Day 99 (part 1 of 2)

Standard

The card arrived on a grey afternoon a week ago. It was maroon with a dash of gold and read:
‘Mrs. Tahira Begum (w/o Late Ghuman Nabi Batt) feels extremely grateful to seek your benign presence and solicit distinguished presence on the auspicious occasion of the marriage ceremony of her son Nadeem Ahmed with Taseema (d/o Mrs and Mr Abdul Rehman Batt of Zalla) at her residence.’
It went on a bit more explaining the details and much to the young one’s excitement, it was decided that they would postpone their trip to the city by a day so that they could attend one of the wedding functions.

It was dark by time they set off for the pre-wedding function to be held in the village of Cherot, 80 minutes away and so they each carried a torch for the stretch where the moonlight was blocked out by the pine forest trees. The wise man had contemplated taking his gun in case they came across the grizzly bear that had been frequenting the corn fields for awhile now but returned from the house empty handed as it had been decided by his fearless daughter that the gun was unnecessary; an assessment not entirely understood by the youngest. In place of the gun, a quick bear recap was done and after it was decided that the party would opt for ‘play dead’ instead of ‘run’ if they did indeed stumble across the grizzly, they set off. The youngest amongst them, hailing from the city, turned on her torch long before the forest began and the older one reprimanded her soon after for ‘blocking the moonlight’ and so, scared and ashamed, she turned it off and stumbled along.

The path to Cherot cut diagonally through the side of the mountain. At its widest, the path was a little over half a meter in width and at points, alarming in their frequency, barely a foot wide. The older one led the delegation and the wise man brought up the rear, forming a sandwiched layer of protection against bear attacks for the two volunteers. Attacks were only a concern from the front or back, it was explained, as the mountain towered above them to the right and fell at almost ninety degrees to the left. ‘If you lose your balance, make sure you lean right’ the older one had said, ‘and if you can’t manage that, grab onto anything and at some point you should stop falling’. 

The young one thought about the weddings she had attended back home and wondered how those ladies in skin tight clothing and six inch heals would negotiate their way along this path. The thought amused her and after glancing down at her Mexican inspired dress, now tucked into her jean’s pockets to avoid tripping and falling to her death, complimented with her designer hiking boots (which did absolutely nothing for her posture), she chuckled to herself.

They cleared the forest without incident and the wise man pointed to clusters of lights on the mountains across the village. ‘Can you see that?’ he asked to no one in particular. ‘The opposition says there has been no progress, but look. Look there,’ and he pointed again before continuing on, ‘look where electricity and running water has reached. How can that not be counted as progress?’ We looked to where he pointed and gazed at the sprinklings of lights that broke the seemingly endless darkness. Maybe their ‘thank you’ emails hadn’t reached the opposition.

The delegation stopped a little while later and the youngest amongst them pulled out her camera, knowing full well that the scene could not be captured, but determined to try anyway. They rested for a bit and when they finally got up to leave, the wise man told them to switch off their torches and allow the moonlight to guide them. Apprehensive at first, they followed his orders and after a few dangerously misplaced steps, they seemed to get the hang of it and trekking 80 minutes through the mountains to get to a wedding on a Monday evening, seemed like the normalest thing in the world.

day 94 (in recoverable pictures)

Standard

So four hours of downloads later I finally managed to install two photo recovery things on my computer. The one shows all 159 photos from the day but shows them only as thumbnails and will not let me make them bigger or save them without purchasing a passkey which costs thirty something dollars. The other one allows me to enlarge the photos but not to save them which is fine, because I can just screenshot them and save them but sadly only 43 pf the 159 photos show up as recoverable in this program and as Murphy’s Law would have it, most of the 43 are dispensable ones in comparison to the others. Anyway, I have included a few of the photos below. Most are of random faces for whom I have no names but until I somehow manage to retrieve the remaining photos or visit Shadiwan again, photos of the kids and not of the school, will have to do.

morning assembly

akleema and party

exam lines

girl scholar from the second standard

akleema (maybe) from the first standard

boy scholar from lower kindergarten

telling kids to smile for a photo has been a resounding failure I have realized. They always look scared because you’ve without explanation, shoved your big camera into their faces. So in an inspired move, I have noticed that if you take a picture of them and then turn your camera around to show them their photo, they almost always crack-up/laugh because they find cameras hilarious. And so in that exact moment, you capitalize on the situation and quickly turn your camera around and picture them smiling/laughing. works every time. so much brilliance

adorable boy scholar from upper kindergarten

rarely seen fat scholar from lower kindergarten

Adnan, son of the school’s helper, Hamida

girl scholar from upper kindergarten i think

beautiful boy scholar from the first standard

the poster child for pure bread villagers

day 94

Standard

Haji Public School, Shalima

school bell

Examinations are finally upon us. Today is Math for the third and fourth standards and in light of the fact that I truly believe half of my class (of 4 students) are going to fail, I was only too happy to be sent to the other school for the day for exam invigilation.

Deep, Billu the horse and I set out for Shalima at 8:34 (yes I was 4 minutes behind schedule and while it was obviously the fault of my shoe laces that take so long to tie, Deep did not let the 4 minutes go unnoticed and subtly brought it up in conversation along the way). I walked for the first bit of the way until Deep, satisfied that he had dispensed all necessary tales on and demonstrations of his expert riding skills, insisted I get on. I would totally have carried on walking, now that im fit and everything, but Deep was running rather than walking which I, not even in all my fit glory could keep up with and so I jumped on Billu and we trotted on to Shalima to the sound of Shankar Mahadevan’s breathless song on repeat.

Some time after Haji Public School was started in Breswana, a few of the surrounding villages requested schools in their villages and so two more branches of the school were opened. One is in Parshula, 40ish minutes away from here and the other, where Kuldeep Sir and I are headed to this morning, in Shalima, about 70ish minutes away. The school, situated on a plot of rented land, overlooks the cornfields and the Himachal mountain range. It is a small, one-story building and with it’s turquoise exterior, earthern floors, suspended school bell and beautifully carved wooden windows through which light streams into each of the 4 classrooms, it looks like one of those carefully designed movie–set village schools.

The morning begins in pretty much the same way as it does at our school. The children make their way out and line up in four rows, making sure they are exactly an arm’s length away from the person in front of them. Zubair, the UKG teacher, satisfied with the lines and straightness, walks to the front and begins the assembly with ‘goodmorning dear children’ before handing over to ‘akleema and her party’ to lead the morning prayers in both English and Urdu. The prayers are followed by a thought for the day, poem and topic by three of the students after which a quick hygiene check is conducted, exam rules reasserted and the kids dismissed. Lower Kindergarten stays in their classroom for the exam while upper kindergarten, first and second standards make their way outside, clipboards and geometry boxes in hand, to be allocated places along one of the three mats that have been rolled out on the floor.

The exam begins and I am brought a chair to sit on in the sun and ten minutes into the exam, a toothless old man from heaven knows where, brings me a freshly roasted cob of corn and a little while later, Kuldeep is sent to ask me if I’d prefer noon or lipton tea and feeling rather useless and purposeless, I politely decline, hastily finish my corn and camera in hand, get up to do some photoshooting/ exam invigilation. The level of English at the Shalima school is nowhere near the level of English at our school and after several failed attempts at answering student’s queries, I return to my chair at the front and spend the rest of the exam granting toilet permissions to the kids with weak bladders and short attention spans.

I return home a little after 2, have a rushed lunch and pop my camera’s SD card into my computer eager to post the amazing pictures immediately, only to find no pictures of the day on the card. I tried several things and when all failed, plummeted into a black-holed depression, curled up on my bed and went to sleep which depressed me even more because it was freezing cold, I wasn’t tired and now had to make wudu all over again.

Anyway I am currently trying to download some picture recovery software that is downloading at an amazing speed of 2.3kb/sec and considering it is 29MB in total, this could take awhile and so it is with a heavy heart and deep regret that I include the two instagramed photos that I have from my phone.

 

day 93

Standard

looming exam emotions: resignation

looming exam emotions: trauma

looming exam emotions: exhaustion 

looming exam emotions: anguish 

looming exam emotions: indifference 

If as a student I ever thought exams were a stressful affair, I realise now as a teacher, that that stress was truly laughable in comparison to the stress examination procedures present for teachers. Unlike students, exam stress for teachers begins from the moment the syllabus is completed and revision gets underway. Revision sessions predictably lead to tests which inevitably show gaping holes in the understandings of several concepts by an alarming number of the students which, while cause for some concern, is not that major because that’s what revision is for; to fix the problems.

And so after sighing in relief that you have finished the syllabus with ample revision time, you begin reteaching sections, still focusing on all spheres of the syllabus, even portions not tested in the exam because well this stuff is important even if not examinable and generally because only you know that it is not in the exam, you still hold on to the hope that they will think it important enough to learn. You then follow up this stage of revision with yet another lot of tests and at the exact moment that you cannot recall the last tick you awarded, the panic starts to creep in and you proceed on to target teaching.

In this stage, all pretenses of the importance of non-examinable material are dropped and focus is shifted solely to the sections that are present in the exam. Obviously, in the spirit of fairness, you do not actually tell the kids this but rather hope against all odds that they realise the unnatural attention being paid to these chapters and use that dormant mass residing in their heads to understand its importance. Still trying to hold on to the significance of all knowledge, while you may single out the important chapters, you are careful to go over all the content in said chapters and not just what is in the exam. When tests that follow this phase yield answers to questions of ‘what is a diagnosis?’ that resemble, in alarming frequency: ‘a diagnosis is a diagnosis’, despite the forty minute recap on The Hospital that included visual aids, true life stories and hypothetical reenactments, you then allow yourself to plummet into a depression.

Exam related depressions need to be carefully calculated and held off for as long as possible because once the depression sets in, there is no turning back. From this point on, everything will annoy you. And when I say everything, I mean EVERYthing; be it misspellings of words like sanctimonious, out of sync breathing or exam unrelated questions. It is a given that everyone will get screamed at at least once and their ignorance of topics not taught to them will grate your liver beyond reasonable extents. The depression manifests as rage and punishments become frequenter, with drastic measures like duct taping mouths becoming commonplace. Not even the end-of-day school bell provides reprieve as the rage and irritation simply converts into dark depressive thoughts that haunt you for the rest of your waking hours. You start second-guessing your abilities as a teacher, rereading chapters over and over again to check you have not missed anything out and stare, for hours on end, at the exam paper, questioning its difficulty. Then you try to take your mind of it by consuming ridiculous sums of food, watching unforgivable amounts of reality television or sleeping, which simply invites your sub-conscience to kick into overdrive and your dreams are haunted by mundane facts relating to a host of obscure topics, often truthfully terrifying in their sheer dullness.

A good teacher can hold off the depression phase until almost a day or two before the exams begin which is advantageous in that it minimizes the unfavourable effects of the stage but not so advantageous in that it allows a very limited time for the last pre-exam phase: the crash course. The crash course stage, as the name suggests, focuses only on material that is tested in the exam and without being too obvious, the teacher resorts to mixing up actual exam questions in between phantom ones, the ratio of which, depends entirely on the guilt and moral conscience of the teacher. All previously held beliefs that warranted it okay for some students to fail are discarded and carefully concealed blatant tips and warnings are continuously dispensed. No additional talking is entertained, no bathroom breaks allowed and not a second of teaching time is wasted. Generally by this point most of the kids have caught up to the seriousness of the situation and are, with a diligence absent the rest of the year, jotting down notes of their own accord.

As is the case with most things in life, time eventually runs out and whether you think your kids are sufficiently prepared or not, the culmination of the pre-exam process for all teachers, stressed or not, is marked by the abundance of the universal last resort to almost any and all situations: prayers.

 

day 92

Standard

amjed: you want me to get married because you think i can’t cook? oh you’re so funny bwhahahaha

amjed: you really think we can't cook? wait! that's too funny. let me just wipe away my tears of disbelief

amjed: you really think we can’t cook? wait! that’s too funny. let me just wipe away my tears of disbelief

break time reception spot

We’d finished the last of our exam revision and I figured that if they didn’t know it now, there was a slim chance they were ever going to know it and so instead of utilizing the last fifteen minutes to go over more shapes and angles, we had a chat about their future. Wedding season here in the village starts after the harvest, round about the end of November, but I am leaving before then and so am going to miss it. Either way, I really wanted to attend one and so I tried to pitch the idea of marriage to the three boys. Granted they are all barely twelve years old; but hey, in the village people marry young and so to be honest, twelve is bordering on the marriage-expiry age.

Sadly, they countered all my marriage motivations and finally, very impressed that I had found an indisputable reason marriage, I commented that without a wife, they would not have anyone to cook for them and then they would starve and eventually die a tragic death. They looked a bit confused as to why I would think a wife would be the only one who could save them from starvation and Yaseen proudly announced that he, actually that all three of them, knew how to cook.

Obviously I didn’t believe them, because besides those weird kids on Masterchef: Junior, no normal twelve year old boy knows how to cook chicken, rice or vegetables, but determined to show me that they were not at all lying and were in fact very competent cooks, they typed me the following recipes:

Chappatii:

First bring wheat and put some water and mix together.

Take some aatoo (dough) and make a circle.

Add some whear and make flat and roll it to round.

Put on the tawa (pan).

Turn after some time.

Put on the side of fire so it rises.

Round side is katcha (uncooked) on tawa, so we cook on the fire.

 

Rice:

Boil water.

Bring rice.

Wash rice.

Put in the cooker and then close the cooker.

After 1 hour see if it is katcha (uncooked) or pakka (cooked).

If it is katcha, close cooker and leave.

If it is pakka, then put half a glass of water and close cooker.

After some time, eat.

 

Chicken curry:

Cut the chiken.

Wash the chicken.

Put oil in the cooker.

Put in onions and tomatoes in the cooker.

Put in the meat.

Add one teaspoon of haldi (turmeric) in the cooker.

Mix haldi and meat and some chilli.

Close cooker.

After some time (half an hour) open cooker and put some water in.

Close cooker for 2 minutes.

Then open and eat.

 

Subzi:

First wash the potatoes.

Put in cooker.

Put some water till it makes bubbles.

Open the cooker.

Take the skin off the potato.

Cut the potato.

Wash the cooker and put oil in the cooker.

Add onions and potatoes.

Then add haldi and chilli.

When they boil, open the cooker and eat.

 

Halwa:

First take soojee (semolina).

Put the soojee in the net and channing (sieve) to take the dirt out.

Put butter and oil kry (pot).

Soojee in the kry and mix it.

Bring sugar and put that in the kry.

Take some water (6 glasses) and put in the kry and then mix.

When there is bubbles, then take it and eat.

 

I hung my head in shame and left without another word.

 

 

day 89

Standard

I woke up this morning to a blood splattered staircase and outside roof. It turns out that our newly adopted bakarwal dog, Wolf/Lobo/Dog, had been attacked at some point of the night by a bear. Not a dog named bear, but rather an actual bear; the big, brown, hungry hormonal, grizzly type. The bear has been around for a few nights now, making nightly visits to the backfields and helping herself to the corn. Saleem Uncle, Nazir and Ashfaaq have been out most nights this week in their makeshift machaan (tree ledge thing) trying to spot and catch it, but haven’t had much success. I’m not entirely sure what the dog was doing thinking he could take on the bear but evidently his plan of action didn’t play out too well and he wound up returning with a bad injury on his hind leg and chest and a lot less blood than he started of with.

It’s weird that I feel genuine concern and sadness. I mean it’s not that I’m completely heartless. I totally felt sad when Huberta the hippo died and when Willy was set free, but while I am, from the comfort of my couch, an avid animal lover, in reality they scare me a bit. So it is rather odd that I keep going out at regular intervals to check if he’s okay, survey his injuries, google possible remedies and offer sympathetic strokes with my slipper.

The dog aside, Madhuri, Sabbah, Nazir and I spent the afternoon spreading out crops from the harvest on the rooftop so that they could dry in the sun and ‘Our Afternoon: a short story‘ follows. It’s quite a bunch of nonsense, and I’d recommend just skipping to the pictures at the bottom.

Our Afternoon: a short story

It was mid afternoon when the work on the roof began. One of the village elders had reprimanded the females of the house for their uselessness and feeling very ashamed, the females hastily abandoned their internet searches, put on their working clothes and began the long trek down the staircase to the roof below. Once there, they decided it would be wise to employ the ‘divide and conquer’ approach to the daunting task ahead and so they each picked a crop. The eldest amongst them, no stranger to village life and hard labour, picked the bean pods that were on the far end of the roof. The middle one, keen to impress the others with her experience from her stint in corn-county, Iowa, tied her shawl around her waist and took charge of the corncobs. The corn kernels were thus left to the youngest of the three who was quite pleased at her luck. The pile of kernels bore striking resemblance to a giant sandpit she remembered once playing in on her trip to the sea and that made her immensely happy. The three started working, dividing the roof into sections and spreading their crops out to ensure that they received as much sunlight as possible and they labored on in determined silence for some time before they began to tire.

Noticing their struggles and gross incompetence, one of their faithful helpers secretly snuck past the village elders to help the women. He picked up the shyup (straw sieve basket thing), held it to the ground, swept in some of the razma (beans) and began simultaneously tossing the beans in the air and blowing on them to remove the dirt and leaf pieces. The women, tired of their labour, stared enviously at him for seeming ease of his task. Eventually, when they couldn’t resist anymore, they made their way one by one to where he was and gave the bean tossing a try. Rather unfortunately, the ease of the task was nothing but a cruel deception and after realizing that if the women continued tossing the beans, there would be no beans left to fill into the sack and store for the winter, the boy politely grabbed the shyup back and continued on with his job. He made it look shamefully effortless and the women, disgraced, went back to spreading out their allotted crops.

Eventually the labour took its toll on the labourers and so they each lay down on their crop piles and basked in the glorious afternoon sun. When the sun finally begun disappearing behind the mountains and the air started to chill, they got up, dusted themselves, abandoned their crops and began the treacherous journey back up the stairs to their dining room table where they recounted the events of the afternoon. It was somewhere in between her third cup of tea and seventh biscuit, that the eldest one declared that despite the hard labour, it had been a glorious afternoon and the other two, spoons of Nutella in hand, nodded in agreement.

the blood splatters on the roof before nazir got to cleaning it

sabbah on beanpods

Madhuri on corncobs

self on corn kernels

dismal attempts at razma cleaning by all except Nazir who made it look shamefully effortless

the cleaned beans being put into the bag for storage

surveying the progress being made by madhuri and sabbah

eventually the labour took its toll on the labourers and so they lay down and basked in the sun and when the sun disappeared behind the mountains, they got up, abandoning their crops and went for tea

 

 

day 87

Standard

aaisha

I’d like to think that my dismal Urdu and close to non-existent Kashmiri is a good reflection of my commitment to teaching English rather than an awful reflection of my inability to become one with the natives. It’s not that I’m completely useless. The understanding bit is fine; judging by the tone, situation and recognition of a few basic words, I can generally piece together what is being said or asked; but trying to reply is where the trouble creeps in. Whenever I begin to construct a sentence in my head, I am reminded of the constant mocking of my Urdu pronunciations by Nabila and Maryam and unwilling to further embarrass myself, I resort to one word replies.

Luckily, as with any language I would imagine, there are a few magic words and phrases that can be used as sufficient standalone replies to almost any question. The most useful of them (and basically the sum total of my Urdu/Kashmiri knowledge) are listed below:

Ttheeki chua?’ and ‘bas ttheek tthaak’ (how are you and I am fine): standard follow-ups to any greeting and ‘I am well’, whether you are or aren’t, is a perfectly acceptable and expected response. People in the village are seldom sick, sad and or tired and on the rare occasions that they are, do not express it. 

Ooper’ and ‘neechay’ (up and down): probably two of the most useful words I have learnt. Because we are on a mountain, it is often very likely that the direction you are headed in is either up or down and thus these two words are often useful in replying to questions of where you are going; pointing out where something is or instructing the kids on where to find a sentence in their books.

Duur’ and ‘nazdeek’ (far and near): because we’re on a carless mountain these two words, very much like up and down are useful in a host of situations. Most effective when used to find out where kids live before agreeing to accompany them home or embarking on goat viewing trips. Rather unfortunately their concept of near and far is not very accurate by fat-city-people standards and so user discretion is advised.

Ghar’ (house/home): always good to know in responding to questions of where you are going; where you have come from and where Madhuri, Sabbah, Nazir, Saleem Uncle etc are at. Related to that is ‘jaa rahin hoon’ (going) which can be used in multiple phrases: meh ghar ‘jaa rahin hoon’– I am going home; meh Badpura ‘jaa rahin hoon’– I am going to Badpura; meh Wanipura ‘jaa rahin hoon’– I am going to Wanipura or simply meh ‘jaa rahin hoon’– I am going (to be used alongside an exclamation mark before storming out of the classroom).

Saaf‘ and ‘gandah‘ (neat and untidy/dirty): very useful in expressing your opinion on the state of their uniforms; bags; shoes; handwriting etc. If you only had enough brain capacity to learn one of the words, I’d go with ‘gandah’ since neat is not really a common occurrence in any part of their school lives. 

Sharaarti’ and ‘achha’ (naughty and good): frequently used throughout the school day to either emphasize angelic behavior of one of the kids in the hopes that the rest will mimic it or to single out and ostracize the ringleaders of destruction. When meeting a kid’s parent, after running out of awkward one word conversation carriers, ‘[insert kid’s name here] bohat achha larka/larki hai’ ([insert kid’s name here] is a very good boy/girl), is always a good lie to continue with and ensures you gain some brownie points in the eyes of the parent.

Sopp roz’ and ‘behh’ (keep quiet and sit down): invaluable words. Frequently used. Definitely in the top 5 Kashmiri words you should learn.

Matlab’ and ‘samjhay’ (meaning and understand): both often used as single word question sentences. ‘Matlab?’ used whenever they say something I do not understand and ‘samjhay?’ used whenever I think they have not understood something I have said.

Jaldi‘, ‘bhaago‘, ‘aaram‘, ‘shabaash‘, ‘idhar aao‘ (quickly, run, slowly, very good and come here): convenient words to know. Idhar aao, very essential words if you enjoy exploiting your power as teacher and thus often use the kids for pointless errands. Jaldi and bhaago, especially used when I send them on trips to Goolam Rasool’s store to buy me coconut biscuits. Shabaash, for when they return with my biscuits and aaram used most frequently when they are engaged in silent classwork, to prolong the silence and give me a chance to eat my coconut biscuits. 

Sar dukh raha hai’ and ‘thhak/thhaki‘ (head sore and tired): generally my feelings by the second period and used several times during the course of the day to explain what their constant talking has done to my head or used to justify why I cannot go home with them after school.

Bohat’ (very): in addition to emphasizing how untidy, naughty or far something is, can often be used to fool people into thinking you know more Urdu/Kashmiri than you actually do as it lengthens your sentence by a whole 0.73 seconds.

Shukriya’ and ‘khuda hafez’ (thank you and goodbye): very important village words especially when visiting someone’s house. Constantly thanking people always makes for good conversation, particularly if your vocab is limited thus restricting the additional conversation you are able to make.

Pattah nahi. Meh English bolo‘ (I don’t know. I speak English): my favourite phrase. Useable in any and all situations wherein you do not understand or do not wish to understand what is happening. Especially useful I have found in tattletale situations, very common at Haji Public School. No matter how good their English is, kids always like tattletaling in detail and so often do it in Urdu or Kashmiri. They launch into 10-minute explanations of exactly what went down before staring at me expectedly hoping I will adequately deal with the situation. Unwilling to get involved, I simply reply ‘pattah nahi. Meh English bolo’ and rather than explaining the whole story to another teacher, they often take the law into their own hands and begin whacking each other; at which point I take out my camera and take photos.