With a look of despair, Jesus looked down at me from his big wooden cross that was
mounted on the wall next to the principal’s office at the Rosary School in Abu Dhabi. That was my first encounter with Christianity. My parents, wanting to give me a better education, enlisted me for Kindergarten in 1980, into a catholic school that was known for its rigorous education. The headmaster was a Lebanese nun, so my parents–being Lebanese themselves–got along really well with her. I don’t recall anything afterwards except bleeding from my ear.
Oh, you want to know about that?! Ok, so at this point, this will turn PG-13, so if you have any children around, stop reading aloud (it would actually be weird if you are doing so!). Here is the story: I did something wrong. I wrote the letter WOW in Arabic from bottom up (Yes! We do have a letter WOW in Arabic, and we also have a letter YAA!!!!, but you will never learn these cool letters because they come after the letters KKHAAA and TDHAAAD and GHghayn so you will probably give up early on in the Arabic alphabet before you get to them). Apparently, there was an international agreement that I missed that resolved to
write the WOW from top to bottom. I was called to the blackboard. I think that was the first public performance in my life. After I finished writing the WOW, the teacher stared at me in anger! She fumed! I couldn’t understand why. It is the first letter of my name, so I was sure I wrote the right letter. – She came up to me and snatched my ear with her fingers, pulled, twisted, and squeezed with the all the might that the Lord Jesus Christ has bestowed upon her. Her fingernail went into my flesh and I bled. Well, now I write my WOW from top to bottom, so well done Sister! My father actually came to school and all I remember is his stance at the door with his black suit and his manly full moustache next to the headmaster, while the teacher apologized to me in front of the class. I don’t know which experience was more traumatizing to me: the public ear-pinching or the public apology of my teacher who will continue to teach me for the rest of the year in humiliation!
As a branch manager of the National Bank of Abu Dhabi, a newly expanding government bank in a newly formed country (1973 was the formation of the United Arab Emirates), my father had to move a lot, accepting promotions and managing new branches.
In 1981, we moved.
Sand and beach … that is what fills my early childhood memories in a place called Ajman. Amidst that canvas of sand and salty beach under the scorching sun, I can barely recall other memories. They are all happy images of playing on the beach between the sand and the sun. I went to the Ajman Model Elementary School in first grade. I recall nothing from the school, except my box of pencils and instruments that had the Arab World map on it.
You see, we were raised with the notion that all of the Arab World was one world which we were the citizens of. We have been submerged into concepts of Pan-Arabism and Islamic identity from childhood, and this was the way in which we perceived the world. This ideal happy vision of one Arab world, with no borders, intertwined itself like a vines over our innocence. Both chattered together once we were at an age that required a passport.
Wait, I have a memory that I think I should not skip: of when I broke the idols and shouted “Allahu Akbar”. Here is the story.