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Sealed together, 1400km apart

By Maheen Qadri,

Teach For Pakistan 2019 Fellow.

I grew up loving stories, reading them, writing them, so much so that I ended up getting an MA in English because of them. My primary focus at this Fellowship has been to record the stories of the children in my classroom, and to teach them to do the same for themselves; to write about here and write about now.

A month ago, I would spend my usual work day in bright rooms bursting with laughter, decorated with an array of eager hands raised to ask questions and tell stories. Since the lockdown, my 9 to 5 schedule has me sitting in my living room near 1400 km away from my kids in Karachi, frantically calling parents, making excel sheets of their names and numbers and coordinating with other Teach For Pakistan Fellows in Rawalpindi who are distributing ration packs in our school communities.

On April 9th 2020, the area surrounding my school got sealed. On April 11th, so did mine in Karachi. I was calling parents that day when they announced that my block was being sealed come morning. I had been calling to ask how they were doing and if they needed anything in this difficult time, but this time I called to inform them that we would be sending them academic resources on Whatsapp and SMS. These were happier conversations; we were looking ahead. One conversation really made me laugh.

A student of mine, Zariya, had just received her ration pack that a group of fellows had stopped by her house to give to her. She was telling me how beautiful they all were. Sab bohat pyaaray pyaaray thay, ma’am! And she asked me, “Ma’am aap kyun nahi aayin?” Ma’am, why didn’t you come too?

I told her I was home in Karachi, sealed in my area and I couldn’t come see her, no matter how much I wanted to. Zariya then said, and very excitedly so too, “Ma’am aap bhi sealed hain? Mein bhi! Hum dono saath saath sealed hain! Dur hain, magar, saath saath” Ma’am, you are sealed too? Me too! We are sealed together! Far away but sealed together!

We shared a little laugh then. She was very excited about studying on Whatsapp and told me that she will tell her cousins the story of how she studied on it during her vacations. She told me that I should write a story too. I asked her about what. And she told me, about “Ye sab, jo abhi horaha hai.” All of this that is happening right now. I told her that that was a great idea, and I would. I love that she remembered.

Maheen Qadri teaches at a government school in Tarlai.

She graduated from the University of Karachi with an MA in English Literature

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