My Arabic, especially classic Arabic, was never very strong, to the despair of my parents, especially my Father, whose Arabic was excellent. The level of my English classes was two levels in advance of my Arabic classes, so a system was set up by the school whereby I and all those with the same problem, were put together in special Arabic classes during the school year, and during summer vacation had special tutoring to finish the curriculum of a full year and sit for exams at the beginning of the following school year. I did not mind at all, as this way I did not feel like an idiot among my classmates, I was among those Arabic linguistically challenged, and felt quit at home. It was at one of those classes that I first met my friend, who later on became my best friend, as we both kept discovering more and more things in common. The first note was struck when we both made exactly the same linguistic, grammatical and vocabulary mistakes in Arabic class. This put us both in a category of our own.
The second note of similarity struck was during rehearsals for a school play we were both participating in. The teacher was trying to have one of the girls, an Indian girl, to appear surprised during a scene. The girl misunderstood and kept looking surprised all the time, practicing I guess. My friend and I caught each other’s eye and promptly collapsed in a fit of giggles.
We then discovered that we read the same books, watched the same TV series, had crushes on two different heroes, both lived in the same area, we got even closer. Of course added to that our English being better than our Arabic, our friendship was cemented when we discovered that we both had tendencies to write stories. We used to write during the previous evening and exchange our attempts at being the next Shakespeare during lunch break. She is now my informal editor and my greatest supporter to-date.
As we were neighbors, we quite often used to meet up after school or on weekends, and go walking down that lovely, quiet road next to the Nile, with those gorgeous villas built right on the Nile. Once, on one of our walks, we found the gates of one of those houses wide open. The sentry’s wooden kiosk was empty, and the plaque said it was the Embassy of the Vatican. My friend dared me to walk right in and peek over the low fence at the Nile. A dare I could not refuse, turning around I started in. The gates when closed usually hook up with an iron wedge in the middle on the ground. I never noticed it, and instead of the dignified walk to the edge of the garden, I stumbled and to keep my balance had to run a couple of steps so as not to fall flat on my face. In an instant I was confronted by the guard, but thank God he had not drawn his weapon, but he stopped me and asked me why I was there. I tried to look my most innocent and said I wanted to look at the Nile, he just said no, this was private property and I had to go. Greatly relieved I turned around and left, to find my friend doubled up, laughing her head off.
This friendship survived growing up, graduating from school, different colleges, broken hearts, loss of parents, her emigrating to Canada and living there for the past three decades. She now comes for a visit every six months and we continue as though no time has passed at all. School friendships last forever.
Though school is supposed to prepare you for the world at large, yet our school was so small and so exclusive, it was a cocoon of a world on its own, where strict moral codes were enforced and principles drummed into us, to an extent that the first brush with the real world in college was very traumatic.
Five years after graduating from school, and college, I went back to that same school, but as a part-time teacher. The other side of the coin. The building looked smaller, the students very young and innocent. I must have looked like that one day in the not so distant past. I cannot say that I felt at home, no, it was a totally different experience.