Back to school

three yoghurt pots with cress growingI’m back! After a week in England I came to Fushe Kosove with fresh eyes. What’s changed? Have the children grown? (in fact I always find that my pupils seem smaller after time away.  They loom so large in my imagination).

The first thing I saw when I came in was the cress.  With the staff of UNDP on the day when they donated our new tables and chairs the children had done some ceremonial planting in old yoghurt pots of cress seeds. Teachers that we are, we’d used the opportunity for a quick science lesson (what do plants need to grow?).  Well now we had been proved right – even if the children hadn’t grown, their planted pots of cress along the windowsill were thriving.  In my class later the children drew the diagram (water, sunlight, nutrients) as they munched on their personal harvest.

The cycles of life and the threats to life were rolling on.  One family had had a bereavement – the kids told me they’d had to miss school.  And Haxhere, one of the women who comes to clean after school, is seriously ill.  Her neighbour told us Haxhere has a heart problem, but before she can get treatment, or even proper diagnosis, she needs to get together the money for a CT scan. She doesn’t have the cash, and though the neighbour told me that she herself had sold her fridge and given Haxhere the money to put towards the scan, it’s not enough.  I’ve never considered before how many secondhand fridges it costs to pay for a medical diagnosis.

I feel powerless to help Haxhere, or the wider economic problem that her unattainably costly CT scan is part of.  But there’s one moment in the day that makes me feel less powerless.  A taxi driver from Pristina comes to pick me up at the end of the day and as he watches the kids stream out from classes there is a sudden yelp of recognition.

‘I know that boy!’

The child in question recognises him too.

‘Hey, are you learning?  Do you listen to the teacher?’ The taxi driver turns to me,’ I know him from the traffic lights in town.  He’s usually there washing the windscreens and we always say hi; it’s so great to see him in classes.  I’ve got to call my son.’ The driver makes a phone call.

‘You’ll never guess who I’ve just seen.  He’s in school.  In fact he got a star today for his good work!’

We are all pretty pleased with ourselves for a moment.  And maybe when Ebubakir grows up and his wife or his mum needs a CT scan he’ll have some skills that enable him to pay for it, and no-one will need to sell their fridge.

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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