A Common Atypical Education
In a guest column, over a 5-part series, Mohammed D Fakhro shares his personal reflections on the many worlds that influence him.
A decade ago in 2004 I was sketching at my desk while my high school English teacher taught us the difference between begin, begun and began in his thick Egyptian-English accent. My 50 or so classmates lumped together in a decaying classroom without the privilege of an air conditioner, trading Pokémon cards or showing off the latest Nokia cell phone subtlety and sometimes not so subtlety. In retrospect, it comes as no surprise that Qatar recently ranked number 1 in the world where you can find the unhappiest kids in the worst schools.
As last period’s clock ticked and our brains did anything but, my teacher gave up and moved on to reading time. I cringed.
There were no other words I hated more than “reading time” during English class, mostly because I was always chosen to do the said reading. My problem was not the language; like many of my peers, I had picked it up from American television, British pop music and translated Japanese videogames. I would later even find passion and refuge in the language, but at the time my struggle was with my own insecurities.
“There were no other words I hated more than “reading time” during English class…”
Ever since I was a kid, people picked on me for my voice. From family members who meant well to complete strangers at airports who overheard the stories I read aloud, my memory is plagued with instances of what not to do to a child. At some point I went from a talkative child to one who is as silent as a nun: I never spoke unless absolutely necessary, and most of my time was spent alone in prayer. I recall particularly praying for someone to invent what I coined as “voice plastic surgery” so that maybe I can save up enough lunch money to get one. Coupled with being an introvert and going through my teen angst phase (my 2004 song of choice was Linkin Park’s ‘Numb’) contributing in class was the last thing I wanted to do.
“Fakhro,” said my teacher with a smirk, as if we were performing a rehearsed show and I had missed my cue. I stood up slowly, hoping to waste as much time as possible while a few giggles started across the room. I took a deep breath and started reading yet another misadventure of the failed scientist, Mad Mac. The giggles turned into laughter as I read on and I could hear it all around me. I looked up at my teacher who gave me an encouraging look before hushing students down, but all I could focus on was the curl of a smile I saw on him.
“Lily would be the only one in our house to address my depression over the following years…”
No one called me names but I found that to be worse in that I questioned everything from my voice to my obesity and, through the daily hysteria of this occurrence, things about myself that I never shared with anyone. After being pushed to continue for a few more minutes, the only thing that came to my rescue was the bell.
When I got home that day and like every other day I locked myself in my room and alternated between eating, watching anime and sleeping. Every once in a while a family member would knock on the door with a social outing offer like majlis with dad or grandma’s with mom. Much to their dismay, I rejected each of these for years to come, again and again. In a culture of habit and routine, mine became the bullying at school and the solitary confinement of my room.
The final knock that night came from my family’s Sri Lankan ‘maid’, Lily, providing my regular self-prescribed “healthy diet” dinner: chicken-flavoured noodles and eight pieces of toast with cheese and honey. I watched ‘Friends’ and daydreamed of an American life where people got along and laughed with each other as she placed the tray in front of me and with it a “ma’laysh habibi” (“it’s okay, my dear”). I looked at her in surprise and she responded with her usual kind smile before walking out of the room.
Lily would be the only one in our house to address my depression over the following years, but the only thing that preoccupied my mind at the time was the overwhelming desire to get myself to America.
Mohammed D. Fakhro is a Qatari storyteller. He has earned a Bachelor’s of Arts in English at Miami University of Ohio and currently works at Hamad bin Khalifa University. Mohammed is working on his first novel. You can follow him on his blog (moefakhro.tumblr.com) or on Twitter (@moefakhro).
[Photo courtesy: Supreme Council of Information and Communication Technology via Flickr, image modified to fit]