Monday, 19 September 2016

Salaam Alaikum: Notes from an American Teacher In Pakistan

Asian geckos
Salaam Alaikum (Let peace be with you). The morning call to prayers from the loud speaker of a nearby mosque awakens me from a deep sleep. Elvis, my house lizard, is motionless on the wall beneath the bamboo shade that protects my desk from the early morning rays of the intense Pakistani sun. He has had a busy night eating the ants and other insects that wander into my house in search of a random crumb or two. He is most likely unaware that his scientific name is Hemidactylus frenatus or the common house gecko. I am used to his 'tchak tchak tchak' chirp, always three times in unison, from having lived in South India for two years. The house geckos kept the house free of insects, especially mosquitoes. I am now in north eastern Pakistan, teaching mathematics at an international school and having Elvis as my housemate is a welcome event.

Elvis first introduced himself on Day One as I, dripping with sweat, dragged my suitcases into the front door of my new home. I saw a dull grey streak careening up the wall near the front stairwell. With a 'tchak tchak tchak’ chirp, I knew that I would not be the only occupant of my new home here in the shady tree-lined streets of Lahore and felt a sense of relief at the familiar call.

My school day in Lahore is hectic, as most high school teachers can attest to. My international students are polite, inquisitive and full of energy. I have picked up a copy of the school yearbook to find pictures of my students to make learning their names easier. I have 80 students over the course of a school day so learning unfamiliar Urdu and Korean names is my biggest challenge right now. Six weeks into the school year and it is becoming easier, but I still have a lot of memorizing to do. Days are passing quickly and I look forward to the solitude of my house each evening, with the 'tchak tchak tchak’ that welcomes me.

Yesterday, Elvis scampered behind the bamboo shades, his go-to place in my home office as I came into the room with an armful of math tests to grade. It was 7 pm and his day was just beginning. With a 'tchak tchak tchak’ he disappeared into his bamboo bunker. I opened the first test booklet and glanced at the bright yellow wall near my desk as a movement caught my eye. It was a miniature Elvis zig-zagging toward the bamboo window shade; its 'tchak tchak tchak’ much fainter than that of big Elvis. Could it be that Elvis had spawned a miniature version of himself while I was away at school? Would there be enough ants for both of them? Yes, no worries there.

I have named the spawn of Elvis, Bambina, since I am the mother of two grown daughters and I wouldn’t know what to do with a Bambino. Elvis is staying Elvis since I couldn’t bare changing his (her?) name. My biggest fear is that they will find my daily routines dull compared to the nonstop activity of their busy existence that I relish watching each evening.

Salaam Alaikum. I awake once more to the call to prayers drifting in with first rays of the morning sun. Elvis and Bambina have moved to a new home behind the Japan Airlines calendar that hangs over my desk. The golden Buddha adorning the month of August is the door to their secluded abode. It has more room and light than the small dark corner behind the bamboo blinds.

A bright new home, a view of life from a different vantage point with many as yet unknown people to meet. Salaam Alaikum, Elvis and Bambina. Let our journey begin