COVID-19 certainly didn’t come in the nicest ways but we need to accept that it was God-sent and gave us so many lessons to learn. Maybe it made us more disciplined than we could have ever been. It also gave us time to reflect on a few important things as well.
For my family, it was also very challenging to cope with. The best part of staying at home was getting time to reconnect with some of the great friends and Dad’s colleagues in Fort Collins. It was, though, sad to know how the pandemic has affected the people in the U.S., and likewise in the rest of the world. But at the same time, I was also pleasantly surprised to know that most of our friends in Colorado have been very successful in their respective careers.
Most of them are in great places and serving their respective organizations and communities. Few of them have moved abroad for their job assignments. This long time at home during the pandemic took me back to the great memories of staying and studying in the early grades at Fort Collins’ Bennett Elementary school. Collection of all the moments in the form of countless photo albums flashed back to the lovely time spent there. Some of the great memories I have penned here in this writing.
It was chilly weather and snowing heavily by the time we landed in Denver. This was the year 1987 but seems more like the recent past. Our dad was already there to pursue his doctorate-level studies at Colorado State University. He was there to give us (our mother and we three siblings) a warm reception at the airport. We headed towards Fort Collins, a city of natural beauty, Rocky Mountains and rivers and perhaps one the calmest place to live by any stretch of the imagination. This is how I define this place.
Soon, we found ourselves inducted at Bennett Elementary school. The love and warmth of the teachers never gave us a feeling of being away from home. Now we realize why America is a great country. They have instilled a great learning culture at schools where each and every moment is filled with fun, cheer, games, music, lunching and munching and knowing more about your classmates. The study tours to ignite curiosity among students were the hallmark of the school where we studied.
I still remember the hot and cold lunch concept at the school, depending on whether you opted to take meals from the school’s canteen or bring your own stuff from home. The healthy eating habits which the school’s administration promoted went a long way in differentiating what a healthy and unhealthy diet is all about. The time and value they dedicated to healthy eating at schools was highly admirable and one must confess that not many nations have adopted this.
The best part of taking early education in the USA was that the teachers always tried to groom the students without imposing heavy burdens of books and home assignments. Perhaps this is one thing which sets them apart from some of the developing countries where the schools always push hard to cover the syllabus without caring much about focusing on the learning capacities.
The friends, cultural and religious events, gatherings, travelling, nearby hotels, restaurants, take-away at the Burger King, Pizza Hut, McDonalds — to name but a few — is something still deeply embedded in the memories. Hardly any day would have passed without having fun with the friends and Dad’s peers.
After each and every one of Dad’s semester breaks, we used to travel miles and explore new areas of the lovely country. In fact, of all the things we did during our five-year stay in Colorado, travelling was something which we would always cherish the most. We traveled to Canada and Mexico by road, something which was full of adventures and great memories. Picnic parties were a regular feature and involved inviting friends from all walks of life.
Going to Denver virtually every weekend to rent the latest Indian or American movie was something we waited for the whole week. “CHiPs” and “Airwolf” were the two shows we watched with a pin-drop silence at home. The characters of those shows fascinated us to the extent that we wanted to either join the police or be a pilot at that time.
One of the finest memories which still stands out is visiting the U.S Air Force Academy at its home in Colorado Springs. The captivating American soldiers marching past was a scene of its own kind.
Visiting the grocery retail stores like King Soopers, Walmart, King Mart, Safeway and others is something we treasured all the time. The space the stores provided for people to shop and the friends we made over there, the love we got from them and the sentiments they passed to us while we were returning back to Pakistan, is something which can’t be written down so easily.
By the time our Dad earned his PhD with flying colors and the time was nearing to return to Pakistan, we had already established great contacts — and most of them are still in touch.
I just wanted to thank the great people of this great country who gave us so much to remember.
Kaleem Ahmed lives in Pakistan. He spent part of his youth in Fort Collins.