My [redacted] Journey

A teacher's search for inner peace.

Common Folks or Folks in Common

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July 28, 2014

Dear Readers,

I have posted a version of the following post twice in the past 18 months.  Once here, and once on a previous blog site.  Now, before you begin saying something such as, “Lazy much?”, hear me out.

The following anecdote happened to me while I was teaching in the Middle East.  However, it could have easily happened while I was working at any of the schools I have worked for in the past 15 years.  My point, dear Readers is that people are people the world over.  We all share more common ground than not.  Read the following and see if you can’t find similarities between the people I have met on my journey, and your family, friends, colleagues and/or co-workers.

I have spent a lifetime trying to fit in.  Fit into what, I haven’t the slightest idea, but fit in nonetheless.  I have always felt like I was on the outside looking in, the only one who didn’t get the joke, the odd man out.  Perhaps it is by design that I am a loner, because after years of trying to be just one of the crowd, I relent and choose my own company over a crowd.

Given this self-realization, you are probably wondering why in the world I would make a conscious decision to go teach in the Middle East.  I’ve been wondering the same thing.  I mean, that is certainly as far from fitting in than this Mexican-American chick will ever know.  But go I did.

“And I never seemed to fit in!” she says incredulously.

laa afham

Imagine that you walk into work and are met with the above image.  Now imagine that your supervisor approaches you and says, “I need all of this by the end of the day,” and walks away.  Now imagine one last time that completing this task is critically linked and absolutely essential to your job performance. What do you do?  This, dear Readers, was my life.

Although some of my colleagues had a rudimentary grasp on the English language, most of the women I worked with would not go out of their way to interpret for me what it was that I had do.  Thus, I was left to my own devices.

Here was a big clue that I was not fitting in, I was left to my own devices.  Hindsight being what it is and all, I see that my fitting in was never an option.  However, I had a job to do and I was tasked with completing whatever it was that was written on that board.

My principal really did this to me, I really was blind-sided one afternoon, and I really was left to my own devices.

“Here is where my Arabic lessons should come in handy,” I thought. “hal tasta Tii’iin musaa’adatii? laa aqra’ bil’arabiyya. tutarjim.” (“Can you help me? I can’t read Arabic. You translate.”) I said these phrases to several of my colleagues and was met with blank stares, and yes, even giggles.  I know I was pronouncing the phrases correctly, because when I uttered them to my vice-principal, she understood me.  Sadly however, she could not convey to me in alinjliiziyya (English) what I needed to know.

I was determined to find out what I needed to know.  I snapped a picture of the writing on the whiteboard and made up my mind to show the picture to my students and ask if anyone of them could interpret it for me.  I was extremely hesitant to do that, but what else could I do?  I am a very firm believer in keeping adult issues away from my students.  What happens in the teachers’ workroom stays in the teachers’ workroom, at least for me.

I struggled with approaching any of my students for the better part of the day.  I knew I had to have the instructions on the board translated from Arabic to English, I just didn’t want to involve any of my students.  I prayed for guidance.

Finally, with only two hours left of my workday, I let out a resigned sigh and went in search of my most mature, most proficient student.  I had a job to do and I needed a student to help me do it.  Reluctantly, I conceded defeat.  As I approached my student, I was intercepted by Miss D.

Miss D was the one teacher who went out of her way to make me feel like I belonged teaching at Amrah Bint School.  She was the one teacher who had taken me under her wing when I had first arrived at the school.  She was the one teacher I had been searching for since I received my marching orders from my principal, and she was the one teacher who had been MIA all day long.

Miss D approached me in the hallway and said, “Victoria, I have been looking for you.”

I ignored what she had just said and launched into my desperate plea.  “Oh, Miss D, I really need your help!”

Miss D politely put aside what she had wanted to discuss with me and said, “Of course, what do you need.”

I showed her the picture of the whiteboard and asked her to please interpret it for me as I had to complete the tasks by the end of the day. She took my camera from me and scrunched up her nose. “Come,” she said to me.

Miss D took me to her physics lab and proceeded to pull out samples of what it was that I had to gather: copies of student completed worksheets, graded tests, modified lesson plans with differentiated techniques for lower and gifted students, and analysis of student work.  Now this I understood.  I breathed a sigh of relief, Miss D had once again saved me.

As it turns out dear Readers, Miss D had not been at school that day.  She had been preparing to take her students to Dubai for a science competition and had just come toward the end of the day to clear up a few loose ends.  In my self-induced panic, I had completely forgotten that she had approached me.  I had been so self-absorbed, that I hadn’t even asked Miss D why it was that she had been looking for me.  I went in search of my angel.

When I found Miss D, I shamefully apologized for my rude behavior and asked her what she needed from me.

“Aasif, (I’m sorry) Miss D. What did you need from me?”

“Nothing Victoria. I saw the board when I came in and wanted to make sure you understood.”

Well dear Readers, I may not have ever ‘fit in’ in the Middle East like I had wanted to however, Miss D saw to it that I was never alone.  I experienced a profound change after having lived in the Middle East, and it was because of Miss D and people like her that I have a richer, deeper admiration and respect for the culture, the country, the values and the beliefs of a people I thought were so different from myself.  I believe I had quite an effect on Miss D, as well.

Two months before I arrived at my new teaching position, Miss D had lost her husband.  One day, after hearing me laughing loudly, Miss D approached me and said, “Victoria, my sister, your laugh is loud.”  And before I could apologize to her, she said, “I have never laughed much.  And since my husband died, I never laugh.  But since you came, even I have laughed.  Thank you.”

Afwan, Miss D, afwan.  Peace, ~v.

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