Abdul Rehman awkwardly held the two brand new clutches I had brought to Attock. The ‘phulkari’ embroidery on them had been done by the girls a few months back – it was one of my favorites, and we’d gone through a few design iterations with a new bagmaker in Lahore to get it to its final shape.
He turned around the strapless clutch in his hand a couple times, then looked at me with a lopsided smile. “Iss ko pakray gaa kaisay?” (How do you hold this?). I couldn’t help giggling; the design was definitely too trendy for Abdul Rehman’s taste.
At the school that evening, I saw some new faces—something that always makes me happy. Habiba, a middle-aged woman I had spoken to and enrolled in BLISS last September, looked at some of the sample bags I had brought with me. The blue and white basket-style Multani bag caught her eye. “Give this to me as a gift”, she beamed, expectantly.
“Well Habiba, this is a sample, but the money from selling the bags will come back to you.” I explained.
“I don’t want the money, you can keep that if you give me the bag.” She replied. A few other girls giggled.
“What do you do with the money you get every month?” I asked.
She frowned. “It gets spent on the children. Their books, school fees…”
“Isn’t that better than owning a handbag?” I asked.
She paused for a second to think about that, then offered: “My kids will use the bag too!”
I suppose women everywhere like pretty things. Especially pretty things they have had a role in creating.
At the other school, Fariba and Fatima, two of the most outgoing girls, asked me again how long I was in Pakistan for. I explained that I was here to stay now. I had quit my job in the US.
They looked shocked for a second. “Have you found a new job here yet?” asked Fatima.
“This is my job! My work with you, this class, the handbags..” I replied.
They considered that for a moment, and then broke into smiles. “Acha kiya aap nay! (You did the right thing!)” said Fatima.
The reassurance, albeit from a 14-year old, felt comforting.