Alone I was…with my own thoughts…with not a single familiar person around…not unlike how it had been the afternoon of May 1 when my twelve-day ordeal had begun, when I had been left with only the mind-numbing sense for, and fear of, the potential for the complete destruction and loss of my life as I knew it.
The difference was that now I was alone on an aisle of empty seats in a plane at 35 thousand feet in the sky…on my way home…sobbing uncontrollably…tears streaking down my face, eyes hidden by my tinted prescription glasses…feeling hurt, feeling angry, in rage, in pain, and, at the same time, feeling the most incredible sense of relief…at having gotten my life back…at having gotten my freedom back…to do what I had wanted to do…to do what I had waited to do…all my life!
The downward spiral at Qatar Academy (QA) had begun quite unexpectedly. I had arrived in the country toward the middle of August in 2011. School had begun a few weeks later. I had made it through the three-month probation period when my supervisor and other administrators had observed my lessons etc. (Those who didn’t make it through, either had their probation period extended or weren’t offered a renewal of the year-long contracts.)
When, in December, I was offered the option to sign up for another year, I did, mainly to save up some more money. Following that, I had planned to return home to work for the education of children from low socioeconomic backgrounds.
Except, everything started unraveling soon after!
I experienced nastier and nastier humiliations and abuse by Qatari and other Arab students. Parents (see image above) also started filing their chorus of complaints with the administrators. Students also conspired to make me look bad by collectively deciding not do assessed tasks, or by making up complaints about lack of proper communication, for example.
Though the issue was clearly my nationality, their “dissatisfaction” with my teaching reached a level where one of the parents threatened to take the issue up with the board unless the school removed me from my teaching responsibilities. The administrators caved in — I wouldn’t teach any classes the following year.
Though that decision — made towards the end of March 2012 — came as a major blow, I was also relieved! Being the professional that I was, on the days in May that the graduating class — year 12 students — took their IB Chemistry papers, I made a point of showing up in the corridors as they got out of the examination hall to find out how they had done, just as Mohanad describes in his testimonial.
I had been fully aware of the kind of reaction I could get from many of them. Sure enough some of them snickered etc. and others blabbered away in Arabic right in front of me, their body language and furtive glances clearly giving away the fact that they were exchanging unflattering comments about me! I wouldn’t be surprised if, for instance, many had a laugh commenting on how I had shown up to feign interest in their performance etc.
Hard as it was for me to swallow that, I had been determined, throughout my stay at QA, not to allow myself to play their games and stoop down to their level.
A Qatari year 12 student, Mohanad’s classmate, capped off my humiliation at the Leavers’ Dinner, held towards the end of May, after the IB examinations were over. She poked fun at me, from the stage, in front of everyone in attendance — all the other graduating students, all year 11 students involved in the program, other colleagues and administrators!
The following academic year, 2012-13, the taunting and the humiliation, both inside and outside the classroom, did not end. Though I didn’t have any teaching responsibilities, I started off in the classroom covering (substituting) for a science colleague for a few months. The comment by a student on The Washington Post article is an apt description of some of the issues I faced with Qatari and other Arab students I taught that Fall.
When left behind all alone in the cold, damp, and dirty private cell on May 1, it was as if the bottom had suddenly been pulled from under my feet. It had felt like I were free falling through a dark, unknown void, into despair. The spiraling into despair, had taken me to the darkest recesses of my self.
The mind-numbing sense for — and fear of — the potential for the complete destruction and loss of my life as I knew it would overcome me. Images and visions of everything I had known, I had built, everything and everyone I had cherished, everything to do with life as I knew came into view, and then fell apart, broke off one by one and disappeared, like pieces breaking off of a spacecraft hurling through outer space in a Hollywood blockbuster!
And the words, “How did it come to this?! How did it come to this?!” played in my head over and over, again and again, incessantly!
That first 18 hours or so of maddening solitude and despair was to be again matched by the feelings I had on Sunday, May 5, when I discovered I could possibly be locked up for 5 years! Elsewhere I described how I had been stunned! The only way to describe that experience any further is to say that that’s probably how one feels immediately after being shot!
It was as if like everything had stopped working, as if like even the neurons in my brain had stopped firing! My brain froze and my legs felt like jelly. I almost lost my balance and fell to the floor. And I felt alone…very very alone and disconnected…alone in a way that is hard to describe and explain. All that had just happened a little over a week before!
And alone…I was again…but in a plane…with the prospect of landing on terra firma…with my freedom intact…but crying and sobbing like a little child…partly because of all that I had experienced and endured.
In spite of the fact that some of the tears were tears of anger at — and rage against — those who were responsible for the hurt, pain, and despair, I couldn’t and wouldn’t wish that on anyone, not even those who brought that on me.
Wishing direct pain and suffering on others, or causing direct pain and suffering on others, does not alleviate ones pain and suffering!
What’s more, I had already decided to do everything in my power to ensure others didn’t suffer the same way; I had already decided to channel all my energy towards constructive work to effect positive change.
So, soon after I landed at Kathmandu airport and got home, I posted my first public message on Facebook (see image below), promising everyone and myself to use my freedom in a worthwhile manner!