Monday, 24 June 2013

What You See is What You Get? Not Always

I’m a big fan of James Herriot. I’ve read all of his books several times. James was told in university that if he became a vet he “would never grow rich, but would enjoy a life of endless variety”. I’d say the same about teaching.

I’ve taught a wide variety of subjects to a wide variety of age groups, and I’ve always learned more from my students than I could ever teach them. That’s especially true of the year I spent teaching English as a second language to a group of young Muslim women.

I learned that the concept of time really is just that – a concept, open to interpretation. One day, when a group of students walked into my room twenty minutes late for the umpteenth time, I asked the class “Back in Saudi Arabia, when you make plans to meet a friend to go shopping at ten o’clock, what time do you actually meet?”

Shrugs all around. “Maybe eleven o’clock, maybe twelve...I don’t know. It doesn’t matter.” I shrugged, too. What else could I do?

I also learned how hijab really works. All of my students wore head coverings, and a few wore full burkahs in public, but in the women-only classroom the robes came off to reveal skinny jeans, tank tops, jewelry and skilfully applied makeup. One student in particular – I’ll call her Miriam – enjoyed pushing the limits with clothes, and she had the flamboyant personality to carry it off. In public she showed nothing but her eyes, but there was nothing retiring about the woman beneath.

One fine summer day, another teacher and I took the class down to the Halifax waterfront. We strolled along the boardwalk, enjoying the festive atmosphere and exploring the shops, including a confectionery. Browsing the shelves and trying to ignore the smell of homemade fudge and ice cream, I came across something I never imagined existed. Remember those multicoloured candy necklaces you used to buy as a kid? Well, someone has taken the idea a bit further. I found this picture on Wikimedia Commons. Apparently, one size fits most. All I know is  I’d have to wear two of them.

There they were, in neat little boxes next to the gummi bears. I couldn’t resist showing one to the students. I handed the box to one girl and she puzzled out the English label. Her eyes got big. “It’s CANDY!” The other students gathered around, giggling.

Miriam burst out laughing. “What size? What size?” They examined the box, trying to find out. A hurried discussion in Arabic took place. Then Miriam, eyes sparkling with glee, marched up to the cash with the box.

The other teacher retreated to a corner, shaking with laughter. As for the teenaged clerk at the counter, I wish I’d had the presence of mind to take a picture of her face, but I was too busy laughing myself.

The bra wasn’t exactly cheap, but I’d bet Miriam’s husband considered it a few dollars well spent.

Visit my web site

Find me on Facebook

Follow me on Twitter

Find me on Goodreads


  1. Can you imagine sweating in that thing? Sticky. LOL.

  2. Anne, I can only say one thing: EWWW!

  3. LOL That's quite the undergarment! Yeah, wouldn't be good on a hot, sticky day like today.

    Interesting how their perspective on a set time is so different. To them, they were early by that reasoning. :)

  4. Jennie,
    I once stayed for a week in a hotel in London which was very popular with the Saudi oil people, who had large suites at the top of the hotel. One small group of young women often shared an elevator with me. If I was alone or with my children, girl and boy, four and seven, veils were dropped and there was lots of chit chat with me and the children. They especially petted Jessica, because, although their sons were there with them, their daughters had all been left at home.
    If my husband was with me there was no communication, other than a brief nod to me. Veils stayed in place, and not even a jeweled hand appeared.
    There is something very seductive about hidden treasures.