Wu and the journey. A story for 9 to 11 year olds, about integrity

Wu and the Journey.

tight rope story001

I am Wang Cheng. Although I am 40 years of age now I well remember my childhood. Chinese parents were allowed to have only one child as the population was growing out of control. The government were very strict about this. If parents went ahead and had two or more children, families could be split up, fined, or punished in other ways. All my friends were from single child families. This meant that all eyes were on the one child. Grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, they were all watching and tutting about my behaviour (and that of my friends in their own families). There was a lot of pressure to behave ‘just so’ to try to please everyone. I must say I did my best to make my family happy. I liked it when my grandma put her hand on my shoulder and said to me “Wang, I am very proud of you!” Or when my father took me fishing for the day because as he said “I know you can behave yourself, not like your friend Wu. What are his parents thinking of letting him come and go and do what ever he likes to do?”

My friend Wu was my hero. I just loved the way he was so bold and daring. He did things I did not have the courage to do. I was always afraid that someone might tell me off. I was afraid of tearing my clothes or getting dirty, or of trying anything new in case I could not do it well, and my parents would be disappointed in me.

Wu’s parents had plenty of money but not much time, so they employed maidservants to look after Wu. Actually it was a string of maids that they had one after the other. These girls were very inexperienced in looking after children and they would just let Wu do what he wanted to do. He learned that if he screamed and shouted they would agree to let him do almost anything.

Wu decided he was going to have his own circus. He set up a wire in his backyard with the help of the gardener. It wasn’t very high, just a few centimetres off the ground. He soon discovered that it was quite easy to balance on it and to walk along it. When he fell off it didn’t matter as the ground was very close. He told me I should have a go, but I was afraid as usual. It would have been easy enough but I didn’t want to get drawn into his tricks.

tight rope story001

Soon the gardener helped Wu to raise the wire a bit. It was as high as the seat of a stool now. He could still walk along it and if he fell off he had a safe way of falling, he said. I told him he should show his parents, they would be proud of him.

‘No,’ said Wu, ‘they don’t care what I do. They are so busy working they are too tired to bother with me.’

Wu very much wanted his parents to care about what he did, so he started to dream up a plan. He didn’t think they would care for all his circus skills, his juggling, somersaults and high wire act. He decided to save his money and go on a train journey and then they would have to go and find him. They would have to take some time off work and go looking for him. He liked that idea.

‘You must come with me’, he said to me, ‘ I’m off to Chengdu. I have an uncle there. I don’t know exactly where he lives but someone will know him I’m sure.’

Wu told the maid what his plans were. Of course she didn’t believe him as he was always making up stories. He used to lie about all sorts of things to get attention. She just said  ‘Chengdu is a very big city, you will get lost there. You don’t even know where you live yourself let alone where to find your uncle!’

Wu stopped and had a think. ‘Well, will you write my address down for me so when I want to come back I can show the ticket man at the station?’

The maid laughed at his game and wrote his address down on a piece of card.

‘Look after it,’ she said, ‘or you might never come back!’

Wu came to find me to take me with him on his journey. I refused to go. I thought it was a bad idea although I would have loved to have gone with him. I thought my parents would be too worried if I just went off.

Wu disappeared. I ran to tell my grandma what had happened. She had heard so many things about what Wu had said he was going to do, but never did.

She said, ‘Don’t worry Wang, he’ll be back for his supper.’ I was not so sure.

That night Wu’s father came knocking at our door.

‘Is Wu here?’ he asked.

It was unusual to see him, he usually sent the maid to our place to bring Wu back for his meals.

‘No, he came and told me he was off to Chengdu,’ I said.

‘That’s right,’ said Grandma, ‘more of his nonsense!’

‘You mean you let him go?’ said Wu’s father.

‘Wu has told us so many fanciful things about what he is going to do, I have never tried to stop him because he never does them anyway and because it’s not my place to stop him. It is his parents place – yours.’ Grandma replied.

Wu’s father went red and then he turned white. He looked afraid. ‘He said he was going to catch the train?’

‘That’s what he said, but I didn’t believe him, where would he get the money for a ticket?’ said my Grandma.

Wu’s father rushed off. His wife had recently sacked the previous maid for stealing money. Perhaps Wu has been stealing the money.

Much later Wu told me about what happened that day. He had set off on the train to Chengdu. People were curious about him. They all wanted to know where he was going. They said he was too young to travel alone. He told them he was going to stay with his uncle.

‘Where does your uncle live?’ asked a woman kindly.

‘I don’t know,’ said Wu, ‘someone will know him. Someone will tell me where he lives when I get there.’

The whole carriage has been listening, they burst out laughing; some looked concerned, and some laughed cruelly .

The kind woman asked Wu where he lived. He showed her the piece of card.

‘Where are your parents?’

‘They work all day.’

She looked at his nice clothes and shoes. ‘They will be worried about you, you should go home.’

Wu told me he felt like crying. ‘Yes.’ he said, ‘but I don’t know how to go home.’

The woman looked at the piece of card with Wu’s address on it. ‘I know this place,’ she said, ‘I will take you home.’

They left the train at the next station and climbed onto one going in the opposite direction. Wu was relieved to see his own station, a place he recognised from meeting his father when he had been away. They started to move through the crowds.

‘ Wu!’ He heard his father’s voice shouting his name. Well, he went home with his father, the kind lady disappeared, and Wu cried all the way home.

His father did not know what to say but gradually the whole story came out and Wu’s parents realised that their son was brave and clever, but needed more of their time and attention. He needed their guidance about telling the truth and about stealing. He needed to know about having a good reputation, or a bad one. His parents had to explain that if you do things which give you a bad reputation people will not trust you. They may not believe what you say when it is really true. You may find yourself in danger, as Wu nearly did. He needed to know that they appreciated his skills that he worked so hard at. Everyone needs praise and guidance when they are growing up. His grandma came to stay a while so that the family could sort themselves out.

Questions

Why did Wu want to make the journey to Chengdu?

Did he tell anyone he was going?

Why did they not believe him?

What did Wu’s father realise when he found Wu at the station.

What things had Wu done that you would not do?

What do children need from their parents and carers?

 

The Dangers of Telling Half Truths (story to illustrate a common problem amongst young people today)

The Danger Of Telling Half-Truths.

A story requested by Anne, a teacher, concerned about her students’ dishonesty and lack of responsibility and how it will affect their future lives.

My name is Philip. I have a great deal of experience of telling half-truths. I used to avoid my responsibilities and duties by only saying part of what had happened. In the end, no one believed anything I said. I was not trusted any more, and was thought of as a joke. I wriggled out of things to avoid work, and eventually no one would give me any work. There was no unemployment benefit in those days and I ended up stealing things to stay alive. Finally, I found myself in behind bars. I hated prison, everyone was a liar there. You couldn’t trust a soul. In the outside world people told the truth and I knew what to expect from them. It was just me who was the liar. I thought it was all right to tell only half the story, what I spoke of was true, but by not telling the whole story, I was trying to make people believe something that was not real. That made me a liar, but I would not admit it, even to myself.

I will give you an example. I had three brothers, we all had our duties to do on my father’s farm. It was hard work but as my father said, ‘It puts food on the table. Do you want to eat? Then you have to work.’

We each had certain jobs to do around the farm. Mine was to feed the cows during their morning milking, amongst other things. I had to carry hay or silage to the milking parlour. It was cold, wet and dark in the winter. The best way of doing the job was in the evening before dark, then the feed would be ready for the cows in the morning. If you left it until morning you would be fumbling around in the dark or half light, falling over tools someone else had left around.

Last thing at night Father would ask me. ‘Did you fetch in the hay?’ I always said ‘Yes,’ whether I had not. I might have put the proper load in for the cows, or just a handful , thinking that I would do it next day. Come the morning I would finish the job.

Father hated that, seeing me stumbling around half awake with armfuls of hay, while he was trying to milk the cows.

‘You said you fed them last night. What are you doing now?’

‘I did feed them, but mother called me in for supper and you know how vexed she is when we eat the meal when it’s cold.’

I was full of excuses. I just wanted an easy life.

Father warned me that the cows would go dry if we did not did feed them enough and said that because I was such a liar, he never knew how much fodder they had eaten.

I just thought he was a bad tempered old man and continued with my half-truths and excuses. The cows did go dry, no milk came from two of them. I knew it was my fault. I was giving short rations because I would have to shift a mountain of hay from a distant barn when the supply close to the parlour ran out.

Father exploded. ‘You useless pile of cow dung! You can go and work for someone else. You are no use to me or your mother.’ He banned me from the farm. That’s when my life took a downward spiral. The little work I had soon came to an end because the employer quickly discovered I was not to be trusted, either for the truth, or because of my habit of taking things which were not mine to take. I was soon in prison.

Eventually I did learn that I needed people to trust me if they were going to employ me. The rewards of being trusted and  the satisfaction of doing a good job were far away better than the pleasure of skipping work and getting away with doing as little as possible.

Questions

When do you think this story took place?

Where did Phillip live and work?

Why did he tell only half the story – or ‘half truths’ as he called them.

What was the effect of telling half truths on him?

Why was his father so angry with him?

Does the story remind you of anything in your life?

Is it better to tell the truth and get into a bit of trouble, or to tell half truths and never be trusted as a result?

What is the problem if no one ever trusts you?

How does it feel when you know you are always honest and so does everyone else?

What are the benefits of being trustworthy?

 

 

 

 

Flood in India, a story for children from 9 to adult, about respect for property

Story by Tessa Hillman re-published  in  Oct 2013. 10 minutes to read aloud.

Educational Stories, Stories for primary school children | Tags: , , , , ,

The Flood

In my village in India we live very close to the sea. We live in fear of tidal waves, hurricanes, cyclones and even extra high tides. If the people in my village could have found somewhere else to live, they would have. But most people are too poor to move away, so they stay and pray that the sea will not take them before their time.

When I was about ten years old, we had a terrible flood. I remember it so clearly. The weather had been bad for several days, raining heavily, turning everything into mud. Then we heard there were storms at sea. The tide was very high the night before it happened. My father said we could not risk staying at home for even one more day. He made us pack our belongings and put them into our handcart. My mother readily agreed to go. She was afraid for our lives,  the lives of her children, especially the new baby, only three months old. She felt he would be her last child and so he was especially precious to her. There were six of us children, four girls and two boys. Two of my sisters were older than I was and the others had come much later, they were twins and were about three years old.

For me it was quite exciting to pack up all our important things. We did not have very much, but my mother made sure we took our little cooking stove and a large bag of rice along with clothing and bedding and tools for working in the fields. We also took our oil lamp, trying very hard not to break the glass. I wrapped my blanket carefully around it to make sure it was safe.

Many other people had the same idea as us; some had already had water in their homes from the previous night’s high tide.

The wind blew and the rain fell and we trudged along the road as soon as it was light enough to see. My father said we must walk at least eight miles to get on to higher ground before the next high tide. This was going to be difficult, but father thought that even if we didn’t manage the eight miles at least we would be further inland. Maybe the land would soak up the sea behind us, so that it would not reach us, even if we were still on the low lying ground.

My elder sisters and I took it in turns to carry the twins. They were very small and could not keep up the pace. Mother carried the baby on her back and helped father to push the cart when he became tired.

After we had been walking about three hours a terrible thing happened, the wheel fell off our cart. People were streaming past us with their children, animals and all their worldly goods. Everybody’s cart was full up to the brim. There was no space for our stuff. Mother began to cry as she looked at her little cooker that she loved so much. Would she have to leave it behind?

Time was pressing on. The day was becoming hot and humid and there was still a long way to go. Mother noticed a signpost at the edge of the road. It indicated the way to the next village.

“This is a good marker,” she said, and she walked over to a rough brick house. It was open and there were signs that the inhabitants had left hurriedly, leaving little of importance behind them. Mother and Father dragged the cart into the house and draped an old sari she found lying in a corner over it to hide the contents.

“With any luck when we return we may find this house again and reclaim what is ours,” she said.

We continued our journey with no food and no water but with our lives intact. We reached the higher ground two hours before the next high tide and storm. The land was devastated. Thousands of houses were washed away and hundreds of lives were lost. Those too old or too ill to make the journey were drowned. Our family was still together, wet, homeless but together. After five days the local people who had fed us with bowls of rice said we must return to our homelands. There was no room for us in their village. The water had subsided, so return we did. It was difficult to recognise the route we had taken. Dead animals lay strewn everywhere and every so often there was a human corpse. I noticed that several of the dead were people who had a leg or a foot missing, they had not been able to walk fast or far enough.

Father found an old wheel abandoned in the road and was hoping to be able to fix it on to the cart, should we ever find it again. My mother suddenly became excited as she saw in the distance the sign near the brick house where our belongings had been left.

Mother and I ran towards the house. There were some people standing round the door looking tired and dirty. Mother approached them cautiously. She spoke to a man leaning in the doorway. She explained how the cart had broken and she had left it in the hut. She wondered if it was still there.

“Ah, Madam, “ replied the tired looking man, “When we returned home all we found was mud, mud, mud. We have not started to clear it away yet. It seems to have half filled our house. Please look for yourself.”

Mother looked inside the hut. To her joy she found the leg of the cooking stove poking out through a piece of filthy slime.

“Yes, yes, “ she exclaimed, “It’s there! May we take it?”

“Indeed, Madam, since it is yours. Please feel free to release it from its tomb.”

“But what about you? You seem to have nothing left in your house. Are you sure you don’t want to keep it? That was the risk we took in leaving it here.”

“Madam, I have very little, and neither, I perceive, do you; but what is yours, is yours. Please take it. The Lord will provide for us, unless it is his will that we also should die.”

With that the man began to scrape away at the mud. Beneath our cart lay a pile of beautiful cooking pots.

 

flood-pic

“And these, madam, are these yours too?”

“No,” said Mother, “I have never seen these, you must keep them and use them for yourself.”

“I will indeed, until their rightful owner returns, I will consider them to be my own.”

He smiled a big smile and his wife looked in wonder at the pots.

On returning to our village we cleared away the mud and resumed our lives. That was ten years ago. I have always remembered that man’s understanding of what is mine is mine, what is yours is yours. It is a good way to look at property, and then one will never be tempted to steal it.

QUESTIONS: Support answers to questions 2 to 7 with evidence from the text.
1. What name would you give this story?

2. Why was the village unsafe?
3. Why did the people remain living there?
4. What were the family’s most important possessions?
5. How do you know the narrator had a positive attitude to life?
6. What help did they receive from the villagers on the higher ground?
7. What was the attitude of the man who owned the house?
8. How did you feel when you heard the story?
9. Did it remind you of anything in your own life?

Being a good businessman. A story about honesty for teenagers

There was once a young boy named Ahmed.  He went to school and learnt his lessons.  He always tried to do his best.  He prayed to Allah that he might learn everything that he needed to know to become a businessman like his father.

When the time came Ahmed started to help his father in his work. Ahmed had a handsome face and people liked him to get them chai and to carry their shopping for them.  Life was simple, chai had a price, everyone knew it.  The sweet drink made customers happy.

Ahmed's customers liked his smiling face.

Ahmed’s customers liked his smiling face.

As for carrying cases some people were generous, others were not.  In the end Ahmed picked up about the same amount of money every week.

Ahmed had learnt the Holy Koran at the mosque.  He had learnt that it is important to be honest, but with time he started to notice that his father was not always honest with his customers.  Sometimes his father would say one thing and do another.  The customers would be puzzled and some would think, “Ah, this is a language problem,” or that the customs were different in Ahmed’s country.  But what Ahmed’s father did not take into consideration is that people have long memories and that people know other people.  When it came to recommending a taxi driver or a business man, for every customer who was cheated, ten customers might go to other business men for their trade as a result.

A person’s good name is worth more than silver or gold.  Silver or gold come and go,  but a good name, once it has gone will take a long time to regain and more usually, once it has gone, it has gone forever.  Other people are very willing to spread news of a bad name.  This is because they do not wish their friends to have a bad experience and be cheated, or because they themselves, if they are tradesmen, may benefit from work that might have gone to the dishonest businessman.

Ahmed had two choices.  He realised he could either try to make his father change his ways or he could set up in his own name resolved to be completely honest.  If a customer thinks they are being cheated they may become frustrated and angry.  They feel like they are ‘juggling with sand’, so they take their custom elsewhere for their own peace of mind.

Ahmed decided to speak to his father about his concerns.  His father said, “God does not expect me to be perfect, if I am honest ninety percent of the time,  God will not judge me to be a bad man?”

“I am not thinking about God judging you, Father.  I am thinking about our good name.  It is people who will be judging you right now.  If we cheat even only ten percent, they could easily ruin our reputation, and they certainly would not come back or send their friends to us.”  Ahmed’s father scratched his chin.  “I have never thought of it like that.  You could be right, son.  I think I will have to give this some consideration.”

Ahmed was pleased that his father was willing to change his dishonest ways.  He felt their future would be more secure if they were always dependable.  What do you think?

Questions

Do you know any traders or business people that you or your parents can trust completely?

Would you go to a different trader if you already knew one who would always be honest with you and everyone else?

Would you return to someone and ask them to work for you if they had cheated you or your friends before?

Not every one believes in God, those who do often think that God is watching what they do. Whether or not God is watching we can be sure that people are watching and noticing what we do. 

If we all act in ways that we would like other people to act towards us, what effect would that have on all our lives?

The Amythyst Necklace (story on ‘You Shall Not Steal’, North American Indian Lore), for age10 to adult

A story given to me by Calling Horse on the Eighth Law of the Red Man

8. YOU SHALL NOT STEAL

The Amethyst Necklace

We all had certain belongings which were owned solely by us as individuals. Then there were things which belonged to the family and finally, tribal possessions such as the totem pole, the medicines and herbs, the magic stones or crystals and the ancestral belongings. These would be stored in the chief’s teepee and consisted of talismans, head gear, necklaces and sometimes even bones and teeth of ancestors. These things were venerated and could not be given away. They belonged to the whole tribe. They were very precious as they were believed to hold great power. They were not allowed to be used for trading purposes, but occasionally, wandering people who had usually been expelled from their tribe would try to barter with such objects. They had little else to offer. They could not carry very much in their travelling mode and so these small objects were precious to them. They had probably obtained these objects by stealing them, but strangely, people had no reverence for talismans from other tribes with regard to the sanctity of property. They still believed that the objects held power, but they did not think it wrong to possess them. If they had been objects from their own chief’s collection, they would have been very frightened of owning them, thinking that evil would soon be upon them in retribution for violating the tribal law.

I remember a time when a traveller came and offered us some beautiful gem stones which he said he had mined by digging in the river bed some way away. My mother thought they were very lovely. They were spears of amethyst. She exchanged some skins and food for the jewels and wound them into a necklace for herself. She was very proud of this new aquisition.
A few months later we were visited by a group from an adjacent tribe. They celebrated with us at our feast. Mother wore her regalia.

calling-horse-law-8-stealing1The visiting chief’s son’s eyes lighted on mother’s necklace

“Where did you get those from?”

Mother clutched at her amethysts and told them about the travelling man.
”Was he so high, with two teeth missing at the top front, and had no little finger on his right hand?”

“That was him.” said my mother, turning pale.

“Those jewels came from our ancestral collection.” said the chief’s son.

“Oh, dear, you had better have them back then!” said Mother, horror struck.

“No, no, they are yours now, you have exchanged them in good faith for skins and food. You were not to know they were stolen. Where is the rogue now, do you know?”

“He departed fairly soon after he arrived,” replied my mother, “and strangely, now you mention it, our chief has been complaining about some stones going missing too. He had some lovely turquoise stones which he used to place on the throats of people suffering from problems in that area. He could not find them to treat my son recently.”

It is very hard to survive outside of the protection of a tribe. One can see how travellers feel obliged to steal or rob. They are therefore not to be trusted. While they must be respected and treated humanely, people who are unattached and who roam freely have to be carefully watched in case they remove one’s possessions in the night. It is not a crime to travel alone but those who do are still under the watchful eye of the Great Spirit. They should learn the skills of the hunter or the miner or craftsman, so that they have something legitimate to sell. Then indeed is the travelling life blessed.”


So said the chief’s son as he departed from our celebrations.

The Medicine Man ( A story about respect between family members) for teens and adults

The Medicine Man.

People live in many different sorts of homes. In my country people live in houses, flats or rondavels. These are round houses made with clay and sticks, with thatched roofs. They are quite small, but since African weather is so good the poorer people need their houses only for protection at night from wild animals and from the rain.

The family in this story lived in a rondavel in a village a very long way from the main road. The people had their own code of ethics, which enabled them to live together in harmony. No one was a murderer; no one was a thief. Although one man may have more than one wife, he chose his wives carefully and took no others, so the children of the wives knew who their father was, and they loved and respected him. In this village no man had more than three wives. Most only had one because they did not have enough land to feed more than a certain number of children. Ah, but I tell a lie, the chief had four wives. The eldest and wisest was his first wife, Bulala. The other wives had to pay attention to what Bulala said, or there would be trouble. Each wife had her own special duties and skills.

Bulala was the organiser. There was much work to be done. The ground had to be broken, the crop sowed, the houses must be kept in good order. Then there were the animals, they had to be fed and water had to be fetched every day. Someone had to make and mend the clothes and cook the food. The wives shared the duties out amongst themselves and their children so that everything that needed to be done was done and there was still time for singing and dancing at the end of the day sometimes.

The chief was the medicine man and healer. He spent his time talking to the elders and making decisions for the village, meting out justice, and healing the sick.

In general the system worked very well indeed, the villagers were happy and healthy. Of course people died every so often, but death is part of life. Those who live must also die. No one wishes to die in pain and suffering, and I think the chief did his best to see that this did not happen to his people.

You will remember that the chief had four wives, Bulala and the three junior wives. The youngest was called Mata, and because she was the most junior wife she felt she was given more work to do than the others were. She had only one child, and the others all had two or three, and they would say,

“Ah, let’s ask Mata to do it. Her baby is asleep, she has time now.” There were so many people telling Mata what to do – the chief himself, Bulala, and the two other wives, that Mata didn’t feel that she ever had a moment’s peace, and since she was married to the medicine man himself, she didn’t feel she could complain.

She started taking long walks in the bush with her child on her back, just to get away from them all. She would sit under a tree and wait for dusk to fall before returning to the village with a small piece of firewood on her head.

When they asked her where she had been she would say:

“I have been searching for firewood. There is so little to be found.”

The wives would toss their heads angrily. “We have been working all day long and you come home with one miserable stick of firewood, Mata, What is wrong with you?” She would turn away and take her baby off to feed him.

The chief loved Mata. She was a kind sweet girl. He could see that she was unhappy and he thought he knew the reason why. He decided he would try to show her how things could be different for her. The next day when she went off to gather wood, he sent a group of young men off to follow her. They kept their distance; she did not notice them at all. She sat in the shade and played with her baby and then she slept. While she was asleep one of the youths stole up to her and picked up the child. The baby was not at all alarmed. He knew the young man very well.

When Mata awoke she was horrified to find her child had gone. What should she do? Distraught, she ran back to the village to tell her husband, the chief.

She was amazed at his calm reception of this terrible news.

“Ah, Mata,” he asked, “How was it that you did not prevent your child from disappearing from you, was he not with you on your back while you were gathering firewood?

Then Mata had to tell the truth, she had been asleep.

“And this is what you have been doing every day, instead of bringing back the wood for the fire you have been sleeping?”

“Yes, my husband.”

“Do you not like cooked food, my wife? If we have no fire we cannot cook our meal. I think you would prefer yours straight from the sack, quite dry, or shall we mix it with a little water?”

Mata was very proud. She did not want to tell the chief why she had stayed away from the village every day. She ate the raw meal for two days. She could not understand why no one seemed to be concerned about the disappearance of her child. On the third day her husband approached her. “Do you have something more to tell me about, Mata?”

Finally she broke down and explained about how she felt being the youngest wife.

The chief laughed and smacked his thighs. “Ah, Mata, Mata, I know exactly what you are talking about. As you know I was the youngest of eight boys. They all told me what to do all the time. I had to learn to say ’No’, and to speak up for myself. That is what you must do from now on. Don’t be afraid of Bulala, she is not unkind. Just tell her what you think is fair, and I know she will be just.”

“But how can you laugh? Your son is missing and I don’t know where he is?” wailed Mata.

At that moment the child appeared in the arms of a smiling young man, Bulala’s eldest son, his own half brother.

Mata screamed and ran towards him, overjoyed; the baby held out his arms to his mother who scooped him up and disappeared into her rondavel with him.

The chief looked at his eldest son. “You, Soli, you learn from this . Don’t use your seniority to make others do more than their share of the work, and do better than me, notice when it is happening to those much more junior than yourself.”

The Flood (A story about respect for others’ property)

This story is set in Bangladesh.  It is for 9-13 year olds .  I wrote it for  Sathya Sai Education in Human Values lessons SSEHV (an excellent scheme for primary and secondary children, find it on the web)

The Flood

In my village in Bangladesh we live very close to the sea. We live in fear of tidal waves, hurricanes, tornadoes and even extra high tides. If the people in my village could have found somewhere else to live, they would have. But most people are too poor to move away, so they stay and pray that the sea will not take them before their time.

When I was about ten years old, we had a terrible flood. I remember it so clearly. The weather had been bad for several days, raining heavily, turning everything into mud. Then we heard there were storms at sea. The tide was very high the night before it happened. My father said we could not risk staying at home for even one more day. He made us pack our belongings and put them into our handcart. My Mother readily agreed to go. She was afraid for our lives, the lives of her children, especially the new baby, only three months old. She felt he would be her last child and so he was especially precious to her. There were six of us children, four girls and two boys. Two of my sisters were older than I was and the others had come much later, they were twins and were about three years old.

For me it was quite exciting to pack up all our important things. We did not have very much, but my mother made sure we took our little cooking stove and a large bag of rice along with clothing and bedding and tools for working in the fields. We also took our oil lamp trying very hard not to break the glass. I wrapped my blanket carefully around it to make sure it was safe.

Many other people had the same idea as us; some had already had water in their homes from the previous night’s high tide.

The wind blew and the rain fell and we trudged along the road as soon as it was light enough to see. My father said we must walk at least eight miles to get onto higher ground before the next high tide. This was going to be difficult but father thought that even if we didn’t manage the eight miles at least we would be further inland. Maybe the land would soak up the sea behind us, so that it would not reach us, even if we were still on the low lying ground.

My elder sisters and I took it in turns to carry the twins. They were very small and could not keep up the pace. Mother carried the baby on her back and helped father to push the cart when he became tired.

After we had been walking about three hours a terrible thing happened. The wheel fell off our cart. People were streaming past us with their children, animals and all their worldly goods. Everybody’s cart was full up to the brim. There was no space for our stuff. Mother began to cry as she looked at her little cooker that she loved so much. Would she have to leave it behind?

Time was pressing on. The day was becoming hot and humid and there was still a long way to go. Mother noticed a signpost at the edge of the road. It indicated the way to the next village.

“This is a good marker,” she said, and she walked over to a rough brick house. It was open and there were signs that the inhabitants had left hurriedly, leaving little of importance behind them. Mother and Father dragged the cart into the house and draped an old sari she found lying in a corner over it to hide the contents.

“With any luck when we return we may find this house again and reclaim what is ours.” She said.

We continued our journey with no food and no water but with our lives intact. We reached the higher ground two hours before the next high tide and storm. The land was devastated. Thousands of houses were washed away and hundreds of lives were lost. Those too old or too ill to make the journey were drowned. Our family was still together, wet, homeless but together. After five days the local people who had fed us with bowls of rice said we must return to our homelands. There was no room for us in their villages. The water had subsided, so return we did. It was difficult to recognise the route we had taken. Dead animals lay strewn everywhere and every so often there was a human corpse. I noticed that several of the dead were people who had a leg or a foot missing, they had not been able to walk fast or far enough.

Father found an old wheel abandoned in the road and was hoping to be able to fix it on to the cart, should we ever find our cart again. My mother suddenly became excited as she saw in the distance the sign near the brick house where our belongings had been left.

.

Mother and I ran towards the house. There were some people standing round the door looking tired and dirty. Mother approached them cautiously. She spoke to a man leaning in the doorway. She explained how the cart had broken and she had left it in the hut. She wondered if it was still there.

“Ah, Madam, “ replied the tired looking man, “When we returned home all we found was mud, mud, mud. We have not started to clear it away yet. It seems to have half filled our house. Please look for yourself.”

Mother looked inside the hut. To her joy she found the leg of the cooking stove poking out through a piece of filthy slime.

“Yes, yes, “ she exclaimed, “It’s there! May we take it?”

“Indeed, Madam, since it is yours. Please feel free to release it from its tomb.”

“But what about you? You seem to have nothing left in your house. Are you sure you don’t want to keep it? That was the risk we took in leaving it here.”

“Madam, I have very little, and neither, I perceive, do you; but what is yours, is yours. Please take it. The Lord will provide for us, unless it is his will that we also should die.”

With that the man began to scrape away at the mud. Beneath our cart lay a pile of beautiful cooking pots.

There lay some beautiful pots in the mud.

There lay some beautiful pots in the mud.

“And these, madam, are these yours too?”

“No,” said Mother, “I have never seen these, you must keep them and use them for yourself.”

“I will indeed, until their rightful owner returns, I will consider them to be my own.”

He smiled a big smile and his wife looked in wonder at the pots.

On returning to our village we cleared away the mud and resumed our lives. That was ten years ago. I have always remembered that man’s understanding of what is mine is mine, what is yours is yours. It is a good way to look at property, and then one will never be tempted to steal it.

QUESTIONS: Support answers to questions 2 to 7 with evidence from the text.
1. What name would you give this story?
2. Why was the village unsafe?
3. Why did the people remain living there?
4. What were the family’s most important possessions?
5. How do you know the narrator had a positive attitude to life?
6. What help did they receive from the villagers on the higher ground?
7. What was the old man’s attitude who owned the house?
8. How did you feel when you heard the story?
9. Did it remind you of anything in your own life?