Invitation to Mission in Pakistan: Reflection No. 1

12th August 2017 - by Nathalie Marytsch

Henrietta, Ann, Daniel and Mauricio with a group of locals in Pakistan.

A small group from this country is spending a few days in Pakistan on a learning experience. Here Henrietta Cullinan shares some reflections of the group’s journey.

Our first full day in Pakistan. Finding it hard to be organised with malaria pills, jungle formula, tooth brushing, water bottle, dupatta.  I am here in the Badin City, Sindh province Pakistan. What does it take to build a country? Songs, flags, colours, sports, poets, shouting with a clenched fist. How to make a country, a house, a family?

We got up in time to see the boys and girls line up in the church compound and sing the national anthem before school. It is a private school that goes all the way up to GCSE level. The boys wear pinky beige shirts and trousers, with a tie on elastic and the girls wear salwar kamiz in the same colour with loops on the shoulders to hold a white scarf in place.

Then two of us, with the deputy, went to spend a few minutes in each classroom chatting to the students starting with the top class and working downwards to the kindergarten.

I felt bad that I was taking up the teachers’ time. It was difficult at first to hear from one or more children, until we came to a geography class, where they discovered asking us questions about England/Chile was a good game. What is your national bird? What is your national dress? When did you become independent? I had to sing my national anthem to one class. At break time we had hot sweet milky tea with the teachers.

I was lent 2 salwar kamiz by Father Daniel and realised this was the only thing to wear. All the clothes I had brought, although modest, are not really suitable, making me stand out just too much. I copied the way the students wore their scarves which is the opposite way round to hijab wearing girls in London or even Kabul. For prayers and in church you need to put one end of the scarf over your head.

After tea at the school we skipped across the compound to have tea at the TB clinic. We met the doctor and administrator dispensing drugs. All the patients, men on one side women on the other were waiting on the verandah. Some women were parkoli women, with bracelets all the way up their arms. One woman came in to see the doctor and we were allowed to listen to the consultation, wearing face masks. Her husband helped push the bracelets over her elbow so the doctor could take her blood pressure.

On day one there are so many things to trouble us westerners, such as why I should be allowed to listen to her consultation, just cos I’m white. Similarly I was aware of my reaction to the teaching methods in the school, very teacher led. The master told us he taught computer theory and showed me the text book, word, power point etc and my heart sank, which I guess was one of the reactions we talked about in our preparation sessions.

At four, us two women met up with the sisters and the catechist’s wife to go shopping. I was curious to see outside the compound, but I suspected it might not be as simple as wandering along the high street. The sisters were keen not to have us hanging around. I realise that I never see women on the street.

We went to mass at six in the church, mats on the floor. Very small children filed in and at at the front and a catechist played the harmonium. It reminded me of the Ethiopian church in Calais because there was quite a few rituals that you wouldn’t see in England like touching the gospel, touching the icon, touching the incense and the candles. I sat on the mats on the floor. The mass was in Parkari so I kept dozing on the cool matting and with the fan overhead.

After mass we were due to go to the headmaster’s house for supper. We waited on the steps of church as it grew dark and cool, kids coming running up to us, watching the bats and the trees tossing in the wind. The headmaster told us about his life while his little girl curled up on the bed and went to sleep.