Karachi Rowing Club pays a visit

Karachi Rowing Club with Andrew Triggs Hodge

Before summer 2008, many of Sir William Perkins’s Senior Rowing Squad had never heard of the city Karachi, despite it being the largest city in Pakistan.

We were surprised when we were all told that we were going to play host to 5 girls from Karachi Boat Club coming to stay in England for 3 weeks. This was organized through our Director of Rowing, Mrs. Liz Bernard. We never expected Karachi to have their own boat club, let alone to have organized an English exchange.

The following year passed extremely quickly with the usual grueling ergo sessions, terrible early morning water outings, but many victories along the way (including becoming National Schools Champions in our WJ15 8+ event and also National Junior WJ15 8x+ Sculling Champions)  and we soon forgot that we were expecting the girls. In June this year, we were reminded that our visitors were indeed due to arrive in little less than a month. The five girls that were coming were between the ages of 14 and 17; Zaara Khadija Abbas (17), Daanika Kamal (16), Sama Khawaja (16), Lubaina Selani (14) and Alizeh Amer (15). The host families were decided on a basis that we still struggle to understand, for example, Zaara was paired with myself, for the simple reason that she was the oldest, and I was the tallest and it was thought we would ‘get on better because we were similar.’ I saw no such similarities but this fortunately didn’t get in the way at all.

We couldn’t believe that after so much anticipation, their arrival was suddenly here.  It was Saturday 4th July and we had all arrived at Staines BC for our normal double session on the water, which the Karachi girls would also join in with. Although wanting to make a good impression and be friendly, we were slightly relieved that we didn’t have to talk to them at first, as we didn’t know them and we felt rather nervous. After the double-session had ended they separated from each other with quick hugs and goodbyes and went off to spend the evening with their host families. Despite our earlier fears the evening was relaxed and we began to get a wonderful insight into life and rowing in Karachi.

On Sunday 5th, after an early morning session on the water, the host families, Karachi girls and anybody else who wanted to tag along, went off to Henley to watch the finals. The Karachi girls enjoyed the experience immensely and even got to meet Andy Hodge in the Remenham Enclosure.  

Over the next week the Karachi girls had to come into school with us. It was certainly an experience, on both of our parts, and also rather embarrassing as they showed off their knowledge (particularly at the sciences) and amazed the rest of the class at how much they knew. They in fact ended up doing most of our work for us and their hands were always up! The week went quickly, but as it was the last week of term, teaching was more relaxed than usual so the Karachi girls didn’t quite  get a completely accurate picture of normal English school-life.  During this week the girls also came with us to our training sessions every day before and after school.

It seems typical that the weather whilst we were at school was gorgeous, and the next week for rowing camp didn’t seem quite as nice; however, the girls loved the rain and even went out especially for walks in it! Of course, in Karachi, ‘normal’ is 35-40 degree heat, and as you can imagine, whilst we were basking in our 25 degrees, they were complaining about how cold it was.

The next week was rowing camp at Staines BC, which is traditionally held at the end of summer, followed by ‘SWPS Regatta’;  this is an informal regatta in which girls within the club are mixed up with other year groups. However we held it at the beginning of the summer this year so the Karachi girls could participate in training with our coach Nick Wilde as well as mixing with the other year groups and having fun.

Of course being limited to where we could take the girls each evening, London being completely out of bounds, and even places like Kingston having some security issues, for a reason none of us could understand and found extremely unfair, we had to think of some alternatives. We ended up having countless numbers of barbeques and picnics, which actually turned out to be just as enjoyable.

At the end of the week there were of course, Kingston and Molesey Regattas,  both of which the Karachi girls took part in. They did extremely well, taking into account that they’d only practised their racing crews while in England, and reached numerous finals and semi-finals. They all put up an extremely good race and surprised lots of competitors.  
It was extremely sad to see them go three days later. The girls had stayed with us for 2 weeks and it felt strangely lonely without them in our houses, we’d learnt a lot about their culture, life and their rowing, and most importantly, themselves. Keeping in touch has been made a lot easier by the beloved Facebook, which is of course cheaper and quicker than the post and telephone. The whole senior squad has made promises to return to Karachi, we were hoping this December, but apparently it’s not that easy …
However we will be hoping to return as soon as possible – to take part in their regattas and experience training from their coaches. It was something that none of us will ever forget, and we’ve made friends that we’re going to keep for a long time.

By Hattie Taylor, Sir William Perkins’s School Rowing Club