What do Birmingham, Alabama and Pakistan have in common? The answer is Shahzeb Anwer—a 31-year-old man who left his home country for an important surgery in the U.S.
But he got so much more than medical help; he found his own ‘home away from home’ in the southern city, and now considers it and all its 211,000 residents part of his family.
So when he was getting ready to be married, he did what anyone would do; he invited his family—all of Birmingham—to his special day.
This heartwarming story began in Pakistan where Anwer, who suffered from kidney stones every year or two, needed a surgery that he found could be done most effectively and cheaply at UAB Hospital in Birmingham.
Never having heard of this city or state before, Anwer began doing his homework; what should he wear, what’s the best way to get around? Posting on a small Reddit group for the Magic City, Anwer soon got a double dose of southern hospitality.
“People responded in a way that I wouldn’t even expect from my own people in Pakistan,” Anwer told a CBS local affiliate.
Folks in the group started cheering him on, making recommendations, and helping to facilitate his trip/stay by making sure he had rides to places.
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One Birminghamer, Andrew Harris would drive him around, take him out to dinner, and ensure he got to try as many foods from other countries as possible, adding that Anwer always tried to pay him, but that he never accepted, because it was like he was making a great friend out of the South Asian visitor.
Home away from home
Then the day came. After the surgery was a complete success, Anwer was set to return to Pakistan.
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“When he started to leave, I got this huge hole in my stomach–in my heart–that I was about to lose him,” Harris said. “Knowing him such a short time, I was surprised that I started having those feelings, but he’s already become such an important part of my life.”
After returning to Pakistan, Anwer felt that since Harris and the rest of Birmingham had become such a part of his life, they should be at his upcoming wedding. He posted in the same Reddit group that all the members to the thread were invited, and they could bring anyone from the city.
In /r/birmingham he wrote days later: “Hello home city and its people. I hope you’re all fine. Just a glimpse of one of my days though marriage is a multiday celebration here.”
Comments soon after rained well-wishes on him and his fiancee.
One took the opportunity to express how Anwer’s journey influenced their decision to move to Alabama.
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“I was considering permanently moving to Birmingham when I first read about your story through this Reddit,” one person wrote. “I was so touched that it (among many other things) helped convince me to take the plunge and commit.”
Anwer responded that, “for you it’s a golden opportunity, no hugs are turned down in this place.”
His wedding took place on May the 22nd, and it’s unclear how much of Birmingham made it out, as it was short notice and a long flight. But they were all invited, and that’s all that matters.
(WATCH the video for this story below.)
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