Poem: Chalk Dust and Sand

By: David Lohrey

chalksand

What about the Arabs, you ask. Yes, I once taught in Saudi Arabia.
This is very difficult to answer. Arab males I know, not females. Never met one.
The boys are willing to study but would prefer to wheel and deal.
“My average,” one lad said, “may be 67, but, teacher, my friend,
I’ll need 80 to pass. For me, just this time, won’t you help?”

If you say no, he will excuse himself and walk away.
If you say yes, he will kiss your feet and promise life-long loyalty. In either case,
he will forget all about it in less than a minute.
If you get the reputation for never bending, they will say you black-hearted.
If you get the reputation of always bending, they will call you a fool.

Somehow or other, your goal is to be known for having a white soul.
For Arabs, they’ll respect your brain, but they’ll love your heart.
Justice means nothing to them; they want mercy. They won’t ask you to be fair.
They will beg you for a favor. There is no such thing as rules in the desert,
just love. They want you to love them and, if you do, they will love you back.

It is in my experience very easy to love them, but it is not easy to teach them.
Here are a few tips: Don’t ask them what they want. Their reply will be,
“As you like, teacher. Suit yourself” Deciding is your job, not theirs.
They won’t give input. They don’t want responsibility.
They know nothing of democracy. They don’t want to vote.

They assume you know what you are doing. If you don’t, they’ll complain.
It’s not manly to grovel, to seek cooperation. Fathers don’t do that.
The King doesn’t ask permission; he wouldn’t stoop to it.
It’ll be tough if you are an American, but you’ll have to act like a man.
You decide. They’ll ask why, but the answer can be “because I said so.”

They know no fear. You can’t threaten them. You have little to give and little they want.
But they’ll study to make you happy. They’ll study for their mothers.
They’ll ask if you like them, but they’ll already know the answer. They are
hyper-sensitive like rattle-snakes. They’ll feel your pain. “Teacher,” one boy said to me,
“If you cry, we will cry.” They are sly like a fox. They’ll give you a lot to cry about.

They will obey or not. Deal with it. At a deep, deep level, nothing really matters.
They know that God doesn’t care much about such things. At some level,
they think nothing matters. They’ll submit to God but not to you.
They’ll skip their finals to visit a friend in hospital with an ingrown toenail.
They are the opposite of ambitious. They’d happily pay a Filipino to do their work.

They’d happily bribe you to give them an “A.” Your job is to survive
without becoming resentful. I wouldn’t call it education as such;
I’d call it training. Whatever happens, you’ll be blamed. You’ll be praised
for nothing. There’s very little Arabs expect from Infidels. They figure
you have little to give. After 6 years, I concluded they were right.

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