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I was helping my little niece with her Science homework last night when the subject of school came up. She talked passionately about her school, her friends and her best teachers. We went back to her science homework, talking about the function of the bones and how they help the body. After working for a while, there was some silence as she jotted down what she had learnt.

“Abti, My teacher is racist,” she said out of the the blue with a frown
“How is she a racist, Abti?”
“It’s a he”
“Oh, ok. How do you know he is a racist then?”
“You know he sticks up only for the English people”
“How do you know he sticks up only for them?”
“Coz he never sticks up for me”
“Never sticks up for you. You must have done something wrong abti”
“Abti, this girl always lies about me and follows me and he had to talk to hooyo (mother) about it today”

She pauses for a while, still with a frown on her face

“He never listens to me coz am the only black person in my class”

I looked straight at her, trying to deduce from her demeanour whether she was being serious or just pulling my leg. Besides, I was surprised because the school has a large population of Ethnic minority students.

“You’re the only black person in your class? ”
“Yeah, didn’t you know?”
“No, Abti, I didn’t!”

There was a slight pause.

“How do you feel being the only black person in your class”
“Awful”
“Why is that?”
“Coz he sticks up for the other kids and not for me”
“But how do you know he is sticking up for them because their colour is different to yours. He might not be sticking up for you because you have done something to upset him”
“Innit Abti, it will be annoying, yeah, if a girl blames you for everything and always follows you everywhere even to the toilet and you tell the teachers and they don’t do nuffink (nothing) about it?”
“You must have done something abti to get the blame. No body gets blamed for nothing, but you must remember if a teacher doesn’t do anything about it then go to another teacher and tell them”
“No abti I haven’t done nuffink”
“But Teachers are not racist at all abti. Teachers cannot be racist”
“Yeah but why does it always have to happen to me. Last week I lost all of my golden time coz of her”

pause.

“Abti this girl she pushed me, yeah, during PE coz she wanted to be wiv her friend and I pushed her back and I got the blame”
“Yes, but abti you mustn’t get involved. If someone pushes you or does anything to you go straight to the teachers and tell them”

Silence.

“He takes one minute off everone’s golden time but me he takes 10 minutes”
“Did you speak to him about it?”
“No”
“Why not?”
“Whats the point, he’s gonna tell ms M about me”
“But if you think he’s not being fair, you should tell him that. Have you told him?”

Silence
She shakes her head and emits a silent “no”

“If I tell him then he’s gonna go to miss M and tell her I said he was being racist and am gonna get excluded”

she goes quiet for a few seconds

“And these boys are always racist to me coz am the only girl who wears khamaar in my class. And we are the only two muslims, the other is a boy and he is mixed race”
“Do the boys pick on him as well?”
“No”
“Why do you think they pick on you and not him then?”
“Coz he’s a boy and am a girl”
“And the only reason they pick on me is coz I wear a Khimaar. Even Miss W, the behaviour mentor she doesn’t even do nuffink (nothing)”
“Have you told her about it?”
“No. She doesn’t like me anyway!”
“Abti, but if you haven’t even told her about it, how do you know she won’t do anything about it?”
“Coz she likes everyone else in the class and not me”
“She would not know abti, you have to tell her. She cannot do anything about something which she nknows nothing about. If you tell her, she will do something about it.”

I pause for a while, starring at her. she is looking down at her work book, thinking.

“Make sure you tell a teacher if anyone bullies you, abti, and if the teacher does nothing about it, tell another teacher. Do you understand?”
she nods.

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As the children went to assembly, I retained D, a young black child, behind to help him with his Maths as he was struggling a bit with it. On the course of the 15-minute session, as we went through multiplication by chunking, we discussed a whole range of topics from his favourite football team, to his favourite film, to what he did on the weekend, to cartoons, etc. And then an unusual subject cropped up:

“I’ll get you a DVD, Mr Said, what film do you want? He said.
“Isn’t it a little expensive, D? I replied thinking how he could get hold of one.
“No, I’ll get you a pirate one,” came back a casual answer
“You watch Pirate DVD’s? You know it’s illegal right D?

He laughs.
Pause.
Laughs again.

“I once stole a DVD from the China-man,” he says with a smile
“You stole a DVD? How?”
“I was looking at it and the Police came after him, so I put it in my bag”
“And you went home and watched it?”
“Yeah”
“What did your mom say? Would she allow you to watch it if she knew you stole it from the China-man?”
“She knows I stole it. She helped me steal it”
“What? I say surprised, “your mom helped you steal a DVD?”
“Yeah, we ran and the bus was there and we pretended to be running for the bus and we went home”
“So you think it’s alright to steal, D?”

He shrugs his shoulders, turns towards me, and smiles
“I don’t know”

He is right. How could he, at 9 years old, contradict his mother decision and discern that the actions she approves of are wrong? And could I tell him that stealing is wrong?

A mother is the child’s first teacher, his first insitution where he learns almost everything there is to learn about life. He soon will start to imitate her actions and this lays a rigid foundation for everything he undertakes later on in life. Would he take it from me then, when, at home, his parents consent to such behaviour? Most black parents are very strict with their children and teach them enough discipline to distinguish whats right from wrong from an early age, but the few that condone such beahviour tarnish the reputation for many good black parents.

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Yes, here we go again! This case, highlighted a few days ago, might have turned into another Shabina Begum case, but unfortunately, the school lacks the wherewithal to fight the case without the council’s help.

I am not going to say that the 12-year old in question does not have the right to wear her Niqab – she has every right to wear it (especially in this case since she chose to wear it on her own accord). Her religion demands it (though there is still a debate whether it is obligatory to wear or not) and so she must. Everybody must have complete autonomy over what he or she does with regard to his/her religion. Right? It is the only sphere in life where a person can say he/she enjoys his freedom. Yes, it is a religious symbol for her and any basis of exclusion on this is totally unlawful, but Muslims also must understand that they are in a country where Islam is not the major religion and they are bound to face such threats. And, at times, in order to practice their religion to their best ability it would be advantageous for them to reside in places where it is practiced fully. The British are more than generous to have allowed us to practice our religion – despite the ongoing disputes.

As for the British public, we know that this issue of wearing the Niqab provokes a wide spectrum of opinions and resentment alike. All the British public keep reiterating is the same old line “If Muslims want to live in our country, then they must learn our language and adopt our cultures”. But think about this for a moment. Many British people, or westerners for that matter, live in the Middle East and other Muslim countries. Now wouldn’t they take umbrage if the governments of those countries imposed the full Hijab clothing and the Niqab upon their women and daughters in the face of the sweltering heat?

“If you wish to live in our country, then you must learn our language and fully clothe yourselves!” What if that was the case?

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Paint anything you like! That was the instruction given to the class after handing them each a cardboard, a colour palette and a paintbrush. About 40 minutes later and the entire room was chaotic – newspapers that were meant to protect the tables from the messy paint were all higgledy-piggledy on the floor, books were smeared with an assortment of colours, paintbrushes frantically thudded on the cardboard in a slapdash attempt to originate fresh, juvenile ideas, children had their faces and hands smeared with paint squirted it all over their clothes, and overall the room was given an overcoat of tender tones of yellow, red and green.

But the beauty of it all was that despite all the doodling, the mess and anarchy, pleasant yet subtle colours materialized; creative ideas of different strengths and different depictions were embodied in the simple and unadorned drawings. Beautiful portrayals of serene sandy beaches and palm trees, of houses and cars, or people and soothing waterfalls were on display. And one cannot but admire such work of art by the most creative individuals whose minds haven’t yet been tainted. And like Herrick such disorders “Do more bewitch me, than when art is too precise in every part”

Only one thing worried me though. Whilst other children were busy creating beautiful things, the Somali children created mayhem. One kid used black paper and glue and drew a pitch-black forest – That’s it! Nothing else. The symbolism of which i did not understand. What really worried me though was the kid who drew a CSI crime scene, with a deceased person’s body on the floor marked by a chalk outline. A splatter of red paint on the man marked his blood and it also spread to the walls behind him and the area beside which he lay. I wondered Why? but never really got to ask him.

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An 8-year old child that came to school on his own a few days got a severe scolding from his mother. At the school gates the next morning, his mother stopped me as I walked in and told me about the situation.
 “I shouted at him yesterday so he wouldn’t talk to the teachers, so can you please talk to him and work with him today” she asked me. And indeed he wouls be willing to work with me – being Somali that is.

I replied in the affirmative and reassured her that I will have a word with him later on. During playtime he wasn’t allowed to go out because of his coming to school alone at 7 in the morning, so I stayed with him in class and kept him occupied (otherwise he would have spent the morning sitting in front of the headmaster’s room) I thought I should do something constructive with the time and asked him what he likes doing.

“I like drawing. Can we draw pictures” he said. So I got a few plain sheets and we started. A while later I lectured him on what he did and the importance of listening to one’s mother – I am not sure he got everything I said but i kept rambling on with profound sense of passion. Then I said “I know what, how about we make a card for your mother” he agreed and came up with the beautiful card above. 

The funny thing is, while making the card with him, I for some reason had my mother in mind and made the card solely for “her”. The recipient of the card might have been the mother of the boy, but the intent and the thought was with my mother! It felt as if I was creating something special and creative for my mother by decorating that card. Unfortunately she is in Miyi!

The next day i asked him whether he did what i told him to and what he did with the card and he replied “my mother put it on her wall”. That delighted me! my mother too had seen the card and hung it from the canopy of her tiny hut!

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Pudsey comes to School

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Despite commanding them to be silent, the silent murmur could still be heard from the back of the classroom, as I stand in for a teacher. I start to direct the children to open up the page in their textbooks, but they sit starring at me, then suddenly en masse, they break in laughter – to which I joined in too for I was unable to silence them! We were celebrating Children In Need Appeal at the school in order to raise some money for the thousands of children that desperately need it. Majority of the children came to school dressed in their home clothes, with Pudsey snugly under their arms, and all the teachers were in narrow school strip-ties and skirts and pony-tails (for the female teachers), hence the shrieks of laughter from the children. They for once appreciated the change in uniform and laughed as much as their tiny lungs could at our expense – all for a worthy cause though!

The BBC Children in Need Appeal is in full swing, and you too can do your bit by donating here for this good cause

Happy Pudsey Day…party_pudsey.gif

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Lost in Translation

Translating from English to Somali and vice versa is, in my opinion, one of the hardest things in the language. One English word could be described in several ways and often very long sentences would translate into one word of English. Despite that though, and of course English being a very beautiful language itself, I still hold that Somali language is by far richer, more expressive and more descriptive. And i believe this all stems from the fact that oratory and poetry is a national passion!

With Somali students being the largest Ethnic Minority at the school, I was asked to translate a letter sent out to the parents into Somali language to make it easier for their understanding, and after a week of pondering over it I produced this below, though I still think there are many things that I could have changed to enhance the meaning…

Dear parents

We are planning our Christmas events. These will be the KS1 nativity, KS2 Christmas Carol Service and our parties. If you would like your child to join us in full or part please state below.

If for religious reasons you do not wish your child to take part, please fill the slip below, stating your reasons.

I would like/not like my child to take part in the Christmas events.

My religious reasons for withdrawing my child are:

Ku: Waalidiinta Waxaanu qabanqaabinaynaa xafladeheeni Christmaska. Kuwanoo ah KS1 Nativity iyo KS2 Christmas Carol Service iyo xafladeheena kale. Hadii aad ka raali tahay caruurtaadu inay ka qayb qaadato xafladahan ama qayb ka mid ah, fadlan ku buuxi magacyadooda meesha banana ee hoose.

Hadii aadan raali ka ahayn caruurtaadu inay ka qayb qaadato xafladaha diiniyan awgeed, fadlan taana hoos ku buuxi adigoo cadaynaya sabataada.

Waan ka raali ahay/kama raali ahi caruurtaydu inay ka qayb qaadato xafladaha Christmaska.

Sababahayga diiniyeed ee ay caruurtaydu uga qayb qaadan Karin xafladaha waa:

The parents would probably be rather surprised when they get this letter soon.

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