Cool Britannia

Earlier on during class, my student, who had read my first blog entry, asked why I had described my previous life in England as ‘a seven-year stint for crimes I never committed’.

Yasmine, I actually don’t know why I alluded (yes, double ‘l’, thank you google) that seven meaningful and defining years of my life were similar to prison. But I don’t remember England as being much fun, and this is was mostly my fault. Here are the reasons I never fit in over there, and probably will never fit anywhere, ever:

  1. I have a funny walk, due to one of my legs being very slightly shorter than the other. As a child, I learned to compensate for this by hop-skip-jumping everywhere as opposed to walking. When I got excited, I became a road hazard; people had to step out of my way. This did not recommend me to teenagers of any variety. I have a distinct memory of bouncing down a school corridor one day, then turning to the sound of hysterical laughter behind me. One of my ‘friends’ was imitating me matching my strides, doing semi-lunges down the passage with a look of gleeful disdain. This made me self-conscious enough to learn to tread more carefully, so I would like to thank those giggly cows for at least teaching me a lesson.
  2. I was a swot. I tried to remedy this by doing badly in math’s (easily done) and being mouthy with the teachers, but this just made them think I had character and wit, and they liked me more. This brings me to my next point:
  3. I was a teacher’s pet. Still am. Can’t help it. I have always been more comfortable around people older than me than those my age. It makes sense; I was desperate to fit in, but had nothing with which to charm my female peers, and less still to catch the eyes of teenage boys (See point 4), so I turned to grown-ups instead.
  4. I didn’t look right. In school, just like in any other wild environment, survival is directly proportional to physique. The lions get to sleep a steady 20 hours out of 24, proper beauty sleep, reassured by their sexy feline grace and the lethal strength of their paws. Most of the less able-bodied creatures have the sense to at least remain obscure, or to seek safety in numbers. I, on the other hand,  was a featherless peacock; ostentatious by nature, but sadly lacking the bright plumage that would validate my vanity (ooh, alliteration). I was called: four-eyes, pizza-face, ninja (I wore a scarf), bushy-hair, flat-chest and a great many other things I couldn’t help. I hung around the pretty girls, hoping beauty was contagious. It wasn’t.
  5. I liked to read, so I used all the wrong kind of language. In a middle school peopled with the seed of England’s working class heroes and immigrants, the rules of communication are distinct: one must limit one’s vocabulary to mono or bisyllabic words. The popular girls set the trend for slang, but you are only to copy them among your own circle of friends, speak like them to their face and they will either piss themselves laughing or happy-slap you. The same rule applies for swearing. Ju get me, blood?
  6. I tried to fit it. This was a brave but hazardous approach to surviving school. The reward was tempting; strutting down the halls with the gaggle of pretty/funny/tough girls, breaking rules, growing stronger by sucking out the spirit of the weak, a bully and proud. It was doomed from the beginning as I could never strut (see point 1). I was a laughing-stock, but this didn’t stop me from skipping P.E to hang out with fellow rebels in the girls’ toilets, doing the alpha girl’s homework as she sat next to me and made fun of my nose.

I have since grown into my nose. I now get to use and teach big words for a living. But I’m still a round peg in a square hole wherever I go, except here, where there’s a special made, geometrics-defying hole made just for me.

I know the blogging universe is made up of lone planets, licking the wounds of unhappy childhoods, traumatic teen years, and the deeper cuts inflicted by adulthood, because they have now become fully aware of the extent of their strangeness. But we are not moving away from each other like the bodies in space, we are brought together by our common experience of loneliness, drifting towards the pull of virtual comfort. We are finally part of a crowd, a place where all the misfits fit.

You know what the perk of having one leg shorter than the other is? If I try to keep both feet on the ground, I’ll look funny. So I’ll just live life in the clouds.

 

Me, Myself and Eyes

Another failed attempt to do my lesson plan has resulted in a semi-coherent poem which seems to have as its sole purpose the succession of words that rhyme with ‘eyes’. I think I will change the caption of this blog to ‘everything a girl can do instead of work’.

This is a poem about what I don’t like about myself, and a lot of you out there can probably relate.

 

I have often wondered, friends, just who and what am I?

I now give up this thankless task: I’m impossible to define,

I’ve always lived to please, you see, so I am all disguise,

For who would want to see displeasure in all your worthy eyes?

Who would want to be themselves, but forever despised?

Who would want to live unloved, a solitary life?

Don’t let my daring declaration take you by surprise,

Maybe you’ll even see yourself in some of what I imply,

Here are the rules of life for me, please feel free to apply:

 

I nod, agree, say thank you and please, and am always polite,

Bite my tongue to keep the peace, yes even when I’m right,

I’ve learned from my experience now that nothing’s worth the fight,

I’ll go home pale, shaking and obsessing late into the night,

I’ll play it all over in my head and never get it right,

Conflict makes me cringe and flinch and fills my heart with fright,

I’d rather flee than feel the pain of not appearing nice,

What else would I not do for you and your most worthy eyes?

 

My head is filled to bursting point with me myself and eyes,

For their approval I admit I’ve told too many lies,

Kept all my flaws behind the surface of my plastered smile,

Put up with every push and shove and then gone home to cry,

Then given way to a raging battle between me, myself and why?

 

Why act like a silly fool in an effort to impress some guy?

Why keep quiet about the things you know are fair and right?

Inwardly disagree with things and outwardly comply?

Why didn’t you ask that woman there to bloody apologise?

She stepped on your foot, you idiot, and now she’s out of sight!

Why don’t you just be more assertive, not stew on the inside?

Or sit in discontented silence half your sorry life?

Why don’t you say you’re angry, hurt, when opportunity alights?!

 

Okay, I know, my rules are wrong, this cannot be denied,

I deserve firm principles by which to live my life,

Should always act how I see fit, not torture myself with why?

I am me and not a reflection off of ever-changing eyes,

All that’s beautiful in me must one day see the light

I pray for poise and inner peace, with me, myself and I.

A blog you say?

Yes a blog!

Among thousands…. or millions (too lazy to check)

Will it work? Will anyone read it? I’m crap with computers, what if I’m doing this wrong? What’s the use?

No matter.

I have to do create something or what little self-esteem has survived the grueling  war it’s fought with my insecurity/anxiety/procrastination over the years will wave the white flag and fade to black (yes that’s how you spell grueling, I just checked with Google).

So without further ado:

I am a 25-year-old girl (woman? lady? female?!), I live in Algiers, Algeria but did a 7-year stint in England from the age of 9 to 16 for crimes I never committed. I now teach English at a language school in the city centre and spend what little I make on unhealthy food, endless bottles of water in a hopeless battle against dehydration, and trips to visit my twin sister abroad (miss you!)

 

I have created this blog to tell my story as a single, Muslim female living in an Arab/Mediterranean/African country, namely its capital city. Here is a brief introduction to Algiers:

Algiers in located in the centre of the north of Algeria, which is a north-African country wedged between Morocco and Tunisia. It is a coastal town with a population of nearly 3 million. There traces of hundreds of years of colonisation evident in its architecture, its food, its languages, its culture and people.

Algiers is crowded and busy and lazy and dirty and beautiful and bitter and kind and hopeful and full of despair. It is a hundred and one contraditions coexisting in a dangerous and suffocating false-calm that will one day erupt or implode.

Algiers is my parents whose parents died in an effort to free us from the French, and who now go misty-eyed with nostalgia over memories of a Madame Robin/Dr. LeRoi/ Soeur Therese, teacher, family doctor and nun who taught them, healed them, nursed them, treated them like people not cattle. And yes, they’re glad that their country is theirs now but things aren’t what they thought they’d be and they are defeated and deflated and sad.

Algiers is my students and co-workers, twisting their eager tongues to coax out beautiful and unfamiliar words in a language that will open doors to jobs, to education, to immigration, to every door imaginable, and even windows, gates, vaults, fortresses and borders. And all for just 8900 dinars per 30-hour course roll up roll up! Speak the Language of the World!

Algiers is a people struggling to come to terms with ten years of mindless violence at the hands of a group who thought they were acting for God’s sake. It is a confused and confusing mix of beards and veils and slim jeans and football shirts. Of Arabic and Islam and French and ‘Enlightenment’ (pff) and now English and The World Wide Web. It is people searching for who they are in mosques, crowded caf’s, language schools, sports clubs, shopping centres, street corners and countless shoddy housing estates.

Algiers is an endless argument where everyone is wrong and everyone is right.

Algiers is the fair and the brave and the honest and the hopeful and the ambitious dreamers gritting their teeth against the unfair and the mean and the petty and the mundane and the smell of tense, sweat-drenched bodies fighting for air on a packed city bus.

Algiers has made me who I am, and I don’t know whether to thank it or spit in its face.

So I will hold my peace, and vent my anger and my love in this relatively harmless way.

My name is Safia.

Welcome to my ThoughtBubble.