A Conversation with Adeena Khan | See previous interviews

Adeena Khan
Assistant Clinical Professor

Adeena Khan

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Pakistan and spent much of my early childhood there. I came to the US when at age 6 and have wonderful memories of being there. One of the great things about having opportunities to return every couple of years while growing up in the US is to see how much Western culture influences Pakistani culture and vice versa. I still recall walking into a McDonalds in Pakistan and ordering a chicken tikka burger, or at Pizza Hut, the spicy masala pizza. My culture has continued to be a big part of my life. At school fashion shows, I'd proudly wear traditional salwar kameez and now I have friends comment that they love wearing similar tunic-style garments that remind them of my salwar kameezes. It has been fun to see that exchange of East and West!

Where my dad comes from, there might not be electricity or cell phone reception and you can't always log on to WiFi, but I think of it as a luxury, to be able to disconnect for some time and enjoy the simplicity of life. I have two brothers, one of whom is a consultant and a younger brother who is a grad student at Northwest. My parents are in Seattle so a weekend visit with my folks is easy.

What sounds and scents best elicit memories of where you were born and raised?

My favorite foods are anything spicy. I can still remember a small cart in my dad's town that sold samosas, an aroma that causes me to completely melt down! It's such a warm feeling that reminds me of home and of my grandmother, because they were her favorite food and she was a fun, spicy person. Certain foods define home and warmth. I remember, too, the sounds of street vendors selling at 7 AM; they are called rari-wallahs, and each has a different singsong to sell their wares, onions or tomatoes or other foods. Those sounds define city life in Pakistan.

How many languages do you think in? Are there times that you wish important concepts in your language translated better into English?

I think in two languages. When I am thinking about things academic or work-related, I think in English but, when I am thinking spiritually or emotionally, I think in Urdu. I find myself switching back and forth fairly comfortably, just like our consciousness does. With people who are close to me, I have been known to speak to them in Urdu regardless that they might not understand! When I first immigrated to this country, the difference in communicating respect was difficult because there is no difference in personal address between people; in English, there is just "you," but, in Urdu, there is a difference in how you address a child or an elder. I feel that, in Urdu, that aspect of showing respect for a person, or someone who's older, might come through differently. In our culture, a woman older than you is called, "Auntie," but that doesn't translate into English without some confusion.

How different or similar are you to your grandmother? In features or in traits?

My maternal grandmother was a quiet soul, very innocent and giving. She would give away money, food, or gifts that she'd been given, to anyone who needed it and, even after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, the joy of giving, of sharing with others, was so engrained that she kept giving to the poor long into the progression of the disease, and it was very beautiful to watch. My mother tried to instill that same quality in us, to help us realize that joy comes from sharing with others. My paternal grandmother was a very feisty and fun woman, a confident and outspoken matriarch of five brothers and three sisters. She helped run an orphanage with my grandfather and cooked, handled the finances, and was very purpose-driven. My mom says that I am much more like her.

What is the best road trip music that makes you happy while you drive? And do you sing along?

I love, definitely love, Bollywood from the 80s and 90s! They have fun, dance- and sing-along music. I have no shame in admitting it and will sing along to old-school music that's catchy and fun.

What is absolutely irresistible to your sweet tooth and when do you indulge?

Oh, my goodness! I love ice cream in any shape or form—it's absolutely wonderful and it brings me back to bike-riding and ice cream days as a child. My husband introduced me to salted caramel from Bi-Rite but my other favorite is the mango ice cream at Mitchell's—so yummy and amazing. I take my parents every time they visit and they always say that it is just like back home.

Can you describe the beauty of hijab? What have you found that people may not understand about it?

I started wearing hijab when I was in college; it was a personal decision and not the easiest. There are so many beautiful lessons I've learned by wearing it over the past few years. One thing that people do not always understand about the hijab is that it is the choice for a woman to wear it, and one form of worship. I think it's a strong depiction of identity and it signifies a strong-willed, feminine, and feminist woman. As soon as you enter a room, you are identified as a Muslim woman, and it shows that you are not afraid to show what you believe in. I think it adds to a more nurturing part of my personality and, to me, it's been an amazing experience both on a personal level and in connecting with others. I was drawn to it for spiritual and religious reasons but I have come to love it as a part of me for so many other reasons!

You were recently married, congratulations! Can you recall a touching image of your celebration that you will forever treasure?

We were married in October, not the warmest time of year in Seattle! I recall being very nervous about our photography shoot. It was cold and windy, my dupatta and jewelry were heavy and my mind was preoccupied with details like the food and decorations, and my husband just kept telling jokes and making me laugh. It made time stand still, the cold go away, and the photographer captured it all beautifully.

Adeena and her husband

Do you feel that work is play or that play is work?

I love what I do so work is play. This is my second year on faculty and it's been amazing. I learn new things every single day, discovering both weaknesses and strengths in myself. I think play is play—I love being outdoors and hiking, and spending time with family and friends—there's not enough time in a lifetime to enjoy those moments.

Are you a lover of words, of poetry? What literature do you find compelling and what was your last best read?

I definitely love literature and wish I had more time to read. The last book I read was "And the Mountain Echoed" by Khaled Hosseini. There is a spiritual gathering that I attending on Sunday evenings, and much of the poetry and songs are many centuries old. On those evenings, I turn my phone off, close my eyes, and really enjoy the experience.

What was your biggest worry five years ago? Five hours ago?

I recall being in awe of my residents and attendings, their immense knowledge, bedside manner, and clinical skills were so impressive while I was learning to check off boxes as an intern five years ago. I worried about how I would develop as a physician, and if I would be able to follow in the footsteps of these incredible role models. Five hours ago, I worried about how I would get teaching in for my ward team that has been working so hard.

Thank you, Adeena.

- by Oralia Schatzman

View Adeena's professional bio | See previous interviews