Thank God It's Friday

14th July 1995 at 01:00
Saturday: We are into the interview season. Last week it was for teachers and I was stopped several times in the bazaar and offered advice. "X is very able man," or "Y is too weak".

Come the day and while the candidates fidgeted in the compound, each with his little band of supporters, the chowkidar (caretaker) skuttled about making tea. We chose Mahmoor Murad, a sturdily built youth with freckles, bright blue eyes and hair the colour of a raw carrot. Today is his first day and he trembles with nervousness. He replies "Yes, Sir," to everything, even to "Would you rather take football or drawing?"

Sunday: The Islamiat classes cause me some dismay. The teacher is an old mullah whom we are required to employ by law and in whose appointment I had no say. His classes appear to be chaos, but apparently he is well regarded in the community and I am advised to leave well alone.

Monday: We interview children who have applied for the 20 places up for grabs. For the past 10 days I have been subjected to varying degrees of "sifarish" or "recommendations", the curse of Pakistan. Nobody gets a job, promotion or anything except some big-wig speaks for him. Even a place in the national cricket team, so people tell me.

I do my best to ignore such remarks as, "Akbar Jallal is village organiser of Overk. It will be problem if his son is not admitted." We admit him. On merit. I think.

Tuesday: I visit the village carpenter to place an order for school furniture. He has a magnificent, Heath Robinson-like system of paddles, pulleys and cogs to power his water-driven circular saw. He brews up tea on a little fire of off-cuts and I watch him work for an hour, fascinated.

Wednesday: Our two women teachers are escorted to school by male relatives. Suraya has her husband, Mohammed Wali, who is also on the staff. Hajira has either her husband, father or teenaged brother to do duty. But last week she walked into school clutching the tiny hand of her four-year-old nephew Mahmoor.

Today he brings an ancient gun which he bought from an Afghan mujaheed, held together with Selloptape. Then at break there is a deafening rattle. Mahmoor appears carrying a mangled pigeon which he presents to me. I thank him but suggest he confines his shooting to after hours and he readily agrees.

Thursday: Training day and Class Three is easily persuaded to act as guinea pigs for Mohammed Wali's model lesson on their day off. For some it means leaving home at 5am. Ghower Ayub's daily journey takes him down a steep goat path to the river which he crosses on a single log bridge. He was a little late today.

"Any problems?" "Well, the log was rather wet because it rained in the night."

Every summer there are drownings in the swollen, torrential river but Ghower Ayub, aged 10, thinks nothing of it.

Friday: My day off is rarely free. Today I am invited to my 54th lunch in two years. I walk through little terraced fields of wheat, criss-crossed by irrigation channels and orchards of mulberry, apricot and walnut trees. Around me are the jagged peaks of the Hindu Kush and everywhere is the sound of running water and children's voices. As I plough through my 54th identical lunch of rice, bread and chicken with the chewiness of a squash ball, I think, "Not long now. Roll on bangers and mash."

Michael Binnie, principal of Pamir Public School in Chitral, Pakistan, returns to England this summer

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