A confession and a Surprise

Best moment of the day today: I was taking the register when the door opened. Three uncertain-looking children stood there eyeing me with some suspicion.  I recognised them from a house I’ve made 8 home visits to over the past month or so, each time talking to their father, and to his silent children, suggesting how he might be tempted to let his kids come to classes.

‘I’ll get my kids food and then I’ll worry about school,’ he had said one day when I met him in the street on his way to go through the bins in Pristina. I had tried then to tell him about the yoghurt and piece of fruit his obviously under-nourished children would get if they came to our classes.

Last time I went there it was headlice that was the issue. He had told me they needed a nit comb and I’d brought them one. Then yesterday he said that the comb had removed the lice but not the eggs.

‘They can’t go to school with nits’.  Oh yes they can. I swallowed my pride.

‘I had nits. It didn’t stop me going to work,’ I confessed. He looked at me with a mixture of disgust and respect.  I felt something similar about myself.

Nevertheless, at the end of that conversation he got his daughter (his wife has died, leaving a 12 year old to bring up the four other kids on her own.  In difficult circumstances she’s not doing a particularly good job) to make me a cup of tea. I watched the girl rummage through the family’s food supplies for sugar.  There were some bags of mouldy bread which I guessed her dad had brought back from the bins for supper.  It was mostly green but there were some bits that might be edible.  She didn’t offer me any, though she made me good strong tea.

And apparently that had been a sign.  Because now the kids had come to learn whatever it was we could teach them.  The stakes felt high today.

We did counting in 4s with walnuts, and with voices a little above a whisper, the three new children contributed some of the low numbers to the four times table. To finish, I read the class ‘Handa’s Surprise’. It’s a picture book glowing with warm African colours and African fruit.  The guava and the ripe red mango are scavenged from Handa’s basket by exotic animals.  I caught the eye of the most silent of our new arrivals as I read the narrative.  She was licking her lips.  I hoped she still had the taste in her mouth of the fruit yoghurt we’d given her. I have really never before felt education to be so vitamin-rich, so literally life-enhancing.

Gjelane’s story is now told in a book published as The Rubbish-Picker’s Wife; an unlikely friendship in Kosovo (Elbow Publishing, 2015) and available on Amazon

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