BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – This weekend, Shahzeb Anwer will be getting married in his home country of Pakistan, and all of Birmingham, Alabama, are invited to attend.
Anwer is no stranger to Birmingham. Although he was only there for a short time, he said he felt like the town’s “favorite son” and wanted to return the favor.
The 31-year-old had been diagnosed with hyperparathyroidism, a condition that had caused him kidney stones once or twice a year since he was 18. He started having digestive issues and developed skin issues. But the treatment for his medical condition, Anwer found, was surgery which was not available in Pakistan.
So Anwer started looking for help outside his own country. He was planning to travel to Turkey, Singapore, the UK and India for treatment, but pandemic-related travel restrictions had made things difficult. Anwer was also worried about costs – the cost of travel as well as the cost of the medical procedure itself.
Eventually Anwer found that the procedure performed at UAB Hospital in Birmingham would cost him about half of what he had been quoted by other medical facilities. So he started to learn about Alabama, a state he had never heard of before. In his search for information, Anwer had posted on various websites, including Facebook and Reddit, asking people to help him better understand the culture he was about to be immersed in, if only to a short period.
Her first post in the Birmingham subreddit was about clothes. He wanted to know what clothes he should wear in the United States. Could he wear what he already had in his wardrobe? Would he need to find something new to fit in?
The response he received was overwhelming, he said.
“People reacted in a way that I wouldn’t even expect from my own people in Pakistan,” he said.
The Alabama Redditors began helping Anwer, facilitating his journey, giving him advice, and encouraging him along the way. Andrew Harris was one of the people who reached out. He said he wanted to help dispel any negative stereotypes Anwer might have had about Alabama and the South.
“Every time someone comes here, I really, really want to show them the best time,” he said.
When Anwer traveled to Birmingham, Harris helped him get around, taking him to the store, restaurant or medical appointments.
“He was always trying to pay me,” Harris said. “But I didn’t want his money. I have gained such a friend – a best friend for life.
While in Birmingham – his first outing from Pakistan – Anwer came to love the city. He visited local Indian and Thai restaurants, and made as many trips as possible to McDonald’s, KFC and Five Guys. He went through Highland Park and the trails of Mountain Brook. He said Birmingham had become his home away from home – a place he will never forget.
Antwerp’s operation was successful, resolving the medical issues that had plagued him for years. But after the UAB had done its job, it was time for Anwer to return to Pakistan. Andrew Harris was not ready for him to leave.
“When he started leaving, I had this huge hole in my stomach — in my heart — that I was about to lose him,” Harris said. “Knowing him for such a short time, I was surprised that I started having those feelings, but he has already become such a big part of my life.”
Anwer returned to Pakistan, but he wasn’t done with Birmingham. When he found out he was getting married soon, he posted an invitation to the Reddit group that had helped him find his place in the United States. Everyone in Birmingham was invited to the wedding, he said.
He doesn’t know if anyone in town will be able to make it – there was short notice and round-trip tickets to Pakistan cost thousands, but he said he felt he had to invitation to the city, whether its inhabitants can accept it or not.
“Birmingham treated me like their favorite son,” he said. “Birmingham literally gave me the attention that people give to celebrities… That’s why I did it. I think someone should come because Birmingham is now part of my life.
Antwerp’s wedding takes place on Sunday, May 22 in Pakistan.
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