The moment we landed I thought – back to home, back to work. My mind scrambles for some ideas on how I can teach the types of floods. It’s as though it turns on ‘work mode’ automatically. Like the orange-flight-mode-bar.
Posting this because I spent my day sitting on the sofa in the hotel lobby. And this has been my most meaningful encounter of the week.
Let me recollect my thoughts about my conversation with Mocca (Vasiliki). She signs while she speaks.
As always, I walk away from each encounter, no matter how short, with a slight shift in perspectives. At this moment, I wonder if I’m wasting my day away, sitting here with my laptop on Cyberworld, instead of talking to more people who can tweak my life in ways.
I believe a year ago I’d probably arrange at least a noon meetup. I feel a slight apprehension or consideration at arranging meetups, and I wonder why. Is it because I’m a little tired from my Greece holiday week with family so I need these days to consolidate my thoughts a little, or is it my growing guardedness with age? I’m not too sure. Actually, I think it’s more fatigue, and perhaps my curiosity about Greece has been eased.
Meeting Vasiliki is meaningful. I was excited to meet her, I wanted to, mainly because she was a Special Education Teacher. A fellow teacher, and one far more certain and specialized than I was at handling children of Special Needs. I hoped to glean some insights into why she ventured into this, how she handles them, and if I could take away any advice for myself.
I would like to remember her stories (from the very short encounter we had).
Let me try to weave together the various strands of thoughts I have.
We watched The Voice (Greek) in her cousin’s house
Chatted about Greece (700 euros a month for a teacher, hmm. Refugees shifting in. Macedonia. Eurocrisis / EU referendum and their reaction to take a holiday the next day. Summer holidays flocking to Greek islands – how lucky! The church and its… involvement (?) in politics hmm. Stray cats. Greek cats.)
A teacher of Special Education – why? I shared with her my background, and she shared hers with me. She wanted to be a teacher, and as a teacher she wanted to help every child. Every child, regardless of their backgrounds and abilities. She was curious about how she can help children of special needs, took up volunteering and started off there.
Sign language classes. In Greece with only less than 70 Deaf interpreters, and limited deaf schools, it is difficult to cater to this group of children.
She told me about her volunteering at this project that aims to help the Deaf refugees of Syria. There is a boy there, 6 years old, caught in the midst of the war and the turmoil, did not learn any language. No Syrian Sign language, no hearing-aid-assisted English language, Syrian spoken language, nothing. When he came, she had to teach him from nothing. Nothing. At 6 years old and communicating without a language, I wonder how it is.
At first, he kept indicating he wanted to go home. Tried to play games with him but he’d reject, because he didn’t understand how to play. But it’s getting better, today he smiled, she said.
We also talked about the integration of children of special needs in mainstream schools. She agreed it could be helpful to some in inculcating inclusivity and understanding, but it was also debilitating for children, especially Deaf children. A parent had opted for hearing aid for their child, and often the Deaf would learn the Spoken Words (Greek) before the Sign Language. It was wrong, she said, it should be in reverse. Sign should be their First Language, and then when they grow older, they can learn the languages of the Hearing. I loosely quote from memory:
‘Why should a child struggle so hard to fit in a place where he’s placed at an overt disadvantage? He can learn but he’ll be studying and working really really hard all day thinking he has to. But does he? Why shouldn’t he then learn Sign, which is his first language?’
She shares about this boy whose parents eventually opted to let him learn Sign along with his hearing aid. She says he seems happier now, and it builds confidence, you know, being able to communicate with a community which you perhaps, feel you belong. It makes me consider- a Deaf with a Hearing Aid learning the Spoken Language – does he belong to the Deaf community, or the Hearing? It does seem neither here nor there.
She also shared her interest in researching the learning through play. ‘It can also be used for overcoming fears, you know.’ She brings up this incident which I really like.
There was a child that had a fear of hairdryers. In order to help the child overcome his fear, the teacher designed a series of challenges for the child, with a character/hero and an ultimate task to complete to save him. The hairdryer task is the last challenge before this ‘story’ ends. They dressed up the hairdryer like a dragon, and the task was to retrieve a slip of paper from the hairdryer, in order to rescue the hero. As it is the last task now, the child has ‘bonded’ with the hero, and this creates greater impetus for him to go through with the task. They brought him to ‘practice’ by trying with the hand dryer in the toilet, before his actual mission. He did it, and quickly too.
‘Helping a child overcome his fear should not be waving a hairdryer and telling him ‘look, it’s not scary, it’s okay’. When you create a task like this, you give him the choice, to participate, and the choice to overcome his fear, on his own accord. He makes the decision to overcome his fears in order to save the hero, rather than forced to encounter it. ‘
I thought this was a very inspiring story. A plot / story carefully thought out, creatively enacted, can help a child and touch his life indeed. I really liked this. I am reminded of our powers as adults and our abilities to shape lives if we want.
At this thought, I am also thinking about my own desires. I am not sure I am as driven as passion by they are, I cannot quite seem to dedicate the time and energy to extensively think through my curriculum. I would like to seize all my free time to pursue my other hobbies like reading and Spanish or just to watch youtube and scroll through websites. Is that bad?
We spent our morning
Buzzing with Colours and vibrancy and glitter
Bye to the Pamirs.
Last meal with Shuric (and his daughter)
This reminded me that.. Shuric has a daughter, my age. He is a father. Spending so much time with us, as a tour guide, also means time away from his own family. Earning these money as a tour guide, is also a means of giving his family and his daughter a better life. Everyone’s (only) trying to make a living.
Got a couch about 24 hours before. Alisher responded quickly and welcomed us to his home.
His kids are clearly eloquent and on their ways to becoming open-minded charismatic individuals. Very welcoming to their guests, good attempts at making conversations, and only… less than 12 years old.
I am once again filled with gratitude and almost disbelief at the hospitality of people towards strangers. We barely arrived 4 hours before, and there we were, with food on the table, a shower prepared, a place to sleep. Please let me remember to pass on such kindness, please. Someday I will! Host. And I will cook nice meals, and I will be kind to backpackers. I will I will I will.
Met Shakhnoz to walk around the city the next morning.
This part is funny. He shook his hand, and then did the gesture for money. Hahaha
We visited the beautiful library!
Interesting because I realised the kids here, in coloring / depicting a picture of their environment / country / childhood, they depict mountains and their traditional costumes. The children in Singapore will depict something so entirely different. It will be buildings, it will be cars…
We also visited a library. I never thought I’d go for a library tour in another country. I used to look at those foreign groups coming in to our libraries and our schools and I thought they were weird. Why would they want to spend their time in our libraries when they can be elsewhere, at Marina Bay Sands or something? There’s nothing much to see.
But their library tour was so fascinating. We were shown the different rooms – rooms for the blind with books in Braille, and a space for the handicapped. I thought that was very good and very inclusive. Do we have something like that in Singapore?
They also had different language rooms – Chinese room, Korean room, French room, etc etc. These specific language rooms held language classes for people to attend and converse in groups. Very interesting, in all. I now understand why foreigners go for these tours.
at least 8USD hahaha
My favourite night would be lying down in the dark, taking turns to recount all the things we’ve learnt. I wish I took them down. That was fun.
Central Asia has been wonderful. Has it only been half a year? Gosh. For some reason it feels really long ago. I learnt so much though, from knowing absolutely nothing (seriously – not even which countries form part of it, or how to spell them) to an increased understanding of the place – its languages, historical ties with Russia, cultural differences etc. Broadened geographical imagination. Thank you world for the opportunity! 🙂
Until Iran, then. 🙂
In Yamchun, we stayed at a… bed&breakfast, gingerly perched upon the side of a mountain. should i describe it this way?
i remember we drove up a slope as night started to fall, our surroudings dimming
up we went, up a long steep slope
the place surprised me a little, a bed and breakfast located so high up, and inaccessible withot a car, highly prone to mass movement, i thought to myself
i briefly hoped it wouldn’t rain
all was well, we slept well.
1. Early morning – we woke up for a morning walk
Climbed up some height just in time as the sun rose
It felt like a random peak, and it felt like the mountains here could be climbed randomly
We hiked up and up and up in a way that reminded me of Mt Agung, and I was reminded of my weakness
waiting for me
Then the glowing sun rose and I finally reached and I heaved a sigh of relief as I sat on the stone to catch my breath, feeling sore about feeling weak
but i was happy when i reached. hurray!
i like this picture alot. hehehe
It was beautiful – I was reminded once again that such a sight can be seen only if one works his/her feet, and I was pleased
2. Bibi Fatimah – hot springs
The best hot shower ever. The best shower I had in the week (HAHAH). I’m dread cold showers, showers in the cold. The hot springs came to me as a huge relief – hot gushing water that embraced me. We had to step in without our clothes, the men and the women had separate rooms. I thought of the hot springs in Japan, and followed shyly stripping before I stepped into the warm embrace of the waters
Here the locals believe in the medicinal / spiritual qualities of the hot spring, and one can get granted wishes or cures for medicinal conditions / fertility grants if they pick a stone here (or something)
I stepped in cautiously, and was greeted by a lady completely unabashedly naked
The gushing warmth of the shower flowing seamlessly from the marbles of nature massaged my body (as exaggerated as it may sound) – best shower ever, I thought to myself gratefully
I hadn’t had a proper shower for too long. I am always grateful after going without warm showers for some time
I scrubbed my hair and brushed my teeth with ease, taking my time
3. Yamchun Fort
We then went to the beautiful Yamchun Fort.
The most impressive of the valley’s many tumbledown castle ruins, complete with multiple walls and round watchtowers. It was beautiful, breathtakingly so. There was some men up there, though. It strikes me as a surprise (or not) that there’s no attempt at protection / restoration efforts at a site this beautiful. It’s almost like an abandoned random place where people are free to ascend. Not that that’s a bad thing, but a historical site like that, this beautiful, has potential to claim greater recognition and should be preserved.
part of the ruins at the fort
Driving along ishkashim, we passed by gigantic rocks and a beautiful sandy place, littered with broken beautiful patterned rocks, marble rocks of green and blue stripes that aligned neatly in pieces. I gaped at the lovely pile scattered nonchalantly on the floor. So amazing!!! So beautiful!! What were all these metamorphic rocks doing here? How were they related to the marble hot springs at bibi fatimah? What is it about this area that gives them the condition to form? We played with the softest sand glittering on the shapeless landscape.
convenient platform for scribbles
we had alot of fun here, taking videos of the sand slipping from our grasps. why are the videos? – inserts video from memory –
4. Khakha Fortress (Wakhan Valley)
We walked up the steps and met with some men in army green. Are those guards? I asked, as we drew closer. I think so, they look like they have… Guns. Cz replies. Calmly, as we walked closer, he greets the officer and proceeds nonchalantly. Me, I walk hesitantly behind, my nervous grin emerging. I try to be friendly and make conversation – we’re tourists, how old they were, … The age similarity (22 years old) assured me in some way- surely that forged some sort of connection, surely they won’t shoot me? Of course they won’t, but the thoughts that come to my mind when I see a gun (and especially when pointing at me incidentally) I do freak out
James Bond Shuric. Too picturesque, we make him pose for us over and over again (HAHAH)
Shuric pointed out across the river border, 400m away- ‘afghan car, afghan school, afghan cow,’ he says as we move on. We drive past an afghan woman and her children. They wave! We wave back at their tiny figures. ‘Afghan wife,’ Shuric says. ‘Afghan grass,’ ‘afghan flowers,’ Cz adds. I burst out laughing. We continue pointing out ‘afghan house, afghan washing clothes,’ Just a river away. So near in distance, but so distant nonetheless.
‘Today we drive along the Afghan border from Langar to Ishkashim. En route we visit the Buddhist Stupa in Vrang, the ruins of Yamchun Fortress, the sacred hot springs of Bibi Fatima Zahra and the old fortress of Kah-Kaha in Namadgut.
We crossed to the Wakhan valley. It was snowing and the fog was thick, concealing the distance. At the guard post in front of us was a truck facing issues with its petrol, so we stopped for awhile. I looked the the creaking flagpole with the rusting metal flag, green and white and red, and the guardhouse scribbled in blue crayon-like words. The soldiers in their military uniform, a gun peeking from beneath. My driver standing next to the guard post with the soldier. He walks over to check our boot. I am slightly nervous, as always when crossing borders. They remind me of a scene from a foreign film – I know that is because that’s the only time I’ve ever seen the Persian-descent, blue-eyed features of the Tajik-Afghan region.
I am nervous anyway. Ah, media.
We drive slowly along the Wakhan valley. How curious, that a single river separates the border between the two countries. Just less than 300m away. It is a mountainous, barren place. It was foggy and cold.
Zong Castle (vishim qala):
crossing a small stream on our way up
dog following us
This is one of my favourite memories. Here, we met a boy (a young shepherd carrying a bleating sheep) who brought us to his home.
I remember him gesturing for us to come in. Hesitant but curious, I gingerly stepped into his house. We smiled, uncertain, taking in the carpets and the ceiling with its Pamiri roof and the things around us. He gestured for us to sit down, and we did.
His mum tried not to look surprised at our presence. We smiled at each other, and I took out my pens from Singapore and gave it to them. I then asked them to smile for a polaroid.
They smiled at the photo, and the little boy immediately stuck it on the wall along the doorway. He smiled at his mother. She then gestured for us to sit down, and went away for some time. A moment later she appeared, with warm bread and a bowl of goat milk (presumably) for us each.
Wasn’t sure if it was impolite to completely refuse, but at the same time we didn’t want to impose or take too much from them either. We tore a little piece from the warm bread and ate them, and drank the bowl of goat’s milk. I believe it’s freshly squeezed; I still remember it was cold, and had little curdlike texture in it. I gulped it down.
Took a photo with them, and took our leave, feeling warm and happy. He walked with us a little bit, and we waved him back as it was drizzling. I can still remember me waving to him as I walked on, watching his figure grow smaller and smaller. I can still remember his delighted grin, and his genuine excitement as he invited us back to his home.
This was the first time I’ve ever, ever been invited to a stranger’s home.
Vrang buddhist stupa – here we met a group of children looking for rubies, it seemed. The little girl opened her palm, and showed me some rocks. ‘are these rubies?’ she had asked. I shrugged. Later, I read that there was indeed a ruby mine around the area.
Climbing up a seemingly random unmarked path
here, we saw the little kids climbing up as well
I will remember you 🙂
Drove on and stayed in Yamchun for the night
i remember walking to this toilet
it’s an interesting toilet, hence i took a photo of it
being butt-naked in the cold is cold
At night in Yamchun – no lights, I read my book and slept
We rode past a herd of animals grazing on this barren land. Wow, I excitedly point out. The little girl stared into the distance. Her long lashes and rosy glowing cheeks catch mine. When she’s my age, would she remain as fascinated as I was? Or would she grow accustomed by these landscapes I hardly see in my homeland. I offer the Mother my remaining 2 sweets. She nods and smiles, taking them from my outstretched palm and giving them to he children. I had meant then for her, so i was slightly surprised. It made me consider if I’d do the same (well i suppose so, if i don’t eat sweets / if i have kids, but still). I stare curiously at them; they stare curiously at me.
I was actually really excited about the Wakhan valley before the trip, considering its proximity to Afghanistan, separated only by a river. But the weather was poor and cold, and Ishkashim triumphed this, so this faded in my memory. 😀
meal time! yummy in the cold!