Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Tag: kunri

Tea with the landlord

Kunri, Sindh.  2006

Our landlord lives in the flat below us. He invites me over for tea in the evening, after the nap. His place is nicer than ours. I like ours better, though. We have the roof. It’s one of the biggest buildings in Kunri—three storeys. And the high walls on the roof make it look taller, though they do spoil our view.

I sit with my landlord on the charpai. His English is good, and I’m grateful. I’ve only been in Pakistan a year and Urdu still makes me nervous. We talk about all sorts of things. He asks me about my family. He asks me about Canada. Strange, I don’t seem to ask him much.

He brings up religion. They always do here. I’m eager on this subject. I take control. I make my argument. Tight and powerful. I show the weak spot in his (what shall I call it?) cosmology. Proved. Done. QED.

But he doesn’t get it. He has no answer, but he is unconvinced. Seeing that the stakes are raised, he throws his own attack at me. It’s nothing I haven’t heard before. Nothing I haven’t thought of before. It doesn’t faze me. I have no answer to give him, though. And the look on his face tells me he thinks he’s won something.

The conversation moves on, I suppose. I hardly notice. If only I’d had more time, I could have told him something clearer. Something that would have helped him see what I see. It’s just so obvious from my side, and I can’t understand why he can’t see it. He’s not an idiot, after all. I wonder, as we shake hands and I turn to go home, if he is thinking something similar about me.

I don’t sleep much that night. It’s hot. My bed is on the roof, nuzzled by winds that have been gentled by the high walls. I stare at the stars and ask my silent God to sow a seed in my landlord’s heart. To crack the hard shell of his delusion.

At least as much as he’s cracked mine.

Teaching in Kunri

Allah Wala Chowk

My classroom is small.  A second-storey room with an open window looking out to the fields in the nearby Christian district of Josephabad.  I have eight students in my split grade seven / eight class.  I look at them weakly this morning, because I’m in the middle of a malaria resurgence.  Today we’re trying to talk about history.  The history from their textbook is not the history I learned in school.  We aren’t learning about the First Nations people or the French Revolution.  Our histories are full of strange names like Jinnah, Nauru and Emperor Ackbar of the glorious Mughal Empire.  I ask if they know anything about European history.  One student tells me how much he loves Hitler.  It is hard to fight him and the malaria at the same time

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Morning Commute

I finish my tea and go back to my house.  We eat fried flat breads with last night’s chickpeas.  A bit of yogurt and raw onion to make the taste dance.  More chai.  I adjust my pathan cap and sindhi ajrak and gently carry my bicycle down the narrow stairs.  My wife follows in her burka, with our son.

Pakistan 097

My son sits on the bar in front of me.  I screwed a little padded seat there for him.  He grins as he clutches the handlebars.  My wife pulls herself up on the rear rack while I hold the bike balanced.  Then we’re off.  What things can I see while we go through the streets of my town?  The shop we buy our firewood from.  The only honest yogurt vendor in town.  A child defecating by his front door—the same time every day.  I see goats tied to electric poles, red-mouthed paan vendors and little boys running to delivery steaming little tea pots and nearly clean cups.  I see rich men in large cars blocking the roads while I slip easily by them on my three-person bike.  I see yellow rickshaws crammed with schoolchildren and teachers.  I see the natural world of humanity, busied and arbitrary.  There is no difference between this place and the place I was born.

Chai Khana

The Chai KhanaI slip down the dark narrow stairs onto the bright dusty street.  There’s a lot going on.  Our corner of the intersection is the electrician’s part of town.  The shop right by our  door is owned by the guy who put in our line to the communal backup generator.  The shop around the corner is owned by the guy who fixed it when it exploded a day later.  The line, not the generator.

I cross the intersection, lazily dodging a motorbike weaving around a milkman’s donkey cart.  The milkman is bringing milk to the chai khana.  The chai walla smiles and raises his hand to me.  I shake his and sit on the bench, huddled in my chadar against the surprising chill.  Akbar and Faisal are there.  Akbar tells me a story about his village.  I hardly understand a word because he’s spoken Dhadki to me ever since he found out my wife was from a related tribe.  Faisal makes fun of him for it in Sindhi.  The chai walla smiles and hands me my chai on a clean saucer.

Fire Building

Kunri StreetI wrap a blanket around myself and drag the metal fire holder to the open part of our apartment where there is no roof.  I build the fire to heat our bathing water.  The landlord’s teenaged children, who often peek under our door to watch us, are surprised that I know how.  I ask if this is because they assume a high-class white boy like myself would know such a rural skill.  They say it’s because building fires is such unmanly work.  I say it is considered very manly to be able to build a strong fire in Canada.  They laugh, because that’s stupid.