Bullied Like a Boss
I am three hours late to work as I type this and my face is suffering from an extreme shower of tears and post nasal drip. I've polished off a large bag of (halal) Doritos but the flashbacks still haven't disappeared yet.
Yesterday I was asked to substitute a middle school class at work and, because I do not teach these girls and there was no work left behind, I decided to try something creative for the thirty minutes of absolute torture I would spend with them.
I sat everybody in a circle on the floor and decided we would have some heart-to-heart group discussions about our lives, happiness, and how to live our dreams each and every day.
A lovely girl in the class, who happens to be a family friend of mine, did not want to participate. She is beautiful, smart, respectful, studious, and anything a teacher would dream of in a student. I forced her to sit in the circle to participate, but oddly enough, she kept her head down the entire time.
At one point, her lack of participation became apparent when I asked how many girls wanted to feel like their class was more than just friends, but was a big family, and could grow together from now until their high school graduation, and her hand conspicuously remained down. A few energetic, slightly reckless girls began to argue with her and she finally lifted her head and I could see tears in her eyes and she was shaking. She told them that this was a personal discussion that she did not intend in taking part of, and then placed her head back down as if in an attempt to make the entire nightmare around her disappear.
I found her later that day and asked her what had happened. She shook so badly that she could barely speak. "You've been bullied," I said, partially asking her and partially stating the obvious. "For the past five years…" she said, and then she trailed off. I couldn't get any more information out of her; she was that shaken. The strangest thing to me is that these girls did not seem to harbor any ill will at all towards her--if anything, I would guess that they had no idea how their behavior may have hurt her all this time.
This morning, I experienced some flashbacks of my own. I remember last year, my former supervisor and three of my coworkers obnoxiously verbally attacking me for not wearing red and green on Christmas. I was insulted that they would try to arrange a Christmas party for themselves at a school with a 100% Muslim body in Saudi Arabia when they failed to even acknowledge the coming of the Muslim holiday, Eid. I felt that their behavior was selfish and demonstrated the clear fact that a lot of Americans simply think that they are entitled to push pop culture on everyone they come into contact with without demonstrating any sensitivity to those who, perhaps, do not feel comfortable with it.
"You're the Grinch of Christmas!" my supervisor shouted in a hoarse voice, like a chain smoker shouting at a pit bull, "Why aren't you wearing red and green!"
"I don't celebrate Christmas," I said, my voice shaking and my face tense and my body language defensive.
"Ohhh, so you're saying that your Muslim coworkers who are dressed up for Christmas are baby Jesus worshipers?" another coworker inserted sarcastically.
"How dare you call me a baby Jesus worshiper!"
"I am a Muslim and I wear red and green and even have a Christmas tree at home!"
"Let's just give you the benefit of the doubt and pretend that the maroon on your dress is red. You ARE dressed up for Christmas, you Grinch!"
Suddenly I had waves of fingers pointing at me and I was called the Grinch for the rest of the day. It wasn't a sweet, cute teasing but more of an obnoxious, aggressive, coercive teasing meant to make me regret not celebrating Christmas with them.
But I didn't regret it.
Instead, I spent the next few weeks wishing that I was dead. I don't know at what point the bullying thing got out of control, because I really felt that I was handling it all well, but suddenly I just cracked.
I would spend long, long hours at home crying and praying that I would die. I couldn't focus on teaching my classes. I couldn't focus on anything. I felt so out of place in this world--so lonely, so isolated. I had recently ended my engagement with my ex fiancé and felt out of place with Syrians who knew his family. I didn't fit in with Syrians in Riyadh, Arabs in America, or Americans anywhere. The only solution was death.
Thinking about how old I am and how difficult it was for me to cope with these emotions, I can only imagine what this student must be going through. To be put into a corner at such a young age and then to be chronically pushed around--I can't even imagine.
It's times like these when I feel humbled and even ashamed by the fact that I have no solutions. I have no solutions.