Samire brought her passport into class on Monday ready to go to register at the big school with me when lessons finished (I like the idea of kids needing their passport to embark on the voyage of education). I explained that we needed her mother or father to go with us. When neither of them turned up at the appointed time, I went round to Samire’s house, but dad was out in Pristina, going through the bins for resellable rubbish, and her mother was looking after the new baby. No, they said, there was no-one to go with Samire and me to register in school.
Yesterday Samire asked again about registering and she hung around after school until I was free to come home with her and ask her parents. Dad was out again, and the baby hadn’t grown any more portable in 24 hours. But couldn’t I take Samire and her passport and register her myself, they asked. Ferdona, one of the home-school mediators from the community, was dubious when I asked her advice about doing this. She pointed out that it wasn’t a good start to show home commitment to education. And after our experience on Monday with the children who did go to register, we wondered whether the school would stand on ceremony and refuse to register a child without a parent present. In the end we decided we’d give it a go. So Samire and I walked the mile to school yesterday – only to find that the deputy headteacher was out on a school trip, and no-one else apparently had the keys to the office where the registration book was held. We were asked to come back today.
Samire didn’t forget – in class today she asked when we’d be leaving for the registration. By now, I knew that Ferdona had met with the school management to talk about the reception we’d had on Monday, and I wondered whether they would be ready for registration. Maybe even registration with a smile. Samire and I set off again this afternoon to find out.
The deputy head teacher was back from her trip. And she was definitely trying. Not that all the skepticism from the previous visit had gone – Samire was still told the story of how parents were selling the school books they were given for free (the eight-year-old girl listened, quite rightly, in bewildered silence), and I was asked ‘why are you tiring yourself out with all this, Elizabeth?’ I answered that it was Samire who was tiring me out, so keen was she to register. To that the deputy headteacher responded by asking Samire which hand she wrote with, the details of her parents (minimal comment on their non-appearance for this launch of their child’s formal educational career), and when the last column in the book was completed she looked up at the eight-year-old girl.
‘Urime!’ she said, (to an anglophone audience, ‘urime’ may read like ‘piss off’, which might have fitted with our previous experience in this office, but it’s Albanian for ‘congratulations’) and stretched out her hand to shake Samire’s. Ferdona had done a good home-school mediator job here.
Samire was beaming as we walked out, and I asked her whether she’d like a photo outside her new school. She’s a beautiful girl (it’s a beautiful photo), and it felt like a beautiful world as we walked back home together.
PS An unrelated note of what happened on my way back to our school, from Samire’s home, and a way of expressing appreciation to the many people who read this blog who have donated clothes to us for distribution to families in Fushe Kosove: In the road I bumped into two of the sisters who come to our classes, with their mum and 2-year-old brother. Last time I’d seen him I’d noticed an incipient infection in his scalp. Now his head was encrusted with drying pus and he looked a terrible grey colour. In answer to my question, his mother said she wasn’t registered at the health centre and had never taken the children. She said she wouldn’t be able to pay for the medicine they’d prescribe anyway. But this was a very sick child – looking more closely I could see a strange lumpy grey gland sticking out in his neck; there was no question of what had to be done. With some help from a friendly local taxi driver and a hurriedly found birth certificate, we took little Bajram to be checked out at the Family Medicine Centre. There he was referred to the hospital and in the meantime the suppurations matting his hair cleaned up with iodine. ‘Do you have iodine at home,’ the doctor asked? Apparently not. ‘Well, you need to clean him every day. Do you have soap?’ Apparently not.
The little boy’s hood was infected from having rubbed against the terrible sores too. Thanks to the donations we’ve received I knew exactly where I could stop on the journey back to Bajram’s home. In our boxes of donations I found not only a replacement hoodie and some other new clothes, and a pair of shoes (Bajram had been tottering barefoot along the muddy road when I’d bumped into him with his mum) but also a donated bar of soap. Big thanks to all the people who enabled me to pass on those gifts where they are really needed.
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