Words Zainab H.
Photograph Fatema A.
Born in: Madagascar
Brought up in: French private schools
Religion: Islam, which, thus, includes Arabic understanding and Lisan-ud-Dawat talks
What a mess? Nope. I would rather say – what a cultural wealth, one thing I am really proud of today despite all the struggles I had to go through.
Being brought up in a French education system, French has always been the language I speak, I write, I think in (well, yes, I happen to think sometimes as well). Yet, French did not come to me so easily. At the age of 7, I was still unable to read French. I remember those long evenings, sometimes even during Ramazan, when my Mom was teaching me how to assemble l+e in order to make a definite article – does this expression even exist in English? Ten years later, I was topping my French class in High School and College.
Then came the turn of Madrasah. I was speaking in Gujarati, being told riwayato in Lisan-ud-Dawat, learning Quran in Arabic. This is, to me, the most precious education a child can have during their early years since their brains develop so fast. I then started reading books, novels and papers. A lot, every day, in French and sometimes in English. They say a child who reads will be a grown-up who thinks.
In College, I chose to do an undergraduate program in Paris, in Foreign Languages Applied to Business. And that was shocking for my family and friends. How did I come to choose a degree in languages and not something in Marketing, Sciences or Medicine? I was made fun of. I was told that this degree would lead me nowhere. Despite that, I chose to believe in what I was passionate about and 5 years later, I completed the course, topping once again, with a Masters in International Business.
Like every beginner, I had really bad times, surrounded by native Spanish speakers, while I had only 4 years of grammar and vocabulary. And it was painful hearing bilinguals mocking my accent in English. But then you grow a bit wiser every day, and you can see what it all brings to you: multicultural, savvy, supportive friends from all around the globe, and a true understanding of the Human as a whole, beyond languages and lifestyle.
Today, I am amazed to see how during Houston Ashara, I was the only one from a group of ten people who could tell the Mexican housekeeper to leave the pair of chakris outside of the bathroom.
I am amazed to see how I can read, understand and write in Shakespeare’s language while those who were criticising me still need a translator.
I am amazed to see how I can actually communicate in Portuguese with my Brazilian colleagues in the multinational company I am working for.
I am amazed to see those incredulous faces when Italians see a girl in Rida talking to them in their own language.
I am amazed to see how I can explain that the Malagasy language has actually something to do with Arabic.
And now, I am starting my journey towards the most beautiful language I have known – Arabic. I certainly hope this will not be the last language I learn. I want to be able to recite my Surats, pray Namaz, read my Quran and do hifz, understanding the meaning of each word I pray.
I write this to say, do not make fun of a foreign language speaker – it is a sign of bravery. Have the courage to learn what you really love and not what society wants you to accomplish. That will bring you open-mindedness and empathy.
In the end, we are all a yellow submarine in an Octopus’s garden, where flowers, trees and spines are made of words.
Your words were inspirational to me and given me the courage to embark on learning different languages,I hope I am successful in my venture