainab’s interpreting, “a better life for me.”
Added Sultana: “I am ready to face upcoming challenges.”
When Zainab immigrated in 1989, she was a newlywed and the process took nine months.
For her sisters, the quest to relocate to the United States began in 2004.
“The immigration process is separated in terms of priority,” Zainab Susi said, “I had an idea it would take a long time. The sister/brother immigration visa is the last in the category.”
Even for the most devout believers, it was a trying experience.
“Here and there, I did lose my faith, but my sisters gave me strength,” Saeeda Susi said. “I knew it was just a matter of time before my sisters and I would be reunited.”
Mumtaz remained positive throughout the years.
“I had faith in my sister (Zainab),” Mumtaz said. “Knowing her personality, she is persistent and there is no way that she would have ever given up.”
Though the sisters have known for some time that everything was in the works and looked promising, last November’s election of Donald Trump as President provided anxious moments. He has imposed a travel ban to and from some countries and has spoken especially harshly about Muslim countries.
“I was very concerned,” Sultana Mumtaz said.
Zainab Susi recognized the potential for their efforts to go for naught.
“I was not worried about their immigration status changing because their process started a very long time ago,” she said, “but I was worried about a potential travel ban on Pakistan because it is a Muslim country.
“That would have affected when they would have been able to come to the U.S.”
The women don’t have visions of grandeur in their new land.
“I wish and hope to have a safe and peaceful life,” Saeeda Susi said.
Their first-week impressions of America are all good.
“Compared to Karachi, Mahomet is very quiet,” Sultana Mumtaz said. “It’s a lot more tranquil and calm.
“Karachi is very commercial and loud. It’s nice and peaceful here.”
What was packed in their suitcases was not necessarily all that they intended to bring.
“I wanted to bring pots (for cooking), but it was overweight and I gave them to relatives,” Sultana Mumtaz said. “What I took was based on weight.”
In addition to the essentials such as clothing, pictures and jewelry, they brought gifts for relatives who live either in the United States or Canada.
“I wanted to bring more,” Saeeda Susi said, “but I didn’t have space.”
For now, all three women are living in Zainab Susi’s east-side Mahomet home.
“We all need time to transition to a new reality,” Zainab Susi said.
“Maybe down the road, they will choose to find another home nearby.”
In Pakistan, Sultana Mumtaz did nursing-type work.
“I got free medicine from UNO (United Nations Organization) and Unicef that were then distributed among poor people,” she said.
At a clinic, she did vaccination shots for measles and provided liquid drops for polio.
“It’s an ongoing process,” Mumtaz said, “from newborn to 5 years, it was every month.”
She wants to go to school and “get more education,” and would like to continue working in a health-related field.
“I have many years experience,” she said. “I hope to do the same kind of job.”
Saeeda Susi was a homemaker who did cooking, cleaning and cared for children.
Her trip marked the first time she had flown.
“I was excited for the plane and a new journey,” she said.
The adjustment is going well, though Sultana Mumtaz will soon undertake a long-term project of her own.
Her anxiety about her new life is that she had to leave her oldest daughter (31) in Karachi.
Her youngest daughter, Zaib Mumtaz, lives in Canada with her husband, Atif Ahmed, and they were part of the welcoming party last week in Mahomet.
“I had no fear of leaving (Pakistan),” Sultana Mumtaz said, “but I was not comfortable leaving my daughter.”
She will now start the same process that her sister, Zainab, began more than a decade ago for her sisters in hopes of getting her own daughter a permanent visa.
Her advice for others thinking about immigrating is to do so without regrets and to look ahead instead of back.
“Starting here might be difficult,” Sultana Mumtaz said, “but don’t think about going back.
“Don’t forget where you come from. Stay connected with the family and friends you leave behind.”
In addition to writing columns for the Tolono County Star and the Mahomet Citizen, Zainab Susi works as a teacher’s aide in Urbana School District 116.
She also helps teach Tae Kwon Do to more than 30 students twice a week at the Central Illinois Mosque and Islamic Center, in Urbana.
Nearly a week after her two sisters set foot on American soil, Zainab Susi’s face was still beaming.
“I waited for this day for 26 years,” she said. “It’s never too late for anything.”
She’s not the only one who feels that way.
“It’s like a dream come true,” Sultana Mumtaz said.
The family’s other two sisters includes one who lives in Virginia with her husband and one who has children and grandchildren in Karachi and elected to stay in her homeland.
Through communication systems, the distance seems shorter.
Zainab Susi said the sisters will remain close.
Like she did when Saeeda and Sultana were still in Pakistan, “we will FaceTime, call or text almost every day.”
Fred Kroner, who covered sports for the News Gazette until his retirement in 2016, is now the editor of the Mahomet Citizen. Fred, who grew up in Mahomet, enjoys spending time with his wife, who also recently opened Lucky Moon Pies and More.