It was a little past 11am and I heard a rap on my classroom door. “Come on in” I hollered.
We were on a five minutes recess and a fine tall gentleman walked in, looking very calm and sober. I stood up from my chair and walked to him. I stretched forth my hand and we had the good old fashioned handshake. His face lit up in a smile and he embraced me. His beard was glistening and was a little longer than what it used to be when he was my student, few terms back. His palm was sweaty and his brow was a little furrowed.
My mind raced back to one of my most dramatic encounter with this gentleman two years ago.
“Hazza, can you sit down please?”
“Hazza, can you get on with your work?”
“No Teacher. Don’t know what to do.”
“Did you ask for any help?”
“When I was explaining to the class what they had to do, you were talking and now you are stuck”.
“Teacher me don’t understand English.”
“Okay, I am going to help you. I am going to explain to you what you have to do. Just listen.”
As I leaned over to Hazza to explain what he had to do, he got engrossed with Ali on a different tangent. Ali was sitting two rows behind from Hazza. Hazza’s neck was twisted back talking to Ali while I was here waiting to help him. I tapped him on the shoulder “Hazza, you need to listen to what I have to say”. He replied “One minute Teacher”. An argument broke forth, a fight is imminent.
“Stop!” I proclaimed.
I got ignored and the argument got heated. It was all in Arabic. Screams of ‘Teacher, Teacher’, echoed all around the room.
Hazza stood up and dashed towards Ali. Ali jumped out of his seat and ran towards him. The whole class was tensed and punches were pulled.
Moment of decision – “Should I act as a referee or should I seek for help? Should I act as an intervention officer or should I act as a copper? What if an accidental punch is unleased at me, what will I say to myself?”
Decision taken: seek for help.
I stepped outside the class door and requested for a Military Instructor to come and separate the fight.
EN, the Military Instructor paced down very quickly. The moment he entered the room, all the students scampered to their seats.
There was something about EN that I found very fascinating. He was a tall man with a calm carriage. He spoke very sparingly and never indulged in arguments with the students. He was always on his phone and had a rare design of beard. He walked in calculated steps. The students dreaded him.
My first encounter of him was in the summer of 2013. I had been transferred to the Military department newly and I was struggling to come to terms with how things worked in the Military Department MD. They were a couple of MTIs (Military Training Instructors) as we called them in MD. They were responsible for maintaining law and discipline amongst the students. These were ex-servicemen, who had served in various capacities in the different armies in the Middle East and also in different parts of the world. These men had loud voices. They yelled, screamed and barged the living daylights out of these students.
At the end of each hallway in MD was a washroom. Basically, this was a toilet. Why they decided to go the American ‘washroom’ way, I had no idea. There were two long hallways in the LMTD facility and two washrooms. There was another washroom which was for the academic staff. Then boom, a female staff joined us, and we forfeited the using rights of that toilet. The male members of staff were asked to use the toilet at the end of Hallway One. As was customary in this part of the world, information dissemination was an area that required further development. While some people were aware of the new development, some weren’t and hence mix-ups. I had gone to use the toilet at the end of Hallway One when I found out that the door was locked. Usually it was kept open.
I was literally bursting with bloated bladder. I needed to empty it so badly. I screamed for the keys. EN was standing not up to twenty feet away from me and didn’t say a word. Finally Crazy Omar shouted “Mr. Blue what’s the matter?”
“I need the toilet key”
“Mr. EN has the key.”
And EN was standing so close. I walked up to him and requested the keys from him. I then went on to berate him for being so unsympathetic. He didn’t say a word.
Twenty minutes later he was at my door with Crazy Omar to demand why I was angry with him. I explained that he was standing not too far away from me and I was looking for the toilet key to empty my bladder and he stood there looking at me.
“I don’t have the key” he explained.
“But I got the key from you. Crazy Omar told me to get the key from you”.
“That is the master key and no one has access to that key except myself because as the Dean of Discipline I have access to everywhere “.
“Oh really. This is news to me.”
“What is news?”
“That you have a master key and that you are the Dean of Discipline and that no person has access to the master key except you.”
“I only helped you and you should be thankful to me”
“Straightaway I apologized and thanked him.”
Five minutes later, I was in need of Crazy Omar. His boys were at it again. In my class, some of his boys decided to do things that were not honourable. So I poked my head out to yell at Crazy Omar to come right quick and he was nowhere to be found. In the spirit of esprit de corps, EN came by to bail me out. When he stepped into the classroom. The students all froze. I asked him to extract some four boys who were such a pain in the class. You could hear pin drop silence as the class awaited to hear the names of the boys that would be called out. For me, if it was possible, about eighty nine percent of the students would be out for a drill but knowing that it was impossible to do that, I needed to target the tougher of the toughest kids. This class was a very tough class. Majority of the students were from the mountainous regions and they were used to harsh circumstances.
“Ali, Sultan, Ahmed, Hassan, please follow Mr. EN.”
Two minutes later I looked out through the window and I saw the four boys standing at attention in the hot sun in cardinal positions. One was facing north, one south and one east and the other west. The temperature was about fifty degrees Celsius and the humidity was about eighty percent. Mr. EN was under the shade with his sunshades watching the boys. After their shirts must be been thoroughly drenched in perspiration, Mr. EN asked them to do pushups with their knuckles on the hard concrete floor. By the time they returned to my lesson, it was about five minutes to the end of lesson and they were as calm as a calm sea. They sat down quietly as a bullied goat and went to sleep. Such was the power of Mr. EN.
“Teacher, how can I help?”
You could hear a pin drop in the room. Mr. EN was known by all the students in MD. He was a monster in disguise. Woe betide you if EN had to take you out for a drill. You would live to regret the day your mother brought you to this world.
“Please take Hazza and Ali.”
Twenty minutes later, Hazza walked in with Ali drenched in perspiration and walking with limps. They tendered a coerced apology. Their hairs were shaven with very uneven patches. What EN did to them, I did not want to imagine.
Hazza was very upset with me for sending him off to Mr. EN. For the next two days, he wouldn’t speak to me. He wore a grumpy face all the time in the classroom and would not even say hello to me in the corridor. He started traunting my lessons. I understood how he felt. However he needed to most importantly understand that certain behaviours were unacceptable in certain settings and we must be held accountable for our own actions.
I must confess that it must be pretty embarrassing to walk about with patches of hair on your head and you were not allowed to even it out. This served as a visual reminder about what you did. Everybody knew about what you did and you became a reference point. Would this solve the problem, I was not too sure about that. The key thing however was that, there was the concept of consequence for inappropriate behaviour and action.
“Hazza can you stay behind please.”
“For what Teacher?”
“I need to speak to you.”
“What about me.”
“Well, I notice that after the incident with Mr. EN you have been going about with a long sad face.”
“So, I would like to know why you go about with a long sad face and you don’t seem happy with me.”
“Teacher, me happy.”
“No, you’re not and you know that. You are not even looking at me in the face.”
“Teacher, Ali talk bad to me and my mother, me tell Ali, stop, Ali don’t stop, then me and Ali box and you call Mr. EN. This not good. Everybody hear Ali talk bad about mother.”
“I may not have understood what you guys were talking about, but I asked you to stop talking, to ignore Ali, so that…”
“What this word Teacher ignore?”
“It means leave that matter alone, forget about the issue.”
“Ali talk bad about me mother, me forget about him Teacher? No Teacher, this, not good. Me tell Ali, this not good and me and Ali box.”
“But I was right there to give you help because you called for help and you chose to carry on with Ali, ignoring my advice and disrupting your learning and the learning of other students.”
“Listen Hazza, I don’t hate you, I like you, in fact I love you. I want you to succeed. If you carry on like this, you are not going to succeed.”
“I am here to help you and I want to help you so that you can speak good English.”
“Thank you Teacher.”
I put my hand over his shoulder and walked him to the door. I saw his face beam up and that slow smile creep across his face.
From that day things took an upward spiral for him. He started listening to me and doing his work. His motivation increased and he was on fire. Over the next couple of months, I watched him grow from strength to strength and everybody in the class began to make considerable progress. Our relationship grew stronger. We fought sometimes, I raised my voice sometimes, I got frustrated most of the times but I learnt one thing. They were never a part of what was being forced on them and this was part of the resistance.
So when he walked through the doors of classroom 16 in the Industry School to find me, I was stunned.
“How did you know I was here?”
“Teacher, I went to MD to look for you and I was told that you are in Industry School now, so, I decided to come and look for you.”
“Wow, that is so kind of you. Thanks for coming to say hello.”
“I know you are busy Teacher but can I speak to you outside, just one minute.”
“Sure”, I replied.
At this point I was astounded by his courtesy, his maturity and sense of responsibility.
Outside the classroom he told me how he missed me and would do anything to come and sit in my classroom again. He said he just wanted to come and say thank you for caring for him and his other mates. He said he never realized how great that care was until he left MD and found out that nobody loved him like I did. By this time, tears were streaming down his face.
He hugged me and wanted to take a photo with me. I was about to call on Hashim to come take us a photo with his phone when he said “Teacher no need. This is selfie.” I was impressed. I felt like a celebrity when he took the selfie from different angles. At one stage he borrowed my hat and struck a pose with it.
Finally, he requested a moment to speak with my class. Of course I obliged him.
He spoke for about three minutes in Arabic and when he finished, I saw that some of the boys were teary. They gave him a round of applause and I wondered what he told them in Arabic for those three minutes.
We said goodbye to each other and I let what he said soak in, to the boys as they wiped their faces.
I was still reeling in reflection on Hazza of all people coming back to Abu Dhabi to say thank you to me all the way from Ras Al Khaimah, As I was engaged with this thought, I heard the bell go.
A smile slowly crept across my face as I watched the boys file out. I wondered how many more ‘Hazzas’ did I have amongst these crop of boys. I silently wished that there would be one, only one, anything extra would be a bonus.
Uwem Mbot Umana©2017