Wednesday, October 24, 2007


By Rukhsana Khan

Mr. Kareem is coming today. All the kids are excited, and I can't blame them. He always brings a sadaqa for us. Today we are expecting special treats. Some people say it's because he was once an orphan too, long ago. But I think it's just because he's so kind.

Often he brings his wife. She's the fattest lady I've ever seen--she looks like a walking pillow. Or a cloud. Like she'll float away. But she's so nice. Always smiling. Her eyes shine with gentleness. Too bad she never had children. She'd be a great mother.

"Ahmad!" I sit up. The teacher, Mr. Feroz, is looking at me. "Dreaming again? What did I just say?" There's no clue on the dusty chalkboard. He could have been talking about anything. I shrug.

"Come here." I shuffle up to the front. I know what's coming. I always get it. Grab your ears. I do. "No. No. With your hands through your legs, grab your ears." I'm cramped with my arms wound through my legs, grabbing my ears. "Now stay that way."

Mr. Feroz continues the lesson. Some kids are snickering. I feel like a fool. I should be used to this position, I'm in it enough.

I wonder what Mr. Kareem will bring. I hope it's pakoras, or maybe ludoos or gelabis. Or maybe...My stomach growls so loudly everyone can hear it. Mr. Feroz scowls at me. "Ahmad! No talking."

"It wasn't me," I mumble. "It's my stomach." All the kids burst out laughing. Mr. Feroz is furious. "Get to your seat then and keep quiet."

"Yes. Sir." But I can't help wondering what the treat will be. There's never enough food here in the orphanage. My stomach's still grumbling. I give it a punch to stop. It quiets down a bit. Still an hour till lunch.

When class is finally over, we're let outside to play in the courtyard until lunch is ready. I gallop around the corner and crash right into a po belly. Looking up, I see it's Mr. Kareem. I open my mouth to say something, but nothing comes out. And, just my luck, Mr. Feroz saw the whole thing. He rushes up and grabs me by the shoulder.

"I'm so sorry, Mr. Kareem. This silly Ahmad. He never watches where he's going. Always absent-minded he is. Beg pardon." I'm so embarrassed. My face is hot. Why'd he have to tell Mr. Kareem that? Now he knows about my, and I wish he didn't.

Mr. Kareem laughs. My ears burn at the sound of it. I wish I was anywhere else. "That's all right." He says. "I used to be in a big hurry myself. Now I take my time."

He smiles at me. And it seems like he's not mad or disappointed. Which would be worse. And before I know it, I'm smiling back.

Mr. Feroz is talking. He says, "of course you can take your time now. You're a wealthy businessman. We must teach these children manners, especially Ahmad here. He's slow to learn."

Again my face is hot, and I'm embarrassed. Why does he always have to pick on me? Other kids do bad things too. How come he only sees it when I do bad things? Mr. Kareem is frowning. He must be displeased. Mr. Feroz takes him by the arm, "come sir. The superintendent would love to meet with you."

I'm forgotten. Standing there while all the other children are playing in the yard. Funny, but I don't feel like playing any more.

What if I try harder? What if I were to be good? Would they even believe me? Or would they think I'm playing another trick? If only I wasn't so bad. Then the teacher wouldn't have told Mr. Kareem all those awful things about me.

For lunch we have daal and rice. The daal is thin, the rice is sticky. But it fills me up. A little. And then it's time for Zuhr prayer.

Most of the boys only pretend to make wudu. Usually I'd be one of them, just pretending too. But today is different. I make it properly. And I hope Mr. Feroz sees my doing it. But he doesn't. I even take my time so he will look my way, but he's busy with someone else. Oh well. At least I know I made it properly.

Then we go to pray. Most of the boys are too busy nudging each other and stepping on each other's toes to concentrate on praying. And usually I do that too. I guess I really was bad. I'm starting to see the things I do wrong. But this prayer time, even though the boys beside me keep nudging and shoving, I don't shove back. I pray properly. But no one notices.

I knew it! After lunch Mr. Kareem is standing at the front of the prayer hall with a large sack. Mmm. Samosas. With meat! My favourite. There are big ones and little ones. And I'm at the end of the line. Everyone is grabbing the biggest ones they can find. Pushing and shoving. I would be too, but I'm on my best behaviour. Waiting my turn. By the time I get up there, there's only one small samosa left. Hardly a mouthful. My eyes burn. I want to dry. Being good is so hard! But I take it. I do remember my manners. I do! But before I can say thank you, that same Mr. Feroz reminds me. I want to scream, I'm so mad. But that will just get me in trouble, so I don't. I just say "Thank you Mr. Kareem."

There's a gleam in Mr. Kareem's eyes, and he smiles widely at me. "You're most welcome, Ahmad." He remembers my name! Somehow the anger is gone.

I take a big bite of the samosa and almost lose my tooth. Ow! There's something wrong. Something in my mouth. Not a bone. Metal. I fish it out. It's a gold coin! So expensive. What a grand amount it would fetch in the market place! What should I do? It must have fallen in the mixture by mistake. It must belong to Mr. Kareem. But he's so rich, would he even know it is missing?

I had promised I'd try to be good. But that was before I found this! If only I'd promised after. But I can't keep it. I need to show Mr. Feroz, show myself that I'm a good boy. Not a bad boy as he thinks I am. So I take it back up to Mr. Kareem. Tap on his arm and say he must have lost it.

Mr. Kareem looks funny. Like he wants to cry. He hugs me hard, my ears rub against a button on his vest, but it still feels good. Been so long since anyone hugged me.

He's babbling to the teacher. Saying he will adopt me. I can't believe what's happening. He said that he's been wanting to adopt a child, waiting for one who would return the money he hid in the treats. There was other money?

I can't believe it. Mr. Feroz tried to convince him to take another boy, but Mr. Kareem is firm. He refuses. He wants an honest boy. He wants me.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Time to Decide

Decisions, decisions, decisions. "Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide." - Napolean Bonaparte.

I never thought I was an indecisive person. But when in school, I didn't have to decide on much. Maybe what courses I wanted to take, whether to apply for masters or not, what to eat for lunch, etc. Now that I'm out of school, I'm suddenly forced to become an adult when I doubt I'm ready to be one.

Sometimes I just wish someone else could make my decisions for me. (Not in the "Jesus take the wheel" way, but you know what I mean.)

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Choosing to Think of It

Today, ten thousand people will die
and their small replacements will bring joy
and this will make sense to someone
removed from any sense of loss.
I, too, will die a little and carry on,
doing some paperwork, driving myself
home. The sky is simply overcast,
nothing is any less than it was
yesterday or the day before. In short,
there's no reason or every reason
why I'm choosing to think of this now.
The short-lived holiness
true lovers know, making them unaccountable
except to spirit and themselves--suddenly
I want to be that insufferable and selfish,
that sharpened and tuned.
I'm going to think of what it means
to be an animal crossing a highway,
to be a human without a useful prayer
setting off on one of those journeys
we humans take. I don't expect anything
to change. I just want to be filled up
a little more with what exists,
tipped toward the laughter which understands
I'm nothing and all there is.
By evening, the promised storm
will arrive. A few in small boats
will be taken by surprise.
There will be survivors, and even they will die.
-- Stephen Dunn

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Finding a Path

Check out Calla's new photo gallery called "Finding a Path"...

Click the left-hand menu that says "documentary," then you'll find it. You might recognize some people :)

A note that I have to include: if you're going to check out some of her other photo documentaries, there are ones that include nudity, so consider yourself warned!

Monday, October 01, 2007

Let me tell you a story...

(pardon the blurry photos, these pics are taken with my phone, and I have yet to master the art of holding it still while snapping!)

Once upon a time, there was a very naughty bus. While his driver was trying to fix him, the bus decided to run away.

He ran along the road beside a train. They made funny faces at each other and raced each other. But the bus had to go on alone because the train went into a tunnel. He hurried into the city where he met a policeman who blew his whistle and shouted, "Stop, bus!"

But the naughty bus paid no attention and ran on into the country. He said, "I'm tired of going on the road," so he jumped over a fence. He met a cow who said, "moo! I can't believe me eyes!"

The bus raced down a hill. As soon as he saw there was water at the bottm, he tried to stop, but he didn't know how to put on his brakes. So he fell into the pond with a splash and stuck in the mud! When the driver found where the bus was, she telephoned for a tow truck to pull him out, and put him back on the road again.

The end.

Did you like the story? Lots of 3-5 year olds nearly die laughing when I tell them about the bus and his misdemeanors. And some of them stare at me blankly.

Okay, let me give you some context so you don't think I'm a complete nutcase. I'm doing this temporary research position that involves gauging little kids' grammar, vocab, and reading comprehension. The bus story is one of the stories we tell them to see how much they understand. So I work in two schools in the TDSB. It's pretty interesting because there are basically no white children in either of the schools. At all. Sometimes my coworkers and I will go into the playground at recess and play "spot the white kid." It's interesting for the first 30 seconds, until you realize no one can win.

Kids are great. Well most of them anyways. We give out stickers to bribe them to be good while we test them one 3 year old insisted that I put a butterfly sticker on her nose. So I did. And then there are other kids who can't speak English at all. They like talking to me in their native tongues, and they repeat words over and over, thinking that I'm stupid for not understanding them. But yeah, I've come to the conclusion that kids are such interesting little human beings.

Finally, the piece de resistance. Meet Sivathepan: he licks himself beckus he is smart. Ahh, kids.