Day Eighteen

What I have learnt, Episode Eighteen: Spicy Water Balls and Poofy Sleeves.

Bismillah.

Today, I tried to take a wooden tray, and some fruit from home, into work — with the intention to later add to it, with more fruit[s???] from Tesco. But, alas: I’d left the tray, the grapes, and the oranges, on top of the shoe-box outside. A similar thing has happened once before: when I’d made a big flask of karak chai for everyone, and… left it outside, on one of the two pillar-things by the stairs.

Today had been a sort of celebration day for us. A belated Eid celebration, firstly, and also because it had been our last day of this half-term (Summer One). It goes: Autumn One, Autumn Two, Spring One, Spring Two, Summer One… and now I am going to enter into my final half-term there, possibly. I. Do. Not. Want. To. Leave.

Why. Would. I. Want. To. Leave. Save for: to get a degree, I guess. Make my parents happy. Reputation things and all. Roughly £28,000 to find myself in debt of, by the end. Sounds wonderful(!)

I do want and hope to carry on studying, God-Willing — iz in my blood; I don’t think I would be me, without my triplet loves for learning, and for writing, and for teaching. But, I’m not sure. I do think I would strongly benefit from a structured programme of learning, but I also love this academic freedom of mine, Alhamdulillah.

Well, today I walked into a school of light-blue-clad staff members. I wore the Turkish dress my nan had bought for me, from when we went to Istanbul together. The dress has puffy sleeves, and I got it tailored – cut – a few inches at the bottom, while in Turkey. [I used to call them ‘poo-fy’ sleeves, and Tamanna would find this hilarious.]

Today had been Zahra’s last day at work. The teacher she had been covering for this year (who had gone on maternity leave) is now back. Zahra had been in charge of Religious Studies and Citizenship; she also managed to continue working part-time for her family’s travel agency. While also taking care of – her niece, was it? – sometimes. Oh! And! She is pretty much a professional baker: she has made some of her sweet treats for us before. They are amazing, Masha Allah.

For today, she had made… an individual cupcake, packaged in its own neat and ribboned box, for every single student she has taught this year. How?! She said she only managed to get three hours of sleep last night.

I do thoroughly believe that the people who come into our lives are parts of Qadr, and forms of Rizq. The knowledge we can absorb through them: also, Qadr and Rizq. A while back, Zahra and I had both stayed back at the school — until, like, seven o’clock. Never again — in order to mark books. We were overzealous novice teachers back then, probably.

I think, one of the main things I struggle with is fear. I guess I am quite a sensitive person: I think ‘too much’, and I feel ‘too much’. And, back then, in November I think it had been, I started worrying very deeply about what others might think of me. Namely: what ‘Bengali society’ might make of me.

Zahra is a very forward and take-no-shiz kind of person. Any job she is given: she gets it done, super efficiently. On the human level: an unstoppable force, Masha Allah.

And on that November evening, we had spoken about lots of things together. About her divorce, which she openly speaks about. She is not the type to stay for things, merely for the sake of appearances; so that people do not ‘speak’. About others’ expectations of her. About her journey of personal development. About her academic journey. And probably some things about my own life, too, but I can’t quite remember.

Zahra’s advice? People talk. You don’t have to care. Just carry on.

When we left school that evening, Zahra had insisted on dropping me off home in her car. We had to walk and walk, to go to the place where she had parked it: a random council estate. I sort of stopped near a Volkswagen, wrongly assuming that this might be her car. But then the headlights of a really nice white BMW sports car flashed. Zahra told me to let my parents know she’d be dropping me off… in case they would see me getting out of the (really nice) car and assume that a guy had dropped me off.

Today I learned, again, that a lot of these students attend ‘Maktab’ (Qur’an classes) after school, pretty much every day. M—iah, for example, found herself to have been very “stressed” today, playing around with a ball of slime for stress relief purposes: she has five Surahs to memorise, before tomorrow. And then I learned that A—sa… has one Surah to learn before she has the entire Qur’an memorised, Masha Allah! She asked me if I could get her V-bucks (Fortnite credits) if/when she finishes it. I said yes. Sometimes I like to get baby brother mine V-bucks, just for being alive. I think I talk about him way too much, to my students — but it’s always relevant to the class discussion.

Today Tha—yra (Year Seven) made a very clever point about media reporting, and about popular awareness, and deliberate distraction.

And, for the extended lunchtime today, I went to (you guessed it) Tesco, to get some things. Not a fruit platter this time, unfortunately, but: some popcorn, and some breadsticks and hummus. Because, to paraphrase my brother, and in a TH roadman accent, I’m a wetty like that.

Celebration days at the school tend to be especially lovely. Everybody is in a celebratory mood. Ethnically, our students are from everywhere: Bangladesh, Somalia, Algeria, Egypt… I even teach a girl who is Scottish-and-Bengali! When I look at people who are ‘mixed race’, if I focus on one of their ethnic backgrounds, I tend to see mainly that. And if I focus on the other, I see that. Same with little kids, and their parents: if I choose to see mainly their mother, in them, I do. Father, same.

Today, I went with Rashida to a local Islamic bookshop, to buy some books for a friend of hers who has just had a baby. She is putting a hamper together for them. Apparently, the baby’s mother is favouring mint over the traditional blue, for clothing her child, and for decorating his living space, I think. So we looked, specifically, for baby books with mint-like covers, for the hamper. Then we went (back to) Tesco: Samaiya asked me to get some plastic cups and spoons for our form girls. But by the time I had returned to the classroom with the goodz, they had no longer been in need of them.

Rafia – who told me to “snap out of it!” today, when I zoned out, thinking about the timetable changes, for some reason – had brought in Panee Puree for her form class (8S). There is another way of saying ‘Panee Puree’: Gol-something. Golap-something? I forgot. But, also, the ‘proper Sylheti’ (an oxymoron, according to some snooty peoples) way of saying it is ‘Fanee Furee’. It literally means ‘water balls’. [‘Gol gappe’: that’s the other name!]

Spicy water balls. A classic Desi snack. And one I would like to try, from street vendors in India/Pakistan. As I have said before, I don’t like to rely on fancies of travel in order to maintain a sense of adventure in my life. But, at this moment in time, Insha Allah, I would like to go on a lil tour of Bangladesh (again), India, Pakistan, and Nepal. Imagine having panee puree; chai; biryani… in India/Pakistan. Wow. [Foodie tour of South Asia, 202-…4? -5? Insha Allah]

Jerusalem and Bethlehem, also. Scotland, again, Insha Allah. Those are the places that I would really like to go to. And Ranga Mama and Stomami said they really want to take me to… Egypt! They’ve been before, and Ranga Mama assures me that I would love learning about the history of the country — especially Cairo.

I would like to do things like quad-biking and scuba-diving, too. These things tend to be things that make me feel a little scared – uncomfortable – at first. And then you get into them, and you achieve this sense of overcoming, and it tends to be really enjoyable. You just have to reach that nice flow state. Many of the things I am initially a little wary of doing: I end up being very, very glad that I did them. Better to have no regrets.

I really want a Vespa, too. Someone at work told me I would really suit one, and now I cannae stop thinking about it. Probably would not go down too well with my parents, though. [Plus, I feel like people low-key find hijabis doing anything like this… funny. But in Zahra’s words: we shouldn’t care. We’re not here long; going to die. Let others’ eyes be others’ eyes, and let our own be our own.]

[That random song I found on Twitter, a while ago: Hijabi, hijabi, hijabi. Stop making fun of hijabis.]

Bike, Vespa, horse. Or nuffink.

Later today, I am going to Ranga Mama and Suto Mami’s house, Insha Allah, to stay there for the weekend. I can’t wait to see my Dawud Biyya! [‘Biyya’ is an honorific title for older brothers. Dawud is my lil cousin who is three years old. I just find it super funny to say ‘Dawud Biyya, Dawud Biyya’ whenever I see him]. And: their house is in a nice little village, tucked away from the busier parts of London. A nice retreat-y kind of place.

The other day, when Suto Mami called Sweetie to get Dawud to talk to us, he had been speaking to Sweetie, and then I said hello to him and he shouted, “FULDI! LOOK! PIDER-MAN! LOOK FULDI! LOOK!” I think he thought it had been a FaceTime call. I love this kid so much.

Dawud had been born exactly a day less than seventeen years after me: his birthday falls on the 18th December (2017), while mine is on the 19th (2000).

Today has been a day of lessons, followed by lots of food, and spirited conversations. B—-isa came to the staff room, to give me something: a box of brownie bites, on which she had written ‘Ms Sadia’ in red board pen. I found this so, so sweet. But I probably expressed it really, really awkwardly. Why am I so terribly awkward, at times?

Today I really ‘deeped’ how things can change. From October 2020, to now: May 2021. At the start, I had felt like such a wary-feeling guest in the staff room; at the school. During staff meetings, I would feel anxious, sitting at the side-tables. Now, I walk around the place like it is my home. I like to take in food for my colleagues, sometimes; I like joining in on random discussions with them. We talk about pretty much everything, together. The ‘mundane’, the ‘big’, the universal. Sometimes, we laugh about really silly (hilarious) things. And honestly, the sound of some people’s laughter is something to be treasured, Masha Allah.

Truly, even in the space of a ‘mere’ six months, this school has become a home for me.

R.M. and S.M. are planning to leave from Nanu’s in T-minus an hour and a half. They’ve ordered pizza today, but I’m trying to do this say-sorry-to-my-body-and-eat-healthier thing. I need to pack, and then I need to go.

[And I can’t remember if I’ve learnt anything else today… I’m sure I have, but… ya girl is – you guessed it – tired. I want to learn how to say this in Arabic. Ana… *thaayerrd*.]


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

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