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April 25, 2014

Telling stories of a distant land

NORMAN — Bakhtawar Aamire of Pakistan has been telling the same sad legend to Oklahomans for the past month.

The story goes like this: Long ago, a young woman in love lived in the area that is now the city of Gujrat in the Punjab Province of Pakistan. To visit the boy she loved, she would use a large water pitcher as a flotation device to cross the river and meet him.

Sadly, the girl’s family learned of her secret river crossings. They disapproved of the love match and replaced the ceramic pitcher with a broken pitcher. When she tried to cross the powerful river to meet her lover, she drowned.

Gujrat is known for quality red clay used to produce blue pottery. The story of star-crossed lovers adds to the appeal of ceramic collectors.

At least, that’s the belief of Aamire and Zain Qadri — two final semester students from the University of Gujrat who have been visiting Norman.

The two Pakistani women are top students in their class and part of the 70 percent female population at the University of Gujrat. Both ride the bus to school every day and return home to their families in the evenings. Their mothers are also educated, they said, and have encouraged and supported them.

Qadri travels 38.5 miles (62 kilometers) one way on the bus — spending one-and-a-half hours traveling to and from school. Aamire travels 29 miles (47 kilometers) one way.

“The transport facility is making it good for the girls to come,” said Gujrat University faculty member Saira Zeeshan, who is visiting Oklahoma.

Boys in Pakistan are more independent and have more options, Zeeshan said. The Gujrat University with its massive — and growing — transit system serves young women who need to return home daily.

In just seven years, Gujrat University has attracted a student body of 11,500. With 70 percent of its students as women, the school is affording an entire generation of Pakistani females unprecedented opportunity.

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