Wednesday, October 13, 2004

The Motorcycle Madame

No, I'm not a Hell's Angel hooker. Since the car was stolen last Friday, I've been driven to my ESL classes by my 20 year old son. Here in Pakistan my job title is "English Madame" (teacher). They are pretty surprised to see an English Madame arriving via motorcycle.

While driving to this evening's class the cool air rememinded me of my really big, heavy, warm sweater I will wear as my "winter coat" here. As the miles sped past me and the sun set, my mind traveled to the time I bought the sweater. Chicago, early 1990's: It was a rummage sale find. I mended the raveled spots and wore it to my job at an elementry school. One of the teachers complimented the sweater. I bragged that it was used and only cost me $3. She looked approvingly, and said, "I'll give you $20 for it." She was totally serious, but I turned her down. I'm glad I did.

More miles and more remisiscing about another time someone tried to buy the clothes off my body. 1975: I was young and newly arrived in NYC. I had made myself a wardrobe for the trip. It was a cool and rainly day. I was getting a hair cut and the beautician complimented me on my rain jacket. It was bright, shinny red with checkered patch pockets and epaulets. She asked me where I got it and when I told her I had made it myself, she gushed, "Oh, you must make one for me too. I'll pay well." I told her I had no sewing machine but, unwilling to back off, she named a price I couldn't refuse and bought it off my back.

The sun is setting the wind is chilling. The grey is spreading. It's getting harder to see the road. Zaman hits a small bump that puts air between my butt and the seat. I ride sidesaddle in true Pakistani fashion for women, so it's a bit of a jolt. I ride watching the traffic till my mind starts blogging again.

I'm teaching Headstart in Chicago in the 1980's. One of our Nigerian moms is a large lady, like me. I ask her where she gets the fabric for her clothes. "It's all from my country." She replies. "I realize that," I reply. "I can recognize African cotton. It's so wonderful. Isn't there someplace here in Chicago where I can buy some?" "Sorry." The next day as she drops her son at school, she puts a large box in my hands and leaves quickly. I open it to find the very same suit I had complimented; washed, starched, perfumed, and wrapped in tissue paper. She had literally given me the clothes off her back. It's still humbling to recall many years later. That suit was a perfect fit and ranks as one of my alltime favorite clothing articles of my life.

The darkness is compete. It's dangerous to be on unfamiluar roads on a motorcycle at night here. Even though we live in the capital with the best roads in the country they are full of bumps, dips, uncovered man-holes, huge potholes, etc. In a car these are tire damaging inconvienances, but on a motorcycle, they are potentially life threatening. He hits a bump that sends us flying and almost unseats me! I tell him to stop immediately so I can regain my balance.

I realize the first two stories show my greedy and commercial nature, the third one shows unconditional giving and how other cultures value teachers. It makes me feel guilty that I have never given anything so spontaneously and without hope of a gift in return.

We are nearing the student's house. I have to start helping read street and house numbers. We finally find the house. I ring the bell and intoduce myself to the Urdu speaking guard as "the English madame" He calls the man of the house. We make introductions and walk up the stairs to his apartment. Nerviously I volunteer, "You know, I don't usually travel by motorcycle but this Friday my car was stolen."


Post a Comment

<< Home