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.