I was feeling restless tonight.

Walking on the treadmill, doing my 5 K, the normal TV shows held no appeal for me.

And then I came upon a documentary of a guy traveling the Ganges river.

Why do I need to know about the Ganges? I actually don’t.

But I’m incurably curious.

Always have been.

I doubt I’d be an author if I wasn’t.

So I started watching this documentary and it reminded me so much of every book I’d ever read set in India, including that National Book Award-winner Sold.

And seeing all the images of India reminded me SO much of Pakistan.

I only ever saw it for three weeks, twenty years ago, but that short trip left its mark on me.

I can recall the smells–OH BOY can I recall the smells! And the feel of the place.

And I suspect that India is a LOT like Pakistan: dirty, cramped, crowded and utterly CHARMING!

People who come from those parts of the world have a HUGE advantage. What they lack in education and opportunity, they make up for in street smarts! (Took me a LONG time to acquire street smarts!)

It might not seem like much of an advantage, but in some ways it is, and I see it particularly in the next generation.

Growing up in poverty and cramped conditions seems to make  you very clever and observant but not necessarily in a good way.

When I was writing Wanting Mor I was talking to an Indian friend of mine and mentioned that Jameela, my main character, was a village girl and very uneducated.

I’ll always remember what my friend said to me. She said don’t underestimate how intelligent those village people really are. And boy was she right!

When I went to Pakistan, I went with my parents and we stayed at a relative’s house. The relative we stayed with had poor family living on the lower floor and she warned us, to lock our things but don’t call anyone a chor. That means thief.

The family downstairs had little children and they often sent them to spy on our conversations. We’d speak in English but they were so clever, it wasn’t hard for them to comprehend what we were saying, and like good little spies they’d report back to their parents.

And with their sticky little fingers, nothing was safe.

Those three weeks were a fascinating time! I could appreciate their skills even while I guarded myself against them.

And that trip was one of the main reasons I began to see my father in a completely different light.

For the first time in my life, I actually appreciated exactly what kind of world my father and mother had left, to forge our new life in Canada.

We did not grow up with sticky fingers or with the habit of spying.

Quite the contrary.

And one day my father once said that he knew that coming to Canada would be a trade off. We’d grow up with more innocence but that meant we’d sacrifice street smarts.

And I really get that.

My curiosity has probably been my greatest asset all my life. It turned me into a little knowledge sponge!

I was one of those geeky kids at school who listened avidly to the stories my teachers would read to us, and I’m even talking about back when they actually read Bible stories in public classrooms! (My favourite was Daniel and the lion’s den.)

We should be stressing this idea of being knowledge sponges more with our kids.


Learning for the sake of sating our curiosity.

Reviving the art of wonder when we look at the world around us!

It’s really not that hard. Kids are born with a sense of curiosity and wonder, it’s too bad somewhere around grade four it’s drummed out of them!

When I do my storytelling presentations, in particular, the one about immigrating to Canada and becoming an author, I talk about Ms. Lister, my grade three teacher, who really awakened the wonder in me.

I talk about the Discovery Club she set up. It was a club she held during recess, where she let certain kids stay indoors and we shared things we had discovered with each other.

Think about it! She could have gone to the staff room and enjoyed a cup of jo and a good gossip with the other teachers, but instead Miss Lister spent her recesses with about nine of her students, and we were allowed to wallow in wonder!

We need to do that with our kids! Be their Miss Lister, start a discovery club!

I wish more teachers would spend that kind of time with their students, but I know it’s probably too much to ask. But it isn’t too much to ask of parents.

I recently read a news report that said that students in public schools in British Columbia got way higher marks in the first year of university than students from esteemed private schools in British Columbia.

It should have been surprising, but it isn’t.

I have been to some private schools.

I’m always surprised at how clean and tidy the students are.

And how ‘well behaved’.

I put the words ‘well behaved’ in quotations because so much of it is a fascade. I know because I watch their faces when I do my presentation on my book Dahling if You Luv Me Would You Please Please Smile. When I get to the part about suicide, the posh private students behave absolutely no different than the inner city ghetto kids.

In both cases the kids look around to see who’s watching them. And you can see it on their faces that they’re wondering if the other kids know their secret and can tell that my words are hitting home.

The main difference between kids in private schools and kids in public schools is that the private school kids are better at optics. They can put on a show of studiousness. The poorer kids don’t tend to hide in that regard.

They’re more ‘honest’ about their feelings.

(Read a pretty good book a while back called Tangerine that made this point quite well.)

And actually this is one reason why I never sent my children to private school!

Fundamentally I don’t believe that children learn better in them.

I know people who spend probably a hundred thousand dollars on the tuition of their three kids in a private school in the hopes of giving those kids a leg up.

And their kids are the most sneaky and underhanded little weasels you can imagine!

They’re keen to learn any trick that can give them an advantage over other people, but they’re not interested in genuine knowledge.

Sad really. And it’s not at all confined to Pakistani culture at all!

It seems to be turning into an epidemic.

With all the reality shows peopled with bimbos and mimbos (male bimbos), there are more and more people who are getting shallower and shallower.

Without an iota of curiosity or wonder.

Of course not ALL private school kids are like this! My point is that you can’t PAY a school to instill that essence of curiosity or wonder in your kids! It’s something someone has to do for them, and who better to model that than you?

Tell the right story and you can see it spark in kids’ eyes.

When I was growing up I was always amazed at those people who could speak of things with such knowledge, and pepper the things they said with little anecdotes and sidebars of obscure things they’d picked up on their journey of life.

Maybe I was recognizing their curiosity and sense of wonder.

My advice to others, especially if you want to be a writer: be curious! Explore the world around you and discover!

They say you should never write to just ‘say something’.

You should write when you have ‘something to say’.

And living a curious life will definitely give you heaps of things to say!

It’s one of the reasons writing is one of the few professions where you can actually get better with age!