Every morning we blow through the doors of the University. Out of the heat, and into the cold colourless lobby. Marble floors support black leather couches arranged in a huge horseshoe around the edges of the room. On these couches sit more blobs of black, some fiddling with their cell phones, others chatting with friends, a few smile and call out, “Hello Miss! Good morning!”
Dealing with these young ladies is such a challenge. You can almost split them down the centre – obedient and shy vs rebellious and loud. The former always getting shafted by the demands and antics of the latter.
Across the board, they all show up at least twenty minutes late for class, but the rebellious ones are forty-five minutes late. The lesson is interrupted by constant demands to be let out to “drink water”, “go bathroom” and “go cafeteria”. You refuse to let them go because you know it’s just an excuse to roam the halls, and you unwillingly become involved in a “conversation” that goes something like this.
(For argument’s sake, lets call the student Sara.)
Sara: Miss! Miss! Me go bathroom, OK?
Rene: Sorry lady, you just got back 3 minutes ago. Not this time.
Sara: Miss! Please Miss!
Rene: Sara, please. Sit down.
Sara: Miss! MISS! Why miss? WHY? Bathroom Miss….
Rene: Sara, what did I just say?
Sara: OK, Five minutes Miss! Only five minutes! Please! OK miss?
(By this time you can see the girl she is desperate to go wander the halls with madly gesturing outside the door. Sara grows more insistent.)
Rene: (Says nothing, but gives Sara a look that says, “This conversation is over”. Unfortunately, it isn’t.)
Sara: MISS! WHY??? MISS BATHROOOOOOM! (Takes on a terrible whine that spreads over several octaves and just makes you crawl in your skin) MIIIISSSSSSSSSSSS!
Rene: (Trying my best to ignore her) Ok everyone, let’s carry on! Who can answer num…
Sara: MIIIIISSS!!!! WHY?? Bathroom. Please miss! I love you miss! Please! Why? Miss! Really, really, I love you! Please! MIIIIIIISSSSSSS! Pleeeese!
Sara: Ok. Sorry Miss. Miss? Me go drink water, OK?
The truth of the matter is that Sara has no intention of going to the bathroom or drinking water, and she knows she‘s wasting the whole class’s time, but she doesn’t care. Because Sarah has learned from her other female relatives that persistence, whining and whinging are powerful tools. In the hospital, you see mothers absolutely haranging the poor nurses with “Why Missss?” When they are told they must wait in line to see a doctor.
The sad part is after two weeks of dealing with this several times a day, they wear you down and you just can’t take it, so you yell, “Fine! GO!” And they’ve won. Because you just can’t take their constant pestering and nagging any longer. And so they go out into the hall and meet up with their friends and sit in the mosque until the security guard kicks them back to class. Where they wait three minutes and start all over again, “Misssssss!”
And you could have the most brilliantly planned class with all the bells and whistles, but it won’t matter. So slowly you watch the teachers become “untrained”, they no longer bring their A-game. They bring B or even C game some days. And it’s sad and it’s wrong, because you have other girls there who do really want to learn.
Kick those girls out you say? Can’t. Their parents are rich and the University wants to keep them happy.
Read the riot act, you say? Can’t. Losing your cool in this culture is a huge no-no.
Perhaps the worst part is coming to school and listening to these fresh-faced little girls straight-out lie to you. Two girls asked me if they could go to the bathroom moments before we boarded the bus on a field trip. I said “Yes go quickly!” I watched them casually saunter down the hall and turn into an empty classroom, definitely NOT the bathroom. I chased them down only to find them on the classroom computer trying to log onto MSN while three busses full of girls waited patiently in 48 degree weather.
But I can’t say I don’t like them, some of them I really like a lot. I try to remember that this a just an excuse to get out of their gilded cages for a while. I try to remember that for some of these girls, the friends they’ve made here they will never see again except on MSN messenger, because it’s forbidden for girls their age to go visit another household - God forbid a brother or uncle catch a glimpse of their faces!
A few moments ago, during class time, I passed three students in the hall. They were carrying 2 large pizzas from Pizza Hut. They had them delivered to the school and were off to eat in the classroom while their teacher tied to teach them the differences between present simple and present continuous.
“You ordered pizza? During class time?” I asked, shocked.
“Hungry Miss!” They threw over their shoulders as they skipped down the hall with their abayas puffing out behind them, revealing their tight blue jeans and converse runners.