Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Father of Awed Amjed Abdullah Al Malki

 After my run-in with Ahmed, I looked at my students very differently.  Since leaving America, I had made few connections with people in my classroom.  The years spent in Taiwan soured me.  Obnoxious students.  Teacher backstabbing.  Incompetent administrators.  Yet here in Saudi, I was spending eight, often nine, hours a day with these young men.   Grueling hours.  Something had to change.
 There were a few bright spots, but ultimately, more students that ended up disappointing me in the end.  
 Tarek was interested in art.  Privately he would tell me about his fascination with Van Gogh’s starry nights and golden wheat fields and listening to Chopin beneath headphones.  The passion it stirred.  The beautiful emotions he felt.  He knew these things were illegal under Sharia law, but he craved them.  Sadly, just by listening to him, he developed an unequal obsession with me.  Following me around the school like a lost puppy dog.  Showing up around town at shopping malls.  Hanging around the front compound gate.  He even sent me the above picture of his nephew.  There is that look a person has in their eyes, when they are gazing into yours longingly... Tarek had that look.   I reciprocated nothing, and left him cold.
 Raeed was a wild man.  Pounding Red Bulls (yes, this disgusting energy drink thrives in Arabia, imagine that?) and making the all night drive along blind highways dodging camel caravans to the see the sun rise in Jeddah.  The rays burning over the scorched desert. Withering hope.  Trapping fate.  He begged me to accompany him, to see this spectacle, but after three students died in head-on collisions that month, I declined him as well.
 But no other student was as notable as Awed.  Awed Amjed Abdullah Al Malki, what a name.  This kid was one of the worst students I’ve had in years.  Believe me, that’s saying a lot!
 Awed was late to every class… unless he slept through the break.  He talked non-stop, carrying on full conversations in Arabic while I tried to teach.  He cheated on every assignment, every test, every quiz.  I’d snatch his work and fail him.  He didn’t care.  He’d leave class to smoke outside the door in the hazardous chemical areas.  He’d pull the circuit breakers so the power in the buildings would go out and the air-conditioner would run off and we'd have to cancel class.  He climbed the building towers and fell, breaking his arm.  He would drop trash everywhere:  in the work site, in the classroom. He just didn't care.  He crashed his car in the desert twice, leaving one student in the hospital.  He would not SHUT UP!  Every time looking at me smiling saying, “TEE-cher!  TEE-cher!  Habibi! (I love you!)
 I kicked him out of class every day.  I scolded him.  I yelled at him.  I tried every approach.  Finally, I told the school he needed to be suspended without pay.  To my surprise, they called his father.
 It was one of the strangest moments I had in all of Saudi.  Getting pulled out of class by Hassan and standing in the hallway while this old man in white robes and cuff links, beautiful red silken scarf, and sun beaten weathered face, grabbed me by the shoulders and fully embraced me.  He kissed both my cheeks, his long scraggly orange beard scratching my skin like embers, speaking while Hassan translated.  
 This is the father of Awed Amjed Abdullah Al Malki.  He has driven 450 miles through the brazen Rub Al-Khali this morning to speak with you.  He is begging that you give his son one more chance.  Awed is the last of twenty-five sons.  (Yes, 25 sons!)  The father says all his other sons are worthless.  He does not even remember all their names.  But this one, Awed Amjed Abdullah Al Malki, this will be his legacy.  He must save and redeem the family.  He is asking you for help.  He is asking to give his son one last chance.
It broke my heart.  I stood there with this old man kissing my cheeks and weeping into my hands, actually using my hands to wipe his eyes as he pleaded in Arabic to help save his son.  I knew on the other side of the door, Awed was sitting.   Laughing as if he didn’t have a care in the world with no idea his father was here sobbing.  Minutes later, when I returned to class, I said nothing.   What do you say, when you have nothing more to give?  Days later, when I finally spoke to Awed, when I honestly tried to make him understand, I looked deep into his eyes.  There it was.  Nothing but sand.

No comments:

Post a Comment