Once Upon a Time

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9

Once Upon a Time

© Dr Hamid Hossaini Dec 2005
(for children to read)

I was born in a very cold and long winter to a very warm and large family. I can not remember the two breastfeeding years; however, I remember that the dummy that was pinned to my collar remained there well into my third year. I remember that my toys were made of walnut shells, clay, discarded boxes, old bike wheels, and cotton strings used for making carpets. My mother used to weave small carpets. She made one for each of her children. She gave each one a carpet as a university graduation gift or as a wedding present. I clearly remember when my father fixed a leaf on a matchstick and made sails for my sailing boat toy. The sailing boat was nothing but a walnut shell. A half pistachio shell was the life boat that was pulled behind the sailing boat by a piece of string.

My playmates were my brothers and sisters. The big house and a farm were my playgrounds where I explored while crawling, on my little legs, or on back of a goat, and a tortoise. Later on a donkey and a bike became my vehicles for joyful ventures. However, what I enjoyed the most was piggy backing on my brothers’ backs or sitting in the front basket of my father’s bike, feeling the warmth of his breath as he rode around the big courtyard of our house. This was my first taste of speed. We had no car. Souri, our dog, accompanied and protected me in exploring the neighbourhood.

What I remember most vividly is the times and places for storytelling. The times were the bed times and the places were mostly on the roof tops and under the sky with a million stars watching, all awake with their shining eyes. The storytellers were my mother, my father, my brothers, even my younger sister, my cousins, and my uncles or aunts. Fortunately the electric power supply was limited and the nights were really dark; the darker the nights the more were the stars. I recall my father saying:
“When the street lights are turned off a million more stars would pop up!” And they did.

I remember that when a story did not end happily I would stay awake for a long time thinking about the miseries of the animals or the people who had suffered in the story. I thought of their pain that had lasted beyond the end of the story. When I woke the next morning I remained in bed still feeling sad and pensive. The following night another story would be narrated, but this time, a story with a happy ending. Almost as soon as the story was told I would send a smiling kiss-good night to the stars, close my eyes and go to sleep hearing the musicians of the night that were the crickets and the snoring frogs in the court yard of our house. The next day I would wake up to the symphony of the birds and dancing butterflies.

Sleeping on the rooftop has one disadvantage. The sun and the birds wake you up early. It was difficult to leave the bed though; it was pleasant to stay under the blanket to see and hear everything else waking up to start the day. In the early morning light, it was interesting to watch a few stars going to bed, under the huge quilt of sky.

I remember one of my worries in my early years. The worry would show on my face even in low light of an oil lamp when the power would go off. One of my elder brothers, Abbas, once inquired into the reason for my worried expression. I took a book from him and moved my index finger across the lines of a page and the thousand black spots on it and said:
“I cannot understand these black spots and shapes on the page. I fear that I may not be able to make any meaning by looking at them. Nothing on this page and none of these black spots resemble a lion, a forest, or a chainsaw. I can not see anything that looks like the angels with wings who have come to save the forest. I am worried because I may never be able to read. I am indeed worried!” He looked at me and assured me that he had been like me also and that one day all these black spots on the page would make sense and meaning. I would soon be able to look at a chain of black spots, called a word, that had no resemblance to a lion or a forest, yet I would be able to determine their meaning as being a lion or a forest.

I was delighted when Ann Masson asked me to write a story for her book. How could I have declined writing something that could be read to or by children. However, when she asked me to write something for the Preface as well, I did not feel comfortable. I finally agreed on the condition that I wrote a preface for children, not for the teachers and the adult storytellers. I have always believed and said that peace (global peace) will not materialise through politicians, religions, and the assemblies of the adults of different nations in international meetings and conferences. I firmly believe that global peace is possible through children and through music. I used to include “sport” as a main contributor to peace also. I still believe it has the potential provided it is stripped of its aggressive competitiveness and its commercialisation. There was a time when one could bet only on horses racing in a field. Now, there is a price or a bet on anyone kicking a ball, throwing a box, or running for a record. Only children, children who grow up happy, peaceful, and with the right values, are our only hope for peace.

Exposure to the realities of life is essential for every child as long as they are of relevance to them and to their age. The stories in my childhood, with or without happy endings, exposed me to the realities of the life around me and the life beyond the safety walls of my family, my village, my town, and beyond the borders of my country. I treasure each and every story that was told or read to me, irrespective of the content and the endings. I fortunately had a good balance of all types. Thanks must go to my family around me who comforted me when the stories ended sadly, and also gave me the right perspective when the endings were happy and bright. A colourful basket (bookshelf) of stories about courage and timidity, joy and sadness, victory and failure, honest and dishonesty, beauty and ugliness, love and hate, hope and despair, …fills the harddisk of my brain.

My family was not limited to my brothers and sisters and my parents. My cousins, my aunts, my uncles, were all parts of my family with whom I spent lots of time. Most of them lived close by and in walking distance to our house. My grand father, who lived in the village, used to come on his donkey or his horse on the week ends. I loved riding his donkey. I did not have much time for radio and television. We had no television until I completed the primary school. Our time to listen to radio was limited. There was only one electric radio for the whole family and it was placed on a bookshelf as if it was glued to it. It was not small and it did not operate on battery. So no-one would move it and no one could monopolise its use. I got to listen to it when the children’s programme was on in the mornings and when the bedtime story programme was on at nights.

In contrast to my childhood, now most of the children in the big cities are confined in their contacts and the time they spend with other family members, in nature, and with animals. My childhood television had the widest screen you can imagine. It was a billion inch screen of the sky filled with clouds of all shapes, shooting starts, and the Milky Way. The children of today spend hours hypnotised by television, images on the computer screens, and play stations. The music they hear is not sung by birds; they don’t hear the sharps and flats of the whistling wind, and they don’t make their toys out of clay and leaves. A simple survey and a bit of calculation can demonstrate that children spend more time in front of television and entertainment monitors than in classroom by the time they are eighteen than on anything else. A survey in USA has shown that by age eighteen a child is exposed, on average, to 200,000 acts of violence and 20,000 murders on television only. This does not include the video games. Television has invaded the family rituals, it has declined the children’s (and adults’) participation in community activities, it has disturbed the family life. The person who holds the remote control controls the house. Exposure to television has increased children’s aggression towards their peer, their desire for commercial goods and electronic games. If a child spends an average of five to six hours in front of television and other entertainment screens, by the time he is eighteen (the legal definition of a child) he has spent nearly five years of his life in doing so.

To add salt to the injury, unfortunately television, the medium to which our children get such high exposure, is overloaded with sad news about wars, devastations, corruptions, global warming, deforestation, desertification, man made and natural disasters, and animals extinctions. Regretfully, more often than not, the entertainment industry including video games, cinema, television programmes, and even the politicians (as the entertainers of voters) add fuel to the sad-bad news and bombard the children (the public) for commercial interests or for political gains.

This is just one evil of a technology that has the potential for so much more good for the children. The same is true, not as bad though, of other media (electronic or press) and modes of communication with children. These powerful forces outside the family makes it very hard for the parents and teachers to provide “well defined values and balanced reality” to children. A combination of ill defined values and adults’ fears (parents and teachers) of being unpopular with their children, adds up to weak and ineffective “directives” to guide the children

I think that, given the right upbringing and with some additional efforts by parents and teachers, the children can still enjoy the wide sky screen television of the sky, the free music of the birds and the winds, and the inexpensive self-made toys. Compared to my childhood time, I see a far more important role for all adults (parents, teachers, sport coaches, music teachers…) who have time and contact with children in this age of media domination in which external forces make parenting and teaching much more difficult.

I can not offer a universal solution. I neither object to, nor do I envy the good things the children of today have such as television, computers, internet, play stations, etc. However, anything that deprives children from their “childhood, optimism, hope” and anything that cuts them off from their time with nature and their family members will be detrimental to their growth as balanced children.

When I read through the stories of this book and visualised the way Ann Mason and her team are planning to use them, my immediate reaction was joy. I had found a “medium” that on the one hand could take the children (and adults) away from the television screens for a few hours, and on the other hand (more significantly) nurture in them the “optimism and the hope” required for their development and growth to become “balanced adults”. I consider this book and its approach a wonderful gift to children but more so to the adults who are willing to share their time and their life lessons with the new generation. I find this book an effective aid to parents, to teachers, to story tellers, and to every caring adult for bringing up a “balanced child”, a child with a backpack full of well defined values, realities, and hope, and become light and easy to carry to the message of PEACE.


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