Tuesday, 28 October 2008

School Daze - Part 2

Year 2 was much better as I was as academically capable as most students in the class. I wasn't yet one of the select few who the teacher regarded as the cream of crop, but I was gradually getting there. During that year, I managed to strike up good relations with a few people whom later became my best friends. I found one of them on Facebook a few months ago and I cannot wait to meet him again after all those years.
We moved houses the following year and it took some time for me to settle and feel comfortable with the latest change of scenery. Once I did feel at home, though, I slowly climbed up the ranks in my class till I was finally dubbed the 'naughty genius' by teachers. Despite that, I was beaten up with that sordid stick on an almost daily basis. I, along with the vast majority of students in the country, were beaten up for the smallest of errors and the most undeserving of reasons.
The summer following the end of that academic year saw the passing away of my mother and my adopting an attitude that was a little more observant, as opposed to the care-free, inquisitive character I had upheld previously.
I had a good relationship with all my teachers, especially those whose lessons I found particularly engaging, and whom I strove to impress throughout my schooling years. Looking at it now, it seems a pitiful effort to achieve something I cannot quite figure out. Maybe all I really wanted was to fit in and be like the others. I was a passportless Iraqi whose sole 'connection' was a family friend who was well-connected with high-ranking Syrian officials. I did, however, manage to stand out in certain aspects; English lessons were Mehdi-time as far as some of my friends were concerned. Due to my having a relatively better knowledge of English, I was the teacher's favourite. On many occasions I would refrain from putting my hand up as I saw eyes rolling and tongues tutting as if to say “Here comes Mr Shakespeare!”
Year 4 was perhaps my best year in Syria. I was academically outstanding and I had a wonderful set of friends, all of whom helped me feel truly happy at heart. My teacher, Mr Bashar, gave me an invaluable amount of encouragement and planted in me a sense of confidence that no other teacher came close to equalling. Still, I didn’t escape his Asaya, but my beatings came no where near the beating a friend of mine once received for scoring low grades in his monthly examinations. Usually, you would open your hand and stand on the tips of your toes in anticipation of the teacher’s cursed Strike. This time, Mr Bashar had intended to hit Hussein so hard that he missed the target and ended up hitting the underside of his wrist. The whole class gasped in shock but Hussein simply fell to the floor in agony. The janitor, Abol Foz, was called to deal with the situation whilst we froze in utter terror. Having missed the rest of the week, he came back with a cast covering his arm.
Year 5 was more or less the same as Year 4, except for the teacher of course. Mr Zuhair was a refined, leather-jacketed disciplinarian. He was a hardcore, sixties sort of teacher who talked about student activism and old-fashioned trends that we lacked. His apparent gentility was never in doubt, but he occasionally switched tabs and became much like any other teacher. The class consisted of nearly 60 students, three on each desk. When angered, he managed to throw a piece of chalk at the student he wanted to call, as if it to sound the drums of war. One of the corners of the class, where the rubbish bin handily sat, he called ‘The Boxing Ring.’ As prefect, it was impossibly difficult for me to write names on the blackboard. Sometimes I did, and I can’t forgive myself for doing so. The scenes of carnage that ensued are stuff of Dickensian fiction, but it was happening before our eyes.
Year 5 also saw my getting the highest grades in the whole class for the first (and only) time. I was usually amongst the top three but had never been the highest scorer. When I did, I was overjoyed and my friends flocked to congratulate me. It’s funny and rather annoying when I think of how good I was back then, and how far-fetched such achievements seem today.
It was only in Year 6 that we had a different teacher for each subject. The Arabic teacher stood out as the students’ favourite due to his involvement in an after-school program which many Shia students took part in. I only joined because they went on trips and offered participants the chance to play on computers - an absolute privilege in 1999. He liked me and I was rather apprehensive towards him because he was one of those aggressively-playful characters whom you are bound to meet in your lifetime. I was introduced to him during our first lesson with him; I was called out and told to answer a grammatical question which another student had answered incorrectly. It was an extremely basic question of tenses but my standing in front of Mr Abdel Rahman scared me to the core.
“It’s a past tense, Sir.” I murmured, shaking.

“Past tense? Brilliant! Are you sure?” He asked mockingly.

I quietly shed a few tears of embarrassment, fear and utter hatred of life!
“Yes, Sir. It’s a past tense.”
I could hear a few students gasp and say “Mehdi! What’s wrong?”
I looked at them and cried some more but I couldn’t see what other bloody tense it could have been!
After the lesson, he called me out of the classroom and spoke to me. Upon finding out that I was Iraqi, he asked why I had answered incorrectly and why I was crying. I told him I was very scared so he hugged me so as to comfort me and re-assure me that he is but a friendly beast.
It went downhill in Year 7. The onset of adolescence, coupled with my choosing to waste my time and money on collecting Pokemon stickers resulted in my academic levels taking a significant slump. I struggled to maintain average grades and many gave up on my passing that year. This wasn’t made any better by my new-found interest in a number of public figures. Of course, I don’t mean Javier Solana or Kofi Anan; rather, my friends and I were infatuated with a Syrian actress called Nourman As’ad and would not stop debating which angle best accentuated her utter beauty! Only Elissa proved to be the catalyst that diverted our attention. She soon become the talk on every tongue. Any teenager that year must have had at least one Elissa moment which he would be able to recall as if it had happened only last night.
One of the most hilarious incidents of that year was during an Arabic lesson when the teacher asked about the different conditions of the hemza (a written linguistic link placed either by itself, above a vowel or underneath it.)
“I wonder where the hemza in 'Elissa' goes..“ Joked Homedan.

We giggled but were cautious so as not to draw Mr Bahjat’s attention, only for Foad to open his gob.

“Depends on whether she’s under the duvet, under water or alone and bare."

As we laughed hysterically, a few were rounded up and sent to the head of year’s office. Mr Ridha, who was in charge of the boarding facilities during my brief yet scarring stint - was the Head of Year. His name was enough to make students shudder with fear. Inevitably, they came back cooling down their palms.
There was a mirage-like notion of our moving to England, but it was hardly something that I thought much of. Somehow, I passed Year 7 and, ironically, straigh after collecting my certificates from a smirking Mr Ridha, I had to dash to the British embassy to finalise my paperwork. I was a little upset that I’d have to leave behind the faces and places that I’d grown up with. My final year was particularly exciting for me as I was able to explore the city and form a relatively personal relationship with it.
To be continued.

11 comments:

touta said...

Asaya is better than being whacked round the head..in my brother's knowledge anyway. I didn't have the pleasure of being as 'naughty' as you were. So how was secondary education in the UK for you?
Raining in baghdad! Again!

Little Penguin said...

You'll find out in part 3.. :)

Apparently, it's snowing in some parts of london.. so, there you go!

touta said...

That has trumped up my 'raining in baghdad'. Still, I could always be abducted, shot, or die choking on the (delicious) food continually shoved down my throat.
Can't wait for part 3. :D

Anonymous said...

I hate Mr Abd Al Rahman.. he mocked the writer of Al Kawthareya.. we all know who that was don't we!

Again lovely read, keep them coming.

Abbas Hawazin said...

this one i enjoyed tremendously. I am feeling inspired to write my own memoirs, please keep it up.

Anonymous said...

i hate syria, hate all the schools in syria, hate mr redha and hate bashar alasad ...

Anonymous said...

some ppl got beaten up for other ppls mistakes in boarding school lol.

Anonymous said...

'elzeim adabak ya walad'

Ihsiin said...

Come on, where's part three?
We're all anxiously gripping the fronts of our seats with impatience.

najafi said...

walla zekrayat ye farreh el galob plz write part 3

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