What I have learnt.
Episode Nine of this series, documenting a random thirty-day chunk of my life, from halfway between my birth, and being forty.
Today, I learned that my 7J girls are so very funny and bright, Masha Allah. What random tangential discussion did we have today, again? Oh, yes… “____________ just called me a nerd. Miss, would you describe yourself as a nerd?”
I’m not sure. Although Saif and Isa call me a nerd all the time, I do not think I am smart enough to be worthy of the title. But I am not so sure if I am ‘cool’, either. Are the two really opposites of one another? I know that some people perceive me as a ‘nerd’; some people perceive me as being ‘cool’. I see both labels as being massive compliments, and I also know that these ideas are entirely relative, subjective. All a matter of perspectives. And there are as many ‘perspectives’ as there are walking, thinking human beings on the face of this planet.
I love meanness, when it has loving underlying intentions, and when it is not about something we know that the other person is genuinely insecure about. Meanness is how we show love, among my cousins, and with some of my friends: Siyana is ‘alien’. Sweetie calls everyone ‘fatty’. Isa is ‘Beesa’. And he is ‘Giant Baby’ [ref: that meme of the giant baby, from last year], while I am, in return, ‘Big Fat Baby’. Saif calls me annoying, weird, and a nerd, all the time. Isa has reassured me that he is only ‘mean’ to people he likes; that if he did not like me, he would simply completely disregard my existence… sounds about right.
But meanness when it is genuine meanness: it is often a sign of insecurity. Secure people feel no need, no want, to be genuinely, cuttingly mean. So when words like ‘nerd’ or ‘weird’ are used harmfully, there is some underlying reason. A need to bring another person down. Why? I am, Alhamdulillah, very, very, fortunate to have my cousins in my life. They are beautiful, often wittily-mean, lil people [and in about a decade, I’ll probably be the shortest of all of them]. They keep me up-to-date with what’s ‘in’ right now. Dhar Mann, things going viral on Tik Tok… things like that.
I explained to my 7J girls – many of whom seem to also love Dhar Mann – that it’s like how, in one of his very-popular videos, there is a boy who incessantly makes fun of the smart kid for being a ‘loser’ and a ‘nerd’. Because the bully in question feels stupid, but seeks to mask his weakness behind such an artificial image of ‘strength’.
When meanness is ‘real’: two things. The person being mean feels insecure, and needs to feel ‘bigger’, somehow. Anyhow. And, in an ancillary manner: the object of the meanness tends to be seen as either an easy scapegoat, or… as a threat. The amazingly clever kid would appear to be convenient to try to belittle. S/he makes his/her detractors feel awfully small. Desperate to feel bigger. But secure people are not (genuinely) mean to people. Ever.
A random and separate thought:
“Sometimes, it all gets a little too much,
But you gotta realise that soon the fog will clear up.
And you don’t have to be afraid,
Because we’re all the same.” [S.M.]
Staffroom conversations. What did I learn today? Random things. That Tesco salsa tastes pretty good on gluten-free seeded bread. Green tea with lemon makes you feel like your skin is glowing. Other great skincare things: Simple facewash, H&B Vitamin E sunflower oil, Aveeno sensitive skin suncream, and the Eva Naturals mix, for evenings. Rooibos tea: apparently it’s choc-full of antioxidants, and is good for helping to balance le ol’ hormones. And good skin tends to be a sign of good inner-health.
Water, also. Getting enough sleep. And, probably: having a really good anti-inflammatory diet. But… we had Pepe’s today. My fault. Sigh. Why can’t healthy food taste like fried chicken?
[On a somewhat separate note, I need to go home, tidy up, change my name, reinvent myself, burn all the evidence of my former existence. And things like that]
I tried to have another staff room nap. But then my head sort of shot up when I heard someone complaining about my most favourite class of all time. And,
I had to go home early today. I’m still feeling sick: a queasy feeling, weak, and feverish. But it is not COVID. I did the test today. I ordered a kit from the government website, but then one of the admin sisters [when we call one another ‘sisters’, I am immediately reminded of ‘Call the Midwife’] said that I could do it there and then, at the school.
Dear Reader, what a strange and disgusting experience. Firstly, it should be illegal to put a swab that far up your nose. Sometimes, I like to act like these things do not scare me at all: in my family, some of the men are terrified of needles, and of dentists, and of spiders, and of tests like these. I am not so scared of needles, but dentists are basically modern-day medieval barber-surgeons (but I make myself act like I’m not scared of anything, in front of my dad and brother. It’s like a source of feminine pride). Spiders are awesome [the other day I had to get one out of the 7J classroom. I asked one of the girls to bring a plastic cup from the office, cupped it up using a piece of paper. They kept screaming, and saying I was brave. The spider was harmless. But this COVID test, by contrast, resembles, rather strongly, some form of cruel and unusual punishment.]
I kept sneezing, and my eyes kept watering. The receptionist had been so used to administering these tests. She kindly set everything up for me, then turned around and told me she won’t look, it’s okay. I waited, in the medical room, for half an hour. In the meantime, my friend Tasnim called me – perfect timing: I wasn’t exactly busy – to tell me that (Masha Allah, Allahummabārik) she has passed her driving! Woot woot! We cannot wait to go on road trips with one another, Insha Allah. Blankets, cushions, plants, even, maybe, in her car… the possibilities. And the feeling of being two South Asian girls getting outta the ‘ouse and having an adventure.
Driving and I: I am not so sure, at the moment. Firstly, I am definitely someone who overthinks things. Letting me sit in the driver’s seat would be a risk to myself, and to everybody else who sets foot in my car, and to everybody outside, also. I took a few lessons, a few years ago. And I still remember the look of sheer fear in my instructor’s eyes, whenever I did something. I would be the type of driver to do things sharply and abruptly. Zone out, sometimes, to deep life. Speed, sometimes, to release pent-up aggressive energy. And zoom (fellow COVID-survivors may be triggered by this term for the rest of our lives) right into the ol’ void.
Do I need a car? I have my bike, and public transport. And Über… and now my friend Tasnim <3. The number of Bengali aunties and uncles who have told me that I ‘need’ to learn how to drive, though, and that I need a car. Like it is a need, rather like how oxygen is.
At work, they say I seem like the type to cycle around, and if I ever have kids, that I would cycle them around in one of those little trailer things. I… would never. Unless something drastic changes, in me. Also, people seem to kind-of-often imagine that I would want to drive a Mini Cooper. I… would never. It’s just because I’m short, probably.
Everybody we encounter has these assumptions about us. You ‘are’ this, and this, and this. And you are also, for the most part, not really any of these things at all…
Some assumptions: I quite like the sound of. So I accept them. I mean, criticism, I know I should be open to, also, in moderation; when it is fair, and beneficial to my improvement.
One of my (very spirited) students [ref: the one named after the figure from Greek mythology] says that I seem like someone who would hold books to my chest, and then walk around, and suddenly trip over. And someone would help me pick my books up, and they would become my best friend. I asked her if she got all this imagery from ‘Gilmore Girls’. And, yep.
One of the funniest things ever is that quite a few times, I have come across students attempting to pass off plot-lines from Disney series as their own creative stories, and pop song lyrics as their own poetry.
Today I learned that I do not have COVID, Alhamdulillah. But I have also learned that I could have a new strain of the flu, which has come about recently. I thought it would be better to go home today, and not risk spreading anything.
Going home early from school, on account of being sick, brings back nice memories for me. Of my Nanu coming to pick me up from primary school. Secretly, that added care and attention you get when you are unwell. “Nana Bhai”. I love that my Nanu sometimes refers to me as this. Other beautiful Bengali pet names that we should really preserve among ourselves, I think: “moina” (like that Khala… I forgot her name. With the two kids, Hasan and Fatima), and “shuna”. Aw!
Today I went to the juice café and got the Sun Twist, I think it’s called. Mint, orange, ginger, and pineapple I think. ‘Twas nice, Alhamdulillah. I took the bus home, and sat on the same bus, and the same seat, that I have sat in so many times, during secondary school. The peace of the journey. During my gap year, last year. And, this year. This area: I am part of the furniture, here, so it would seem.
Still, there are always new things to be discovered, and new perspectives to be had. Today, I went to pick up some books from a local ‘Olio’ user. ‘Olio’ is [and here I will likely sound like a sponsored YouTuber] a very cool and useful app, for sharing (mainly food) items that you are not in need of. I discovered it… during the last lockdown period. When I had purchased vegan lasagne from Asda. And found… that it contained red wine. So I needed a way to give it away, somehow; not waste it. [I was too lazy to go back and get a refund, though]. I forgot how, exactly, I’d found Olio. But I have used it a number of times since. A good way to share surplus food, and to meet people who live around you.
Recently I found that someone wanted to give away four books. The books seemed interesting: in that interview with the Dominican friar/professor last week, he had asked me what my favourite genre of fictional books is. I immediately thought of ‘cultural’ books: Khaled Hosseini, and the like. These books I have picked up: one of them is called ‘Fasting, Feasting’. Set in India, seems interesting.
Oh, yes, and I did that thing again, of having left my house keys at home. Luckily, my nan lives five minutes away from me. She lives in a (i.e. our old) flat; we now live in a house. We had switched homes last year, to suit the needs of our respective households. But it sort of feels like both places are home, and that the walk between is only a courtyard. And the bit of the canal beneath the bridge: a fountain.
When I went to collect the books, I walked through the green space in front of my nan’s. Past the church whose side wall has now been painted yellow. Past gorgeous roses, cobblestone. People living their lives, kids singing from the community centre building. And to a row of houses I had not even seen before, I don’t think, situated behind the building that had once been a Victorian workhouse. Even though I have lived (sort of part-time, initially, and then full-) in this area my entire life. The lady had said that her house is identifiable by how many plant pots sit outside of it: there were so many!
I also bought a can of ginger beer to enjoy. Ginger beer: something my uncle had recommended to me. He has so many cans of it in his ‘drinks cupboard’, in the conservatory, at his house. It’s like a little shop in there! Chocomels, Dr. Peppers, ginger beers, that American-style soda drink…
While looking for something for my little cousin at the sweet section of Best One, a trio of Bengali roadmen boys [Am____’s little brother and friends] looked for ‘Chewits’ there. One of them had been talking about how he told a girl her nose looked really big in a picture, and that she then told him, yeah, she wants to get surgery done on it. Sigh.Tower Hamlets roadmen: just so utterly charming (!)
Actually, what tends to be the case is that these TH road-men grow up to be great people. Giving discounts and free drinks at burger joints because they “look after [their] people!”, and acquiring a love for Deen, and a beard [a few months ago, someone from secondary school recognised me, stopped his car and did the whole ‘catch up’ thing. I could not believe that that was him, and that I had really embarrassingly forgotten his name… and he asked me if I remembered his name………… and that, at once, I felt I seemed far younger than him. And yet, at the same time, I felt I seemed way older.]
That’s another thing: why do some people say I look sixteen years old, while others say I look twenty-four? P e r s p e c t i v e s. When people say I seem ‘mature’ for my age, immediately, I think I must have an aged face, and wrinkles, and a boring seriousness about me, and things like that. In my head, I begin to imagine that I look fifty-eight or something.
And maybe, in some other life, I would have made an excellent roadman. ‘Wagwarn’. It literally just occured to me the other day that this means ‘what’s going on’.
Today, I feel quite sick. It’s like that feeling when you eat too much chocolate: that feeling of queasiness. ‘Queasy’ reminds me of the Spanish word for ‘cheese’: ‘queso’. Today, my baby cousin Siyana took a slice of cheese from the packet, and said, “I’m a mouse, I’m a mouse”. Just now, she started singing, “In-di-a, In-di-a”, and then proceeded to prop herself onto a chair, to try opening spaghetti hoop tins with a can opener. In her little navy blue hoodie, trying to hack these tins, she kind of looks like the baby girl version of Hackerman. My nickname options for her are now: alien; mouse; Hackerman. Or, all three, at different times, in different contexts.
I kind of like ‘being sick’: the idea. Warmth, rice pudding, an episode of ‘GMW’ or two. But, ew: being sick, the reality. Today, I cannae eat, or sleep. I feel restless and weak and hot and cold. When I feel restlessness, I feel it in my hands. I cannot focus on things, and me not want to talk to anybody either. And [trigger warning, grossness] I feel like I am about to barf my insides out. Let me leave you with that imagery. Dear Reader, you read this blog of mine at your own discretion.
Today, my Īmān feels quite depleted, and I am feeling somewhat lost and lonely. Which is a bad feeling, but I know, I hope, it will bring me to one of those soul-deep conversations with Allah. The Best of Creators, the Best of Planners, Ar-Rahmān-ur-Raheem.
Tomorrow, I plan to clean up my space again, Insha Allah. Drink lots of water. Do something about deez cuticles. Read! Eat better. Stop using my moh-bil-eh phone so much. I feel so re st le ss.
With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.