Three cups of tea was a ticket to education
At the invitation of author Greg Mortenson, a Kashmir village woman from his next book comes to Montana to boost her confidence in leading women.
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There have been plenty of other firsts: her first film in a movie theater, first sushi, first trip to a hair salon, and first time riding a horse.Skip to next paragraph
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Nothing much seems to shock her. That is, until the first time she ate at the MSU cafeteria: “I just couldn’t believe how much food there was, and how much gets thrown away.”
Perhaps as influential as any class she’s taking (including English composition and computer studies) is the exposure to daily American life.
“Here she is surrounded by strong women,” says Chabot. “And that’s important because back at home, for CAI, empowering other women will be her No. 1 job.”
Naseer agrees: “Where I’m from, most women stay home. It’s really different, but it’s easy for me here.”
Perhaps the biggest cleft of difference between here and there, for Naseer, was created at 8:50 a.m. on Oct. 8, 2005, when the comfortable life she and her family had with her landowner uncle became much more like that of the struggling masses. Naseer was writing on a blackboard, teaching in a village near her own when she felt the floor rattling.
“Run!” she yelled as she and her 5- and 6-year-old girls scrambled out seconds before the building collapsed in a whoosh of choking dust. One girl died at that school, but 70,000 people died in the quake throughout Kashmir.
Naseer frantically ran home, stumbling past wailing mourners to find her family of 10 sitting in front of their collapsed home.
“It was a really bad moment in my life,” she recalls of the days Naseer’s family and 30 neighbors hovered under a large sheet, hiding from nasty weather and mourning, taking turns digging through rubble for food.
With all the schools leveled and the road to Muzaffarabad blocked, life became a daily struggle just to survive. It has continued that way for Naseer until she landed here in August, greeted by the startling availability of food, entertainment, and, most important, the freedom to come out of her shell.
She admits that she misses her family. But the thought of returning after the freedom she’s experiencing is daunting – especially with an arranged marriage. “If I chose not to, I would be expelled from my family and village. Most girls just say ‘OK,’ ”she explains.
Naseer has had two public speaking events and more are lined up. Though speaking to groups is new to her, she says that it’s part of the education she needs to take on a leadership role. “I like it,” she says. “I know I must be confident to work for CAI, so I’m trying to do my best.”
She also is taking tae kwon do. “I want to be strong,” Naseer says. “It helps you with discipline ... I like that. It gives you power.” Power, perhaps, she can’t experience at home.
“Here you have the freedom to do anything you want,” Naseer continues. “It feels good. I’m here to learn different things. I want to get experience about everything.”
What does she hope to accomplish with all of these new experiences? “Education,” she says. “That’s what I will bring home to other women in my village.”
• • •
On a crisp day, recently, leaves were crunching under the wheels as Naseer was learning to ride a bike. With her host family rallying around, she was visibly frustrated as the bike teetered unsteadily beneath her after her umpteenth try.
So she gave up: “I felt like a child. I fell a lot and started to get so mad at myself.”
In her village, with rocky roads, no one owns a bike and no one in her family had ever learned to ride one. But after weeks of watching bikers cruising Bozeman, she’d fancied that freedom and asked her hosts for the lesson – so she was embarrassed to give up.
But early the next morning Mr. Lawson walked outside to find Naseer riding the bike on her own, with an ambitious look in her eyes.
“She’s just a quietly determined individual,” Mrs. Lawson observes.
That quiet determination of a woman wanting to learn as much as possible – over a few cups of tea or on a bike – is just what Mortenson had in mind when he built his first school for girls in the developing world, and when he brought Naseer to the US.
[Editor's note: the name of the author, Greg Mortenson, was misspelled in the original version]