Since April this year, I have had the privilege and honour of working with Shabnam Manati, a young lady from Kandahar, Afghanistan. I meet Shabnam twice a week, and we spend about an hour to an hour and a half, learning English and exchanging beautiful notes on life lessons, together. We do this through Pax Populiâ€™s English Teaching Program.
Shabnam is all of seventeen, and dreams of doing a degree in Computer Engineering. She sees her future couched in a world of peace, and dreams of working with software in a way that her society, country and later, the world, will be benefited. When Shabnam and I first spoke, I didnâ€™t realise it at the time that she would soon grow to become a sibling to me â€“ as I would enjoy indulging her as an older sister gladly would, her younger sister.
In my lessons with Shabnam, we never had moments where I was a teacher and she was a student â€“ we were just two friends, cutting across borders and the one-hour-long-difference that separated us in terms of time-zones. We were just two girls, having a good time learning English, and speaking the language to communicate ideas of peace, hope, love, dreams for a sustainable future â€“ while all the while, finding the appropriate words to do that.
In teaching Shabnam, I learned something powerful. That in teaching language, we are only doing our best to equip the other with words and sentences that can help them convey their thoughts and ideas. In that movement, I realised a powerful handicap that language has â€“ and yet, this handicap (note that I called it powerful) is its strength. When you want to share love, peace, faith, hope and courage, you donâ€™t need a language. You need a meeting of minds. And for that meeting of minds, you need language. Isnâ€™t it a powerfully cyclical truth? There is so much to say when you build bonds of love and peace. But no language is enough. My bond with Shabnam is that bond of love and peace. I know, whenever I speak to her, I donâ€™t need to tell her how much she means to me for her to know. By the end of each lesson, we say a silent goodbye with a hope in our hearts for the next session to come soon.
For me, Shabnam is not just a name and a voice behind my laptopâ€™s screen and speakers. Shabnam is, for me, my sister. Just like Afghanistan is, for India, a sister-land.
Kirthi Jayakumar is a writer, activist, artist and researcher (Peace and Conflict | Gender Studies) based out of Chennai, India.