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The Landlady

Jun 27, 2023


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It was 1984, and the Pasha family had just arrived in Brooklyn from Pakistan. They had nowhere to go, but Parveen Pasha was doing everything she could to keep her family out of the homeless shelter. Enter the landlady.

This mysterious woman brought Parveen and her children into her home and let them stay there, rent-free, until Parveen could find a job and get back on her feet. She didn’t ask for anything in return.

Thanks to this act of kindness, the Pashas saw their luck begin to change, and moved into their own apartment a short time later. Eventually, they were able to buy their own home in New Jersey. Parveen’s daughter Shaheen, who recounts the story of the landlady in this episode, went on to become a journalist for world-renowned news outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, CNN and Reuters. Today, she’s a professor at Penn State.

Mother and daughters sitting among roses.
From left: Parveen Pasha, Shaheen’s sister and Shaheen Pasha
Father and daughter smiling together.
Shaheen with her dad, Syed Nasim.

The landlady became a crucial character in the family’s history: a savior who rescued the Pashas from homelessness and gave them the ability to make a home for themselves in their new county.

For many years, that was their only name for her: the landlady. But in 2017, things were happening that made Shaheen start to doubt the kindness in the world – kindness she had first seen in the landlady.

Anti-immigrant sentiment was on the rise. Shaheen is a Muslim, and she found it increasingly difficult to explain to her kids all the hateful rhetoric and Islamophobia plaguing the U.S. Her young son was afraid that a “Muslim ban” would mean they’d be kicked out of the country they called home.

“I’ve never felt like I didn’t belong here, but I felt like I was finding less and less motivation to say that people are good,” Shaheen says in the episode. “And with my children increasingly asking me, ‘Why are people doing this? Why are people behaving this way?’ I didn’t know how to answer that.”

Amid all this, Shaheen resolved to learn more about the mythical landlady that had shown her family kindness so many years ago. If she could learn more about the landlady’s motivations, maybe she could begin to restore her belief in the goodness of people.

Photo of a woman with curly hair in black and white.

A photo of Dorothy Vollkommer, the landlady.

In this episode, Shaheen shares the story of her quest to find the landlady. Her journey takes her to Portage, Pennsylvania, the hometown of Dorothy Vollkommer – the landlady. In Portage, Shaheen learns that Dorothy’s kindness wasn’t just an isolated act. It was part of a legacy of members of a community caring for each other. Protecting each other.

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Learn more about the host of Home. Made., award winning journalist Stephanie Foo on our host page.

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Episode Transcript