February 18th, A private school and the High Commissioner of Canada!

I’ll never forget the presentations on this day!

These kids were a lot older, I’d say close to fourteen and fifteen, and they understood English!!! You could see it on their faces!

I first met this girl, so pretty masha Allah, with such a keen intelligent look on her face as she shook my hand.

The High Commissioner of Canada in Pakistan’s name is Heather Cruden, and she’s a wonderful lady who was a teacher. It was because of her generosity that I was touring Pakistan. The High Commission was paying all expenses.

So while I was setting up the Roses in My Carpets powerpoint, she was talking to the kids all sitting prim and proper waiting for me to begin. And I learned something. The High Commissioner is basically the Canadian Ambassador to Pakistan, but because Pakistan is part of the British Commonwealth as is Canada, we have high commissioners not ambassadors!

As if I wasn’t nervous enough already! Here I was going to be doing my Roses presentation in front of basically the Canadian Ambassador to Pakistan!!! It was a good thing that I had done Roses so many times! Basically I can do it in my sleep!

And I have plenty of confidence in it, I really do think it’s one of my best presentations!

Oh how they laughed in all the right spots! And since the story is set in a refugee camp in Peshawar, it was the perfect choice, alhamdu lillah.

At the end of the presentation the response from the students and teachers was overwhelming, and then I ended up doing an impromptu teachers’ workshop!

It is such a joy to do a workshop to such enthusiastic educators!!!!

Their passion and questions were fantastic! I was probably having as much fun as they! And then I saw Maham Ali, the CEO of the Children’s Literature Festival, my host, come in, and I realized that I had to wrap things up. So I did. We probably could have gone on for another hour!

Later that evening, Maham and I were invited to the Canadian High Commission for a dinner IN MY HONOUR!!!!

Talk about feeling like you’re out of your league!!!

When I told my husband I was leaving for the dinner he told me to remember how to use all the cutlery!!!


Start outwards and go in, I reminded myself, and DON’T PUT YOUR ELBOWS ON THE TABLE! (Although I still slipped in that regard once or twice!)

But I needn’t have worried. Ms. Cruden is about as down to earth as they come, and we had a lovely time!

I met her assistant, James Clark, the one I’d been corresponding with, and also a nice gentleman from Italy who works for Unicef and we discussed a possible collaboration.

I was feeling very gregarious which is a symptom of nervousness! I’m one of those who talks a LOT when they’re nervous! And they kept asking me questions so I kept telling them stories about myself, including the one about how my husband I met! That had them laughing really hard!

And then we started talking literature and Heather and I (she asked me to call her Heather) like a number of books in common. We both love L.M. Montgomery’s The Blue Castle and she also loved No Great Mischief by Alistair McLeod!

But I think they all laughed the loudest when I recommended Sherman Alexi’s Diary of a Part-time Indian to the Italian gentleman. He has a couple of nephews for whom he buys books and one of them is eleven and I told him he would be perfect for this book but then I felt I should warn him, in case it would be an issue, that the book does contain masturbation.

Oh how they all laughed! I guess at the casual way I mentioned it. I’m guessing they found it totally hilarious and incongruous that me in my hijab would talk so openly about such a taboo subject.

And yet in the back of my mind I could hear my husband’s voice telling me not to hog the conversation! So I did my best to shut up at times too.

It was actually really nice when the others were talking! I got to eat then although really, for me the food was an afterthought and although it was nice, it didn’t compare to the brilliance of the dinner guests.

I left feeling luminous, my footfalls barely touching the ground.


February 25 or 26th, I’m not really sure

The days are a blur.

Been so busy I can hardly think straight.

What with modern technology I’ve been instant messaging my daughters but at one point I forgot to check in with hubby and he emailed asking me, “Are you still alive?”

I replied, “No. I feel like a chicken with my head cut off.”

It’s been a little tough because since I’m stationed here in Karachi for more than five days, I’ve been treating it like ‘home’ and not praying Kasr or Qasr, I’m not really sure what the transliteration would be. It’s basically the travel prayer. When Muslims travel we can combine the prayers and shorten them. It’s SO much easier! During the Islamabad portion of the trip I did just that.

But I’m here in Karachi for close to eight days and no way could I justify it.

So that means I have to pray Zuhr within the Zuhr times and Asr within Asr times, etc. And sometimes it’s a bit awkward. Even though this is a Muslim country we’re basically expected to pray on our own dime, and sometimes other people look at you funny when you ask to go pray.

Karachi is a big, sprawling stinking metropolis with a LOT of charm!

Last time I was in Pakistan I was kind of ‘roughing’ it. When I went places it was often on the back of a motorcycle, no helmet, riding side saddle trying to fit both feet on one foothold, holding on to the middle of some man that was not my mehrem (related male) because that’s just the way they travel here. Other times it was in a rickety rickshaw.

This time it’s hire car, all the way, baby!

But oh, the stops and starts, and the near misses and the beggars at every intersection, tapping at the window, showing a deformity if they have one, or a nursing baby, and a few times they were men in drag, with hideous make up, clapping their hands loudly and sticking their hands through the opening because the ac wasn’t working in this vehicle and I was dumb enough to open the window wide.

One of the girls who accompanies me (is 25 years old still considered a girl? I’d call her a woman but she seems too young) told me that they don’t want food they only want money. And as we came out of a mall and the beggars headed for us, she handed one the leftovers of her lunch but he wouldn’t take it, so I guess she had a point, but I still felt bad for them.

I went to a ‘public school’ and did a program for some young kids, about seven or eight. But in the middle of Ruler of the Courtyard, which they LOVED! Oh how they laughed when they realized it was a drawstring and not a snake! I felt some ominous tummy rumbles. I needed a bathroom but they assured me I didn’t want to use the one they had!

It makes me so sad that the facilities here in the public schools are so poor. The head of the CLF told me that there are hundreds or thousands of elementary schools but only maybe ten per cent of middle schools and even fewer high schools. Most kids drop out by grade five.

Arts education is very rudimentary.

The interesting thing is, that when I do my Roses presentation for example, at a more advanced school, it’s like the kids can recognize the story arc in the presentation. The looks on the girls’ faces, I’ve seen it so many times, in so many audiences, all around the world, masha Allah. It’s like a half grin, like as soon as I start talking, they know they’re in for a ride.

I had a huge group there, probably close to two hundred girls, all from the same grade, in various stages of hijab.

Oh how they loved it!

And the principal positive gushed! She came up to me and hugged me and led me to the staff room where there were samosas and other good things with some tea, and then while talking she said how she’d love it if the other girls could see it too, so we arranged an impromptu workshop for the grades eleven and twelve.

I thought workshop: flip chart and maybe sixty girls, but it turned out to be about two hundred, some of the girls even wore niqab.

Since these girls were older, and I’d already done Roses and I didn’t feel like hooking up the projector again I decided to do Wanting Mor. It touches on Dahling if You Luv Me Would You Please Please Smile, and boy alhamdu lillah, it was a hit.

Then my escort came running in and from the look on her face I knew I had to wrap things up but I asked her anyway and she said, yes, we had to go. So I rushed to finish and hurried downstairs. But then we went to the office it turned out we had to wait for the driver to arrive. I felt like I could have finished the presentation properly instead of rushing through it. And as it was prayer time and I wasn’t sure how long it would take to get to the office, I thought I’d better pray while I had the chance.

Later we went to a press conference. It was so cool. In a very old, maybe Victorian building called the Press Club with sofas and press kits laid out. I wondered if anyone would show up, but they did! The press corps was substantial!

And they asked ‘controversial’ questions, kind of poking to get some drama out of the situation even though there was none.

And today I did a teachers’ workshop. I thought the best thing I could do was do a writing exercise with the teachers so they could replicate it in the classroom.

I have to confess that I have a bit of a potty mouth, but only when it comes to the word bullsh*t. I just think it’s such a good word. It is perfect for what it’s describing. I apologized to the teachers gathered there but alhamdu lillah they weren’t offended in the least.

I got them writing, and I showed them how to make a found poem. But although they were enthusiastic, they were very shy to open up and the juiciest tidbit I got from them was how one of the teachers was too scared when he was writing one of his exams.

I was hoping for more vulnerability. I told them that real art was very vulnerable. It went deep and if you tried to hold back then people could always tell.

We talked about different strategies to get the students writing but some of the questions surprised me. They asked me about vocabulary. And we came to the conclusion that in some cases it would be helpful if the students wrote in their first languages and then translated them into English. That reminded me that so many of the kids are learning English as a third language, Urdu is their second, and they’ve got some other first language. I think there’s about 90 something dialects and languages in Pakistan! That’s a huge challenge!

But afterwards oh how the teachers mobbed me. First the men, they came up and asked me a bunch of questions on how they could better apply the exercises we’d just done and they wanted pictures with me and then the women came and they wanted me to autograph the back of my business cards, and write something to them, and they wanted selfies and pictures too.

My bits of mild profanity hadn’t bothered them at all and one gentleman who’d driven eight hours all the way from Baluchistan even said that I had such a down to earth style.

It was great!