Memories of Home

Chai Chai Garam Chai

Murree Christian School
P.O. Jhika Gali,
Murree Hills,
Pakistan

I can picture the scene as if it was yesterday.  I am lying on the top bunk in my dormitory. The louvered windows allow a mountain breeze to come through and the sun shines brightly through pine trees.  It is springtime in Murree and I am seven years old.  In the distance I hear the sound of musical scales in major and minor keys being played on old pianos, slightly tinny and out of tune. The players are disciplined, but clearly young with limited skills. Pungent smells waft through windows from the large kitchen two floors below alerting me that today our lunch will be curry and rice. The sounds of Urdu, Punjabi, and English meld together, a kaleidoscope of diversity unrealized until I am older. As the memory returns, I close my eyes and I am completely content.

Two distinct places come to mind when I think of the place and concept of ‘home.’ The first is that of several different cities where my parents lived in Pakistan during my childhood. The second place is the more constant: My boarding school near the town of Jhika Gali, nestled in the foothills of the Himalayan range of mountains in the country of Pakistan.

…it was in the institutional halls of boarding school where I encountered the God who I would grow to love…

My memories are strong of the place that shaped me, that formed me into who I am today. I was six years old when I first went to boarding school. I could barely tie my shoelaces; much less navigate the sometimes cruel environment of an institutional setting. But it was in the institutional halls of boarding school where I encountered the God who I would grow to love.

For three months at a time, I would share a bedroom with seven roommates supervised by a housemother struggling to meet the needs of 20 to 30 little children. Children, who needed to eat, brush their teeth, bathe, dress, study, and sleep. Along with the practical needs were the emotional and spiritual needs. These are the unseen needs that satisfy the deepest of human longings; namely love and belonging. It was a seemingly impossible task, but we would not know this until much later in our lives.

The first night away from home, I was always exhausted and sleep came quickly. I woke early in the morning, disoriented and unsure of where I was. When I remembered, the blur and taste of hot, salty tears clouded my vision and lingered on my tongue. I dared not show my tears; it was not safe. We were all small, all facing separation and loss, all experiencing the first of many times of homesickness. We were surrounded by others as young as we were, by others with the same tears and fears, the same deep sense of loss.

No one heard or saw my tears; instead, they fell silently, invisibly.  Soon others would wake, and happy chatter would overshadow the sad. We were already a family of sorts, complete with the aunts and uncles who served as our dorm parents. But each time I entered boarding school, the early morning scene would repeat itself, from the time I was six until the day I graduated from high school.

A cold, metal-framed bunk bed and the living God were my only witnesses. The one captured my tears, the other comforted them.In that tiny, private bunk bed space my first fervent prayers for comfort went up to an unseen God in a Heaven that seemed far away, and I experienced his comfort and presence. It was in a bunk bed that this unseen God responded, an invisible hand reaching out to comfort a little girl far from her parents who held fast to a stuffed animal.

My boarding school years are long past and, like many others who grew up globally, many places in the world have become home for a time.  Indeed, for me a recurring life-theme has been on place and home. But those early memories of boarding school still evoke in me tears and a deep sense of gratitude.  There have been many places where my faith grew, where I met the big and hard questions of life. One of those places was surely a boarding school bunk bed, an icon of sorts, a solid witness to a faith that is written on my heart by God’s hand.


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This piece was first published here

Photo by Jason Philbrick

4 thoughts on “Memories of Home

  1. I understand more clearly why you put so much into your artful, loving home decoration wherever you lived. You truly wanted to make your house, ‘HOME’ for each family member. I can’t wait to read your latest book!
    Because He Lives and met you back in boarding school,

    karen kay

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  2. Thank you- this resonates on so many levels. For me, too, the boarding-school bunk bed was a comforting place.

    It whispered fears & loves, stories surrendered to God and to sleep. One bunk-bed story lay buried for 35 years, until a recently-reacquainted friend jogged my memory bank –of a quiet kiss on the forehead.

    As a high-schooler, she lay on the lower bunk, facing the wall –roommates gone for the day, the overhead fan pushing the steamy tropical air around the room. Even though I hadn’t spent much time with her, I cherished our friendship. I was worried about her –more for her despondent spirit than for her fever. Sitting with her for a couple of hours, I rubbed her back… no words –she never responded. How could I get through to her heart? I remember silently debating the forehead-kiss, and decided, yes. Still, no response.

    Until last year, when she told me that it is a moment she treasures.

    I first attended boarding school in gr.2. Preschool years were spent running barefoot with my jungle friends in Indonesia’s Borneo rainforest. I thought I was one of them –brown-skinned and black-haired instead of fair, sporting a blonde fountain on the top of my head. At 6 years I was told we were going to Canada for a year, and when I asked, got the answer, “No. You will probably never see them again.” Landing gr.1 in a Canadian public school, I was lost –a fish gasping for the familiar comforts of my tropical home. Grade 2 placed me in boarding school, located in a cool mountain setting in Indonesia –but once again, feeling alone and disconnected. Tucked into my upper-bunk bed, every night for the first two weeks I quietly cried myself to sleep. The pain in my heart too much, I rolled my body clumsily over the high protective railing and fell to the floor –legs splayed, chin coming down hard onto the tiled floor. Blood, shock and for the first time, a loud crying.

    The kind dorm mother, who was also a nurse, came running up the stairs and took me in her arms, carrying me to the small infirmary. Bandaging the wound, she bemoaned the scar that would remain –and she asked me what was wrong. (She, herself, would have been tired after a full day of caring for 30 children; and definitely would have needed quiet evening-time to plan the menu and activities for the following day.) There in that closet-space she took me onto her lap and held me for perhaps an hour. She said, “you are such a quiet girl, never getting into trouble like some others who are always acting up. I’ve seen you –sitting quietly by the wall… You just need a little attention once in a while. Whenever you want a hug, you come to me, ok?” That was all I needed.

    I thank God for Auntie Bernie, and for other special moms I had over the years. Despite hurts or loneliness, they were one reason I could crawl into my bunkbed at the end of each day –comforted.

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  3. Thank you for writing this. I visited Murree school several times and often wondered how the very young children handled it. Thanks for explaining it so beautifully. Easter blessings,Victoria 

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