What I have learnt.
Day Eight. Bismillah. [Is anybody benefitting from these posts, at all? Or is this really just me solipsistically speaking to myself, on a sort of public platform? My apologies, dear subscribers who are not appreciating these…]
Sometimes I feel very lost in this world. Do you? Like I am not Home, and like there is something fundamentally missing. And I look for things to pin it to. But I want to be Home.
Sometimes I feel scared about certain things. And often, feeling scared about things shows me that I care deeply about them. In this moment in time, however, certain things feel… misplaced. And I have all these questions that I cannot necessarily ask, have answered. Sometimes I feel like I am not really here, rooted in reality. Head in the clouds a bit, maybe. I think the alternative might be a little unbearable.
Sometimes, this whole ‘being human in Dunya’ thing, it… how you say it in Russian… it weighs heavy, you know? So much: past, present, future. Still, bearable. Still, we can choose to frame it as an adventure, and keep moving.
Man, I have a plant and his name is Al-Iskandar (after I discovered that this is the Persian way of saying ‘Alexander’. You know Edmund from Narnia? Skandar Keynes? Once I did some research to figure out where his name comes from. What a rabbit hole that led me into… His name is short for Al-Iskandar, and he is a descendant of John Maynard Keynes and Charles Darwin and Albert Hourani! What a family tree, huh?). He is partially of Turkish descent, and hence, I guess, the whole trading-his-family-for-a-box-of-Turkish-Delights thing. My plant Al-Iskandar is wilting a little now. I find it extremely cool how new parts of plants grow. One day, they are not there. The next day: a shoot, little green things that, one day, and gradually, fire up into burnt-orange petals.
It is a bit mad in the Dunya: just the essence of it. Sometimes I just want to run away to something, or somewhere. But that won’t save me. Sometimes I just want to dig a ditch and… just sit there. I think I need my own cave, out in the ol’ wilderness somewhere.
“A new day, a new dilemma”. Sometimes I forget that this life is a test. Like I know the truth, and yet it is extremely easy to get caught up in deceptions. I know what the truth is: that I am here for a while, and that then I will be gone. What is this world, but a flight of the alone, to the Alone? Struggle, struggle. Just need to wear the right mountain-climbing shoes for it. Do I find that I am well-equipped enough?
I just want to live a Good Life, here. And I will always yearn for Better, I guess, and that is for over There. Here, I need: the right people; the right places; the right things to do, and to learn; the right food; Guidance. I like my sustained waves of happiness, Alhamdulillah: Eid. What a time. I am content with the happy-sad, also. An excellent reminder that, a) I can do this; it is not ‘too much’, and that, b) I am not Home yet.
I want to go Home so much, that it makes me want to cry. [Hormones everywhere. The most beautiful (!) time of the month].
Shoes. Today I have been thinking about shoes. In the (emotional, wonderful) movie ‘Wonder’, Jack tells Auggie that you can learn a lot about people, from their shoes. Some people like their shoes muddied, and steely. Some people wear trainers, but keep them pristine-white. Some people have rows and rows of different-coloured Converses. Some prefer comfort over style, and so on.
I guess I had started thinking about shoes because I wore my black ‘professional’ boots to work, today. And they are now a little scratched, and muddy: I’d (accidentally? Long story, actually, involving my trainers being in the garage. Wait, that wasn’t such a long story after all!) worn them to that protest, the other day. When I was younger, I remember how the other girls in my class had a distinctive thing about keeping their white shoes white. I used to love getting my shoes muddy. New shoes? No problem: they, too, deserved to know mud.
I cycled to work today. During Ramadan, the school had its own Ramadan timetable: we were told to come into work over an hour later than usual; our days had been shortened, too. For those weeks, my dad would drop me off to the school. Now, I have to be in before 8am, again. Today I left the house at around 7:50am. It took me roughly seven minutes to cycle there. I am very glad that we had road-cycling training at my primary school: without adequate knowledge of T-junctions, I probably would have been run over by now. [Ref: the big highway T-junction].
At work, I pressed in the code for the first lock (brown door) and then for the second one (blue door). Interesting how, during my first few months at the school, I always had to buzz the door, or check what the codes are, every time, on my phone. It would always take me some time. Now, I have the sequences memorised. I know exactly which way to turn the handle-things; it is as quick and easy as one, two, three (four, five, twist, and then feel very satisfied with myself). This place has quickly become my second home, and I do not want to leave. But maybe I must. [Why do life be difficult and confusing?]
Home is a place at which you can take your shoes off [our staff room is carpeted; we take our shoes off]. It is a place at which you know the unique sequences, by heart, of the locks. You know them; many others don’t. Home is places, and, primarily, home is people.
Home is where you can come ‘exactly as you are’. At home, exactly you is the best thing you can be. No matter how weird. [‘Weird’: when something does not fit the schemas of what they ‘should’ be. Everywhere else in Dunya, there are expectations of us. Rules, things we cannot do. Holding our breaths. Home is where we should be able to breathe, and to be weird. And weirder,
And weirder. And this is how the strongest of connections are forged. There is the relative absence of any ‘should’ outside of ourselves, when we are truly at home. Just who we are, and secrets and trust and slip-ups and everything else that this entails]
I have so much to say on this topic. ‘Weird’, and ‘home’. The expectations people have of all of us, outside. The social masks we wear. And the point is, nobody is being quite authentic outside. But when we find the right people, and/or the right places, we can be. And the value of these incubators of authenticity only exists because their opposites exist – everywhere – too.
[Hold your breath for as long as you can. Then, exhale.]
Don’t you just love that you are fortunate enough to know some people in ways that others do not – or, even, cannot – know them? Increìble!
Today, I used some of the ‘Freshly Grounded’ cards [thank you again Baatqa] with my (Year Nine) form class, whom I have for half the week. They were so engaged! From the start of my time with them, I knew that they were an energetic bunch. Passionate… quite rowdy at times. How on Earth am I going to do this, I thought, back then.
Some other teachers pointed out that, yes, they have energy: they just require the right outlets for it. Good things to direct it towards. Their other form tutor and I quickly realised that they love debating. They love speaking their minds, and challenging people, and being challenged. Some of their questions – about Islam, about the world – have truly, truly stumped me, in the (recent) past.
The F.G. cards are perfect, Subhan Allah! Nothing is ‘coincidence’, and everything is connected. They are meant to read silently during AM registration, but sometimes I let them listen to podcasts. About a week before Aatqa had sent me this set of cards [she’d come across them at uni: a group of girls using them] I had played a F.G. podcast episode for the girls, and the hosts had referred to the cards in it. This is when I first learned about them. When Tamanna had been at my house, and when the F.G. parcel had arrived, we could not figure out where it had come from, from whom.
I also handed the student who won the ‘merit competition’ her prize, today. Their other form tutor had this genius idea about motivating them, during the two weeks preceding Eid… using the incentive of a prize [we joke that we are divorced partners, and that we have shared custody over the girls. If anybody has any complaints about them on Mondays, Tuesdays, or Wednesdays, they’re mine. On Thursdays and Fridays, they’re S’s. Not mine at all.] The prize was an emerald-green Korean-style [a lot of them are into their K-dramas and stuff] mug set, complete with a lid and a long golden-coloured spoon. S suggested that we also put a tenner in. So we did. The winner of the prize loved it. To my surprise, so did her friends. [Moody-and-apathetic-seeming teenagers are not all they seem… Nobody is what they seem. Nothing is what it seems. Existential crisis.]
One of my form students – who has, over the course of these past few months [I always get mixed up between ‘past’ and ‘last’. Are they completely interchangeable or no?!] taught me little things about Afghani culture – gave me a pretty little pink box filled with sweets today, in honour of the birth of her new baby sister. The box has since been crushed, in my bag, unfortunately.
Today had been a rather chill day. I delivered my lessons; I learned things from my students. Like how, when the computer won’t let me log in… I could just try ‘switching user’, you [or, I] know.
“A wise man once told me,” a Year Seven student said. She giggled and explained that the ‘wise man’ in question is her dad. “…that the last scraps of food are the ones that contain the most blessings in them”.
I then sat in the staff room, eating, reading. Meal deal from Tesco, and some added summer berries. It still feels a little weird to be eating and drinking during the day (post-Ramadan). Miss H and I swapped a berry for a pistachio between ourselves. I put twelve little popcorn packs in the middle of the table [it’s tradition. We share food by putting it in the middle of the staff room table]. And by the end of the day, only one remained… Teachers like popcorn! Teachers like food in general. With a passion…
Through the various people in our lives – the fleeting strangers, the academic rivals, the interesting colleagues – Allah makes things known to us. Like… the possibilities. Love. If you are not grateful to the people, then you are not grateful to God. This tells us much about how people tend to be gifts from God.
I like it when you sort of ‘lose’ something for a while, or when you are far away from it. And then you find it again. Like today, when I picked up a copy of ‘The Evening Standard’ [not the best newspaper in existence, but also certainly not the worst] and read it, and did the crossword (as much of it as I could manage, without cheating using Google.) I love newspapers.
I had – have – lots to do today. But as it is in my nature to half-be a mature and responsible person, and more-than-half also be a complete mess and a dope, I… had left my laptop… and my phone… at home today. Well done, you! So I used my PPA time mainly to relax, and to talk to my colleagues, and to use Ms. Mashudah’s Mendhi tube to doodle on my hand. [I’d been doing ‘PPA’ at home though…] Some of my colleagues watched me in fascination, assuming that I would be an expert at Mendhi. I… am not. I tend to draw random designs, write random quotes and things in Arabic. All in all, it tends to end up looking a little tragic. But it’s fun to do. And there is time to learn how to do it properly, en el futuro, Insha Allah. YouTube and Pinterest: beautiful teachers, they.
Saying goodbye to things. Like an academic year, a person, a childhood. Some things, I find it kind of easy to say goodbye to. Secondary school: I was out of there like a chicken let out of a claustrophobic coop. Some people: you just say goodbye to, and it’s easier. Than with others. And the worst part is when things are asymmetrical: when they don’t feel the same way. [For example: I once had an extremely close friend – for about four years. And one day she left for Canada, and that had been my very first experience of heartbreak, I think. A final hug, the view of a taxi driving off into the dark. And she was nowhere to be seen again, except on social media. Never eating-noodles-with-her or knocking on her door to come hang out, ever again. Sad[ia] girl hours].
Is the answer, then, to not try? To guard our hearts? Or are we meant to go through all of it, and feel the fullnesses of things, good and bad?
To show no weakness, and to bare no scars. It sounds like it is a desirable thing to do, but actually, it means walking around in denial.
[Hey, forty-year-old me: remember when these particular things were hard? You were so naïve. Hope you’re wiser now, old woman. I wonder what your current blessings are, and what your current tests/struggles are… Are you even alive? Hope you are, and that you have overcome your pathological fear of childbirth, and now have a son – or a horse, maybe? – called Jameel. Insha Allah Khayr!]
New beginnings: how the hick does one even begin to process new beginnings? And deal with the fact that we are just always, always, always, moving forward? How do we learn to just leave things behind, and continue to move forward? [What a strange word, when you think about it too much: forward. And forwards.]
Maybe [and pardon me for being dramatically melancholy] most things are false, and they are lies, and they just fall to the ground. Petal by petal, piece by piece. And we have to feel it: it’s part of the experience.
And there are some things that we just know, you know? We don’t even have to think about them; we don’t even have to know we know them. There’s that idea that we are whom/what we love. And I think the things that we love, and do, most effortlessly – without conscious forethought – are the things that tell us most about whom we are.
This school: I have learnt so much, by being here. Within the walls of the staffroom, in classrooms, through books, and more. Schools are cool.
Today I learned that one of my absolute role models from my childhood – Yvonne Ridley – had come to the school I currently work at, once, to deliver a talk! Where the heck was I, then?! I wish I could have been there…
People are cool, too. And how we are our essences, and how our essences surely remain: they are undying. For Saif, Kinder eggs and fishing videos became Faze Rug videos and Minecraft. For F, Tumblr and 5SOS quickly became winged eyeliner and bandana hairbands. For Maryam, decapitated Barbie dolls became an undying (loving, one could say) aggressiveness, so integral to whom she is. Isa has always loved animals: as a baby, he would refer to all animals as “Coh-coh”; I’m trying to persuade him to become a vet or a zookeeper in the future, Insha Allah. For T, Polka dots and Cath Kidston developed – but did not change fundamentally – into period dramas and elegant bracelets. For me, I guess, muddy shoes and newspapers have remained muddy shoes, and newspapers. Plus a muddied vintage-style bike. And a blog. Everything is always changing, and, on the most fundamental levels, things do not change at all.
Until the day I die, probably: I know I’ll still be ‘figuring it out’. I’m so tired right now. But I also know that all the pieces will come together, Insha Allah.
Cannot tell you precisely who I am. But I am sure about what, and whom, I love.
‘Home’, though. “It feels like poetry.”
I also learned that I should really not wear long coats and stuff while riding my bike. Bad history of things getting caught in my bike chains [today, luckily, I had a pair of scissors in my pencil case, to rescue myself. Last time, it was very embarrassing, but three people came to help me. One of them, a middle-aged woman, asked, sarcastically maybe, if anybody happened to have a pen-knife on them. You know who did have a pen-knife on them, to her surprise, and mine? Her own husband]!
With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.