A Day in My Life Living Abroad – 2006

Busy city road

Typical to see commuters piled on top of crowded private buses

Living in Karachi

While living abroad, email provided an efficient, quick, and inexpensive way to stay in touch with my Mom. So when we had electricity and when we could get the internet connection to work, I would fill her in on how our lives were passing so far away from her. I wrote from there, but didn’t realize at the time how much my words meant to her. After she passed away, I found a folder in which she had saved our email correspondence. She had printed each email and placed them in order. Reading through it now feels like a step back in time. One time my mother had asked me to write to her the details of how I passed a typical day. Reading what I wrote to her reminded me of so much. So I am posting the entry here as a reminder and an example of a day in my life…

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Entrance to City School - All Girls Campus

Hard to imagine a complete school is beyond that gate.

My days are fairly routine. Before sunrise I get up for my morning prayers. It is such a peaceful time when all is quiet and still dark, a gentle glow slowly fills the sky. I wake Sarah to do her prayers. Then she gets ready for school. The City School has been such a great experience for her. I am so thankful that her first school experience has been so positive and supportive. I give her cold milk and cereal for breakfast and give her an apple, chips, and sandwich for lunch. She carries a large thermos on a rope with her for water. Water is an absolute must, it is so hot here and her ride on the van (which has no AC) is about 1 hour there and 1 hour back in the hot sunshine.

You would think that the van ride would be a bummer for her, squished tight between so many children for such a long stretch. But her favorite time is van time. She has whipped all the other riders into shape. She is the leader and they pass the long ride with games, laughter, jokes, and silliness. Her nickname on the van is Makri, which means spider. They call her that because she has no fear of insects, spiders, or flies that happen to trap themselves on the van. While others scream, she carefully takes them in her hand and helps them to find their way back out to freedom.

The Garden

Fresh green grass and flowers in the garden

It takes precious water but the Garden is a haven.

While we wait for the van, we walk about in the garden. The sun sits just above the horizon, shining, but not yet suffocating. The air at this time is so cool and fresh, better than any AC could ever be. I pick jasmine flowers for Sarah to carry in her pocket. I don’t’ think I could ever convey to you the extremely delicious smell of our jasmine flowers. They are just small, simple, white blooms; but their sweet smell is so strong that each time you walk past the bush your nose fills with their delightful odor. When I place one close to my nose to smell it, I feel compelled to place it there again and again at each breath, wishing its sweet smell would never fade.

If the finches in their cage are particularly noisy, then we know that they need fresh food and water. It is so lovely to watch them after you fill their bowl with fresh seeds. They all swarm down onto the bowl perching on the edges of it and jumping right into the center to dip their sweet beaks into the food. When we put the fresh water in, we have to jump back because they begin to bathe right away splashing water all around the cage. It splashes out on us if we are standing too close. Sarah gets on her van at 7:00 am.

Yusef sleeps right through Sarah’s departure for school. He looks so dear and little laying on that large bed alone. Sometimes it seems he is so big and I wonder where the time went…he is 4 1/2 already. But when he sleeps, I can see the pudge on his fingers and toes still there. I lay down close to him and smell the top of his head…better than jasmine. I take this opportunity to rest before he decides to wake up. While we rest, Sana and Ahmed get up and eat breakfast and go off to their respective jobs.

Yusef Wakes Up

When Yusef begins to toss and turn about on the bed, I know he will be waking soon. If I am particularly sleepy, I ignore his rolling about and keep my eyes shut. He is so sweet, if he sees I am still sleeping, even though he is in the mood to wake, he will just lay there and wait for me. He lays his head on my stomach and plays with his writing board or looks at the pages of a book. When I feel sufficiently guilty that he is so patiently waiting for me to wake, I throw off my laziness and hug him close. He gets so happy to see me awake and complains that it took me too long to get up this time.

After he washes his face and brushes his teeth, he picks out his clothes to wear. He is a very picky fashion child. His belt will match the slippers he decides to wear and the buttons on the shirt that he chooses. He likes to wear collar shirts buttoned to the top and tucked into his pants or jeans. When his attire is set, he must comb his hair and then he is ready to leave the room. He explores the garden, checking all the flowers and their smells, pulling some branches apart, stepping on a few ant hills, digging a few minutes in the dirt, etc…while I make up some breakfast.

At this time Ami is busy cutting veggies or sitting watching a few daily dramas that she enjoys. Ami loves vegetables. Everyday the veggie man (subziwala) pushes his cart down our street calling out, “SUBZIWLA…SUBZIWALA…” Neighbors come out, including Ami, to buy veggies from him. His rates are a bit elevated, but we don’t mind considering he has to push that cart around, up and down the streets in the hot sun just to bring veggies to our doors. Ami likes to buy cucumbers and peel them and put them on a plate salted for the kids.

Our masi, Razia, has come and left by now, having done the morning dishes, swept the floors and mopped them. She also cleans and irons some clothing items of Sana, Ahmed, or Ami. I wash all my clothes and the kid’s clothes myself. Sometimes Razia also cooks for Ami. Ami likes spicy food. Razia takes 1200 rupees a month for all that work…imagine, that is only 20$. Razia has 5 children (four girls and one boy) all under 10 years of age. Her husband does labor work in construction.

Sometimes Ami eats with Sana and Ahmed and sometimes she has not eaten yet, so I give her some tea or fried bread to eat with veggies. Lately she has days that she simply does not feel like eating and has to make herself eat. And other times she eats fine. Yusef likes to eat fried bread with egg but these days we have not been having egg from fear of bird flu. So he just eats his fried bread plain and drinks some milk. Sometimes he has apple or banana or cereal…whatever his mood. I eat tea! I put our breakfast on a tray and carry it into our room. Then he comes in from outside and knocks on our door as though he is a student asking permission to enter the school. I become the teacher.

School School

Yusef learns his ABCs and numbers  in our bedroom

Our bedroom transforms into a school for Yusef

This is school school time. We practice numbers and letters or tell stories and color. There are other students in our class, imaginary. And they each have set personalities. There is Salman, who is very naughty and I often have to call the peon to come and take him to the Principal. And Salman’s sister, Kathy, she always manages to fall and hurt herself to the degree of bleeding. I end up calling the peon to take her to the nurse. Kaynat and Sumbreen are pretty good girls and then there is James, the son of Samurai Jack (the cartoon character). James does everything well and fast. But Yusef has to be the best in the class. And when he falters or fails to concentrate on what I am saying or asking, I need only to say, “Ok Salman, perhaps you can answer this question for me…” And Yusef quickly focusses and says, “No, I know it.” And he gives the answer.

School school time is great fun for Yusef and for me. I enjoy seeing him learn things. The learning is slower than it was with Sarah. She was very fast. But I’ve heard that that’s expected with boys. Still we enjoy it. I feed Yusef while he learns. After school school, I head into the kitchen to make up some lunch or dinner. Some days, I dust. Some days, I clean our room -it is very dusty here…like Oklahoma. And every few days I have to wash clothes. Sarah’s uniform is white with a burgundy trim at the collar and sleeves. Cleaning whites by hand is a challenge.

Sarah’s Back

At 3:00 pm, Sarah arrives home from school. She tells me about her day and eats her lunch. Then, she sets to her homework or takes a nap. If there is a cricket match on TV, she sits on the sofa and watches it pretending to do her homework simultaneously. She’s cricket crazy. Cricket is a very fun game, actually. I never used to think so. I thought it was so boring compared to baseball. But simply due to Sarah’s enthusiasm for the sport, I have also taken an interest in it. And then, one cannot ignore Yusef’s love for it either…probably also inspired by Sarah. When we first arrived here,

Two boys playing cricket

Cricket is as common in Karachi as Baseball is in the U.S.

Ahmed had bought a plastic cricket bat and ball set for Yusef. Yusef barely understood what to do with it. But when the matches started and Sarah began giving the matches so much attention and explaining them…then, suddenly, Yusef took interest in his bat and balls. He insisted I play with him all day. His batting improved so much, that we needed to graduate him from a plastic bat to a real wooden one. But all the wooden bats were made for larger kids, like Sarah’s size. So his father took a large bat to the carpenter and had a few inches cut from it and all the edges smoothed. Wallah, the perfect-sized bat for Yusef.

He surprises everyone who sees him play. They ball to him expecting him to hit a little hit and he thwacks it over the roof. One day some of Sana’s relatives came. They brought their little boy, 10 years old. The little boy was very sweet and well-mannered. I told Yusef to go and play cricket with him. They were playing in the front yard. That little boy balled the ball to Yusef and he struck it with such force that it hit a glass decoration frame we had hanging outside the door to our house. Needless to say the frame broke to pieces. But what was amazing was, that without our knowing it a lizard had been taking a snooze behind the frame (we have numerous lizards here…like newts…and they are pests; we have to struggle constantly to keep them out of our house) and there it was flat on the ground with a piece of the frame glass right threw it. Yusef became famous among Sana’s relatives for his batting skills after that.

Peaceful Evenings

Setting sun behind the Minarets of a neighborhood Mosque

Setting sun behind a Mosque, Muslims gather to pray.

Our evenings pass rather easily. Several times a day, we hear the call to prayer echo throughout the sky. I love that. So we never forget to do our prayers. Not that I ever forget anyway, these are my favorite moments of the day. I feel the presence of God around me at all times. I am so grateful for His gifts, this world, the air we breathe, the beautiful sceneries, my husband and lovely children…I don’t think I could ever properly thank Him for so much bounty. This life is not simple or easy and often very painful but here I see so many others suffering in ways that I cannot even imagine…seeing their troubles leaves me thankful for my small problems. So the best way I find is to remember Him as often as I can and whisper my thanks again and and again…

Sometimes, we are busy going to some gathering or other at a relative’s house, dinner , or a visit, or a celebration of some sort. There are many weddings coming up and so functions and celebrations here and there are a nice diversion. Sometimes, I sew pants for Sarah or Yusef or shirts or scarves…Sometimes, I read or chat with my sisters or you. By the Grace of God we are fine here. God Willing you are doing ok there. I think about you so often…I thought you might enjoy these details of how we pass our days. I love you…hugs and kisses and prayers…

And so my email ended. I have to admit it’s 85% accurate. I didn’t share here my discomfort with the political realities of Karachi. I didn’t detail the load-shedding, water shortages, poor economy, or the high level of poverty and illiteracy. But, I did set my mother’s worried heart at ease, focusing on our home, her lovely grandchildren and how they passed their days.

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