During my life I came across so many characters, it is hard to know where to begin.
I remember a Miss C., one of my teachers, who was forever harried, and such a scatterbrained vague creature, it was the delight of one and all to torture her. Kids are so cruel. The poor woman was forever mislaying her reading glasses, and to our constant delight they were usually on top of her head. Of course we could all see them there, but we vied with one another as to who could volunteer to go ‘look’ for them, all over the school. If caught by any Monitors it was always accepted when we told them we were looking for Miss C.’s glasses. Poor woman, she never caught on.
Looking back at the innocent pranks we played in school, brings back fond memories. Mine was a school where a dress uniform was strictly adhered to. If we had to wear ribbons in our hair to keep the pigtails confined (no loose hair at all), they had to be white, no other color allowed. White socks, black shoes, grey pleated skirt, white shirt, diagonally striped red, grey and white tie, and a grey jacket or cardigan to complete the ensemble. When the morning bell rang and we all formed lines to troop in to our classes, we had to individually pass by the teacher on duty and were inspected, a second time after being inspected by the Monitors while standing in line. If there were any infractions, merit points were subtracted and went on your record.
I remember once we were so sick of how strict these rules were, the whole school decided to revolt. We decided that each and every girl would wear different colored ribbons to school. I never wore any as I had short hair, but to get into the spirit of things I took several hair pins, attached little colored bows of ribbon to them and clipped them all over my head. I probably looked like a multi-colored gollywog. That day school looked like a tray of Easter eggs when the bell rang and we were standing in line. The teacher on duty had the presence of mind to totally ignore us all as we gleefully trooped in to class.
It was a small private, exclusive school, with a limited number of students, housed in a villa that was converted into a school. To gather us for classes, or to denote the end of one class and the beginning of another, a bell had to be rung. It was an old fashioned hand held bell, with a pendulum and an iron ball that clanged and made the needed noise when shaken up and down. One day, some enterprising student had the genius of a thought to unhook that pendulum. The bell could not be rung! Joy, joy! Total chaos, no gathering in lines, no beginning or end to classes. We were all cavorting joyously in the yard, when that horrible science teacher got the brainstorm of an idea to start banging on a large tin box with a stick! At least we had us a lovely half hour of total freedom and triumph over the system. After that an electric bell was installed, a total killjoy.
I remember we were never allowed to talk in Arabic except during Arabic lessons, not even in the yard during morning or lunch breaks. As a young teenager, school took us on a trip to Luxor and Aswan. As kids we were lumped into large dormitories with six girls in each. In my room we had a slightly older Jordanian girl who, after lights were out, snuck up, got dressed and tried to get us to do the same so we could go downstairs to the club for some dancing and fun. Among the girls in that room was a very strict-by-the-book straight-laced, Monitor-material-girl who was fast asleep, but woke up with a start when the Jordanian girl tried to get us to join her. This strict girl sat up in bed and gave the Jordanian girl a tongue lashing of admirable magnitude which lasted a couple of minutes. The Jordanian girl just stood there gaping, and all she could say at the end of that speech was: “My God! You wake up speaking English?”. We all started laughing while the would-be Monitor blushed to the roots of her hair. A couple of girls got up and joined the Jordanian girl in their nocturnal adventures, but I was too young and too sleepy to be tempted.
The first time I ever met with religious discrimination was in school. I was so baffled by the girl’s behavior, I really did not know how to respond. She cornered me one day in the yard during lunch break and kept taunting me, “Are you a Christian?” And when I replied in the affirmative, she started making fun of crossing ourselves, making, to me then, strange gestures, and laughing her head off. She was a few years older than I and quite honestly I did not understand what was happening. I was so innocent. I was only rescued by the ringing of the bell, and felt very depressed and a bit frightened for the rest of the school day. I was a bit worried about going to school the next day, fearing a repeat, but strangely enough, and to my relief, that girl was absent that day. She never came back to school! I only found out a few years later what happened. It seems that her taunting was witnessed by one of the teachers standing at a window upstairs, who summed up the situation very quickly, especially all the rude gestures which went right over my head, and took action. She reported her to the headmistress, who brought her in, questioned her. The girl brazenly admitted what she did. Her parents were called in and the girl was dismissed from school on the spot for religious discrimination, and – what I really liked – behavior unbecoming a lady! That was classic.
Remembering this incident makes me so sad to see the state which Egypt has reached nowadays. Socially, there are so many misguided people who do not understand their own religion, let alone accept that of others. I would suggest that religion, as a subject bet taught in schools as History of Religion, where the history of religion from ancient Egypt to present day be the curriculum, and where all students sit together in one class. When I was in school, when it was time for a lesson on religion, Christians had to leave class to go to another room for their own Christian religious class. This was the first implied step towards discrimination.
To be continued …