New country. New school. New language. New attempts at forming friendships. I had just barely managed to get into the habit of taking on high school when my parents made the call to move. The move from the western world to the east came with its own set of challenges. So many years of being in a country moulds you into a unique mix of your origins with the culture of the new land. Returning to where my parents assumed I belonged proved to be far from what I would call home.
The new school was so different. I adhered to a strict uniform with freshly cut nails, plain higabs and closed toe shoes. The morning school announcements put us in lines and exercises that were meant to discipline and impose strict rules regarding what was appropriate and what was not. We were blasted with patriotic songs which could never be questioned or changed. The first day came with condescending stares, many questions and sometimes complete disregard for the new kid who was coming from such a foreign place. Having all 20-something female teachers made for an awkward tit-for-tat between the students and the teachers where sometimes I found myself feeling older than I was, caught between the unnecessary drama and conflict of amateurs.
I was a simple child. I wore what was asked of me because I was a simple dresser anyway and liked my nails cut that way. The morning routine was a bit of a joke since we all knew what the agenda of it all was and we didn’t question the practice and risk to fall as outsiders to the system. But I desperately wanted to belong. So many years of being told where I belonged meant this is what I had to put up with to feel in tune with my origins. I worked for hours on this new rediscovered language and tried desperately to win over everyone’s approval. I longed for any hints that this new world was pleased with me. Here is where I experienced my most humiliating childhood memory:
She laughed. Laughed so hysterically I thought it was sarcasm at certain points. More laughs started slowly erupting from the class; some nervous and some true. I felt my eyes burn and my voice begin to shake. “I have to hold it together”, I told myself. I was humiliated by my own teacher; An Islamic studies teacher to make matters worse. Before this I remember how excited I was to finally get the chance to show the class who I am and to speak about something I was passionate about. We were assigned to take on a lesson in Islamic studies and I was so confident this would finally prove that I’m not as foreign as they think I am. At a point in the lesson, I brought up an analogy which I thought was wonderful. The example of the salmon that jumps against the flow of water to try and find the perfect place to lay its eggs. I explained how this is an example of how working against the current and towards a goal leads to a rewarding outcome, with the rewarding outcome being jannah. I was interrupted by my teacher who blurted out “salmon!??”
I said “yes”. I was almost expressionless and speechless at the sheer amount of ridicule directed towards me. “You mean like the fish?!” And I said yes again. And from there she couldn’t contain herself and her laughs sparked a chain of more ridicule and embarrassment towards me with more laughs at every mistake in pronunciation or grammar. I felt every word coming out of my mouth after that moment so insignificant and stupid. I felt lack of credibility. I failed at fitting in and as much as I tried, no one could accept me as an equal.
But that was okay in the end.
Not everyone has to understand you. Not everyone has to give you a patient listening ear. Not all those who should be your role model in this world will live up to your expectations. Respect will always be seen with some folk as something to be earned rather than something of which every human on this earth deserves. All I needed was a fair shot. I needed a shot at being a better and bigger person for myself and I wasn't allowed that opportunity.
There are times in life that almost seem to stamp out the rest of your life. Your wounds feel like they have been left open with scars forming where none were before. But I learned that when people don’t give you a chance, then you must remember to give yourself that shot instead.
Do not allow your adversity to determine your tomorrow. Do not allow those who do not believe in you determine your self-worth. It is up to you to realize that the world may not be fair and that’s okay. But you must be easy on yourself. Wake up every morning as a new day and a new person. Go at it. Even if you have to go at it alone. Allah is with you.
I wouldn't be writing for you today if it wasn't for her. So I thank her and I pray, not for the children of the world to be sheltered from these experiences, but for them to know that they are not defined by them and only by what they choose. I pray they learn to get up and challenge the world for the better.
Thank you for your reading. You didn’t have to. But you did. And I’m grateful for the moments that lead me to this.