For anyone just joining my blog, this post is part two of a four part series about my personal experience with wearing the veil (Hijab). Please feel free to read the previous post dated April 11, 2012.
As I had mentioned in part I, going home in 1996 turned out to be one of the toughest experiences of my life! I absolutely loved being close to my relatives and childhood friends (Deena S., I love you loads). Going over to visit my maternal grandparents every Friday felt great. They showered us with treats and grandma (may Allah rest her soul) would always go out of her way to make us happy and was the only person in our life who prayed for us every time she opened her mouth! Something we came to truly appreciate only after she passed away. Visiting my paternal grandma (may Allah rest her soul) was always interesting as well. She had all those pictures of my dad 20+ years ago and many of the books he had left behind, it was really great seeing all this history and getting to know our father on a completely new level.
But the experience of going to school was nothing like I had imagined it would be. We went back to Orouba International School, “our school”, in Maadi where we lived. The school itself didn’t change much since I was last there in 3rd grade but the students were completely different. On my first day I was able to recognize some of my former peers and when I reintroduced myself to them they all remembered me … that was a huge relief. Some of them didn’t even wait for me to introduce myself and recognized me right away, which made me feel great. But something was different, they’ve all been in the same school for so long that they were so comfortable amongst themselves and I became an outsider. However, they never shunned me out, they tried to help me fit in but we were just too different. My childhood best friend, Deena S., was in a different class and she had her own group so I never imposed but we still got to hang out a lot at Maadi Sports Club.
However, a few weeks into the school year things started to get ugly. They noticed that all the teachers who teach the Arabic subjects were more patient with me since my Arabic wasn’t as strong as theirs. I don’t know if they thought that I was being arrogant or what, but my classmates started to act in a mean way towards me. They’d call me names, wouldn’t want to spend time with me on the break and started to circulate some of the worst rumors imaginable about me. It broke my heart that no one ever came to my defense, especially those closest to me. But I understood that if they did, they’d be shunned too and they probably didn’t want that. However, all this made me start to realize how different things in school are than when I was abroad. Classes were huge (usually around 40 students per class) as opposed to the 10-15 students per class I’m used to. Teachers would come in and head straight to the blackboard, not establishing much of personal link with their students (and how could they with so many students per class and so many classes a single teacher teaches?). There were 10 lessons on each school day, that’s usually a subject each, which meant we have to carry all those books to and from school on a daily basis. And there was a schedule, the teachers had to finish a certain portion of the textbook by a certain date, so students couldn’t go at their own pace (this cost me 2 years of my academic life where I was placed in the 8th grade although I was 2 years into my I.G.C.S.Es abroad). The students were very different too, they didn’t resemble me much and seemed so eager to form cliques and make sure they’re popular. So all in all, the experience of going back to school there didn’t meet even a portion of my expectations, but for some odd reason I still loved being there!
By the time the mid-year exams were up, I had found out that my father had exempt my brother and I from all the Arabic taught classes but never told us so that we would do our best to learn! I respect that now, but at the time I felt like he placed too much unnecessary stress and burden on our shoulders by doing so. Things started turning around during the second term. Some of my classmates started to show me support against the rumors that were circulating about me (thank you Rania S., Walaa N., Mohamed A. and Mohamed N.). I had made wonderful friends on the school bus (Shahdan A. and Eman E., I love you girls very much and really miss you) and they had introduced me to their friends, who were equally amazing. I also made friends at Maadi Sports Club (Maii A. I miss you and hope you and your family are doing well), where Deena S. and I and our families used to spend so many wonderful evenings and weekends. Things started to turn around and I LOVED it. Eventually, before the finals were upon us, I had stopped hearing any rumors about me and the “mean” people had stopped harassing me. Everything was falling in place and I loved my school more and more with each passing day.
At this point I’d just like to pause for a minute and extend a big “Thank You” to ‘Am Salah, our school bus driver. I hope he is well and pray that he and his family are safe. This man was always smiling, always happy to see my brother and I and always praising me for being a good person and good sister to my little brother. I remember him fondly and will always cherish his kindness towards us.
That summer vacation was amazing. I spent most of it in Marsa Matrouh with my dad’s side of the family and it was great fun. It also happened to be the last year I’d ever wear a “traditional” swimming suit (something I never saw coming since I was a pro). I’d become so self-conscious, especially with all my cousins who were on the trip being males (may Allah rest Karim’s and oncle Hamdy’s souls) that I decided it was immodest to go on wearing swimsuits from then on. I did continue to wear shorts though for a couple more years, nothing too revealing of course.
I was also looking forward to the upcoming academic year. I knew I’d be starting my I.G.C.S.Es and moving to a different department than my Secondary School Certificate colleagues and was excited about the new step. I also knew it was a defining phase concerning my future. How well I did in those classes would dictate what university (and faculty) I would join 3 years later, which in turn defines my entire future career! Such pressure for a 15 year old, yet who doesn’t go through the same experience?
I loved everything about the I.G department! Classes were small again, the professors were fun (except for one who I thought was quite a grouch, sorry, she also happened to be the only foreign one but I don’t think that had anything to do with it), we had our own little library and the head of the department was an amazing mentor and like a big brother to all of us (thank you Mr. Atef, you have truly impacted our lives in so many ways beyond imagination). I didn’t care for one thing though and, although I do understand the need for it at the time, it still wasn’t fun … and that was the bathroom passes 😀 Yup, bathroom passes … we were allowed 2 passes a day to go to the bathroom (which we had to leave our designated area for) and we had to pass by the department’s secretary to ask her for them! It was unbelievably embarrassing but was much needed since some “mischievous” colleagues of mine were abusing going to “the bathroom” in order to go see their friends in the other section of the school, several times a day. Other than that, I had no complaints. A very important blessing that I took away from my experience there was making some amazing, life-long friends (Sherine A., Dina G. and Yasmina M. … you girls truly rock and I love you from the bottom of my heart). The type of friends who, even if you don’t talk for years, you know have your back, love you and always remember you in their prayers and you them in yours.
As the years went by, I fell more and more in love with the education I was getting. Finally, I was feeling like I was at the right place. School was great, the professors were amazing, my colleagues were a lot similar to me and those who were different weren’t mean or anything, we were all mature and civilized people. The most exciting point for me was that I was choosing my own subjects and basically, planning my future all by myself. My parents trusted me enough to let me make my own choices only advising me to keep my options open whenever I can. I enjoyed every single day of my experience in high school and loved every single moment. I also discovered a lot about myself. I discovered that I am stronger than I thought I was, more resilient too. I discovered that my love for learning is a permanent thing and defines a big part of who I am as a person. I discovered that my favorite subjects are Biology and Computer Studies and that I have a genius (ma sha’a Allah) second cousin right there with me in class for 3 years and didn’t even know it (Ahmed A., who would have thought?) … and much much more.
Then came the wait, to know what university I was accepted to and what faculty I was placed in. I was waiting to see, will I go to the Faculty of Pharmacy at Cairo University or Computer Science at The American University in Cairo.