Wednesday, June 25, 2014

12 Things about the Pashtun Community in Watertown

Recently I had the privilege of speaking with three different Pashtun families from NW Pakistan in Watertown.  Another teacher and I went to visit one family in their home.  Here are some of the cultural tidbits I picked up from parents that I thought would be useful for educators here. 
  1. All three families said something this week about how most Pashtuns are family-oriented people.  One father says, "In Pakistan there is no social security.  The children are our social security."  For example, he says most of his paycheck goes back to Pakistan to support his parents.  With any money he makes, he's thinking about how much he can send home.  He also said, "Every day is Mothers' Day!  I call my mother everyday!"
  2. Marriage:  When a woman marries, she belongs to her husband's family.  So if the family returns to Pakistan to visit, the woman does not typically return to her parents' home.  She stays only with her husband's parents and family members who live with the parents.
  3. Homes:  Many of the homes in Pakistan are designed to be expanded as the family grows.  Two families this week told me that their parents added more floors to their original home to accommodate the sons' families.  One man has four brothers and four sisters in Pakistan in Swat.  He told me that all of his brothers live with his parents and the house has gotten taller and taller as needed.  There is also typically a gated courtyard where the family gathers to socialize.  These are especially significant in more volatile areas.  A friend of mine lives in Quetta and mentions that she and her girls spend all their time lately in the courtyard with their extended family because it is so dangerous outside.
  4. Families Visiting Pakistan:  When children from Watertown return to Pakistan, this may mean that they are visiting with many, many family members under one roof.  No wonder several children we have known come back after a long stay in Pakistan with improvements in their Pashto  abilities as well as their English abilities!  Here, they are more often living only with their nuclear families, though the Pashtun community is strong!
  5. Mosques/Islamic Centers:  Many of the families worship at Allston-Brighton Islamic Center.  Some children go to Arabic school at Yusuf Mosque on Sundays to learn the Qu'ran (Koran), but Pakistani families do not typically worship there because it is an Arabic-speaking Mosque.  One father who drives a taxi told us that he attends prayer service wherever is convenient.  He'll drop off a customer then go to the mosque or Islamic center nearby that will have prayers.
  6. One woman we met recited a portion of the Qu'ran for us.  After asking if she could "read" the Qu'ran, she closed her eyes and began reciting it.  It sounds like a song.  She memorized it as a child at a madrassa of 300 girls in Pakistan.  You can hear a portion recited here.
  7. Some families or family members perform the Hajj--the pilgrimage to Mecca--during the 12th month of the Islamic calendar.  One mother told us that if they have the financial resources, the Hajj is a priority.  They must complete it.  Some students in Watertown have performed the Hajj with family members. 
  8. In Pakistan's schools, public and private, English is a compulsory subject.  Children begin studying English in elementary school.  Many of the parents in Watertown speak Pashto, Urdu and English.  Other families speak even more languages than that, including tribal languages. Most families read Urdu. Pashtu is used mainly for spoken language.
  9. Many mothers I have spoken to this year have completed at least 12 years of schooling, meaning they have at least completed high school.  Two mothers I've talked to this year were high school teachers in Pakistan.  This may mean that their English is quite good, even if they say it is not!  
  10. Watertown Strong!  Many Pashtun families, one mother told me, move to Watertown to join this strong community of Pashtuns.  Since they are accustomed to living with many family members under one roof, they turn to the community here for support.  They come together to help one another in times of need, like when there is a death in the family.  Some families came to Watertown through a lottery in the late '90s and seem to have started the Pashtun community here.
  11. In the case of a loss of a loved one, the Pashtun community often raises money (depending on the situation).  In a recent situation, they raised over $8,000 to help a family.  They also visit the family at this time.  One father told me they take a lot of food to the home, pray upon entering (after removing their shoes), and talk with the family about the person who died, saying "This happens to everyone.  He is in paradise.  We will see him again.  Inshallah."  (Inshallah is Arabic for "God willing")  They visit with the family a while and then pray before leaving.  Some women told us, "Life is a journey.  We are all on a journey--from God to God."
  12. As-salam alaykum (السلام عليكم) is an Arabic greeting used by Muslims around the world.  It's easy to learn--I'm sure a student in your class would be happy to teach you if you do not use it already!  It means "Peace be upon you."  And it is a nice way to initiate a conversation or extend a welcome to a Muslim family.
Every family I have spoken with this year has been eager to share something of their culture with me and they have had stories to share--even strangers I have met by saying As-salamu alaykum!  So practice your As-salamu alaykum and start asking some questions when you get a chance! :)  Please share what you learn with me and others.

The more we know about these various communities and families, the better we can teach the diverse children of Watertown.

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