Speaking Urdu in Africa and the students’ reaction!

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Speaking Urdu in Africa and the students’ reaction!

Gamze Çiçek, who had her university education in Pakistan and had to migrate to Africa afterwards, wrote her experiences in that continent, mentioning the various impacts and consequences of her association with Urdu on her students.

After graduating from a university in Pakistan, I migrated to Africa. With the seizure of the PakTurk Schools, my longing for my prospective students had started even when I was a dorm tutor over there. Since we had boarding students, it would be a bit hard to meet them outdoors. I still had students for whom I assumed the position of an elder sister, to whom I could not say goodbye before leaving and about whom I thought ‘she will surely be sad the time she will learn about my leaving’…

When I arrived in Africa with these emotions, I was also thrilled to witness that the Hizmet-inspired schools were open and a four-storeyed dormitory was teeming with students. Having remembered how we were rendered unable to pass in front of a PakTurk campus – set aside the prospect of stepping inside – for two years, I phoned my friends and tried to boost their morale by saying, “Schools here continue running; actually, I also live in the dormitory located in the campus.”

I was eventually assigned to my supervision class. During the introduction phase with my students, I must have emphasized my Pakistan origins so much so that they thought I was a Pakistani… I started to teach them some Urdu expressions rather than Turkish ones. Sometimes, they would come to me in groups and mimic the expressions they had learnt from movies, and I would correct them if any of those expressions were wrong. Of course, some students had no interest in this at all; I noticed a student who used to leave especially when such discussions took place. She also had an aggressive stance. I realized I must have been ‘visibly nationalistic in favour of another country’, so I kept a mental note to refrain from this next time.

An anxious phase triggered by a phone call

In order to start interacting with the parents, I sent them messages and also phoned them personally to break the ice. I would call the parents to have their requests for their boarding children and would also communicate the students’ requests to them. The parents would also call me and access their children whenever they needed.

One evening, the father of that emotionally-distant student phoned during the study hours to say his wife was extremely ill and wanted his daughter to call her mother. He sounded very anxious and I was worried too. It might be her last conversation and I might become late while calling the student. I wondered what the student’s psyche would be then. Would her conversation affect her studies? Would she blame me if I did not allow her to speak to her mother? While these questions raced in my mind, I rushed to the school and entered the classroom. I requested my student to be allowed from the study period for a while. That was not an ordinary request, because students were allowed to leave the classroom without any valid excuse during the study hours. The other students noticed my anxiety and they were curious to know as well…

When she came out of the classroom, I put my hand on her shoulder and said, “Your mother needs to talk to you!” I dialled her father’s number and handed her the phone. She spoke so calmly with extraordinary composure before returning the phone to me saying, “Thank you, Miss…” I was stunned by her calmness and I was a bit afraid, but I managed to ask, “How’s your mother?”

  • I don’t know, miss!
  • What do you mean? You have just spoken to her!
  • You phoned my father and I spoke to him. You did not call my mother!
  • Alright, you could have requested to talk to your mother.
  • My parents are separated, Miss. She does not live with my father…

The surprise I met when I opened my door in the morning

At that moment, I was deeply angry with myself. Ashamed of not knowing the crucial details about my students’ families since I was still new there, I said to her, “Okay, let’s phone your mother now.” After talking to her mother, she held out the phone and thanked me again. She was about to enter the classroom immediately when I grabbed her arm and asked, “So, how is your mother?”. While I was eagerly waiting to hear something, she simply said, “She’s been ill!” and entered the classroom. While wondering about the nature of her mother’s illness on the one hand, I also passed a comment under my breath, “She might not want to talk now, maybe that’s why she resists this way…” I also bore in mind “we should definitely talk about this in the longer run”.

I returned to my dorm room. I opened my students’ files and started to study the parents’ professions, their places of residences, and whether they were alive or not. I also ran through the sociometric interviews made in the previous years. Some students had fragmented families. I could not help but think “It must be so hard to experience so much at such a tender age!” Right there and then, I decided to become more accommodating towards that student and exercise more patience with the others.

When I opened the door in the next morning to go to the school, I saw it was festooned with colourful Post-Its. That was a great surprise! Thrilled and curious, I picked up the notes and read them one by one. The class made a joint effort to thank me for assisting their classmate to reconnect with her mother… They wrote under the notes, “Main tum se bahut pyaar karti hown, Miss.” (I love you so much, Miss) in Urdu and without any mistake! I was still surprised, what exactly was significant in thanking me for that? Of course, the student would call her mother who was very ill as said by her father. I also wondered how the entire class agreed to write in Urdu, while even I myself refrained from that!…

Was I worried about a cold only?

Once in every two weeks, parents would come and visit their children at the dormitory. The parents would come that weekend as well. In the morning, I stood and waited in the garden and greeted each parent, considering it as an “opportunity to meet them”. A busy crowd had gathered in the school garden. It was also a very pleasant atmosphere: students meeting their siblings, little children rushing around, families listening to their children with curiosity, and students telling their school adventures … A mother made her daughter sit on the ground while she braided her hair, some students spent time with their siblings in a corner, and some others, whose families had yet to arrive, gathered around a friend and her parents during their wait.

For a moment, in the crowd, my eyes caught my student whose mother had been sick the other day. She was sitting with a woman and talking to her on a bench in the garden. I approached them and introduced myself, and the visiting lady introduced herself too… She was the student’s mother whom I thought had been on her deathbed two days ago and for whom all in the class had been mobilized in worry. Before I could get over my surprise, I asked her if she felt alright and why she had not rested at home. My confusion doubled when she said she had a sore throat and the symptoms of a cold only. How so? Were all my anxiety and fear for a cold?

A misunderstanding, an incomplete narrative or an excessive bout of anxiety became the excuse for our strong bond meant for the future … That abnormal anxiety I showed for an ordinary situation caused my student, who had been distant to me at the beginning, feel herself valued and so softened her heart. She would later assemble the whole class to paste ‘thank you’ notes on my door, urging them to write the messages especially in Urdu!

Well, it seemed they too had started to love what I loved…

Oh hi there 👋 It’s nice to meet you.

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