Teaching Taught Me

“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth”- Muhammad Ali

Having recently started my new job, it had me reflecting on the year that had passed and my old job where I had the opportunity to teach.

I have always respected the teaching profession since I had some of the best teachers at school and at other activities I participated in. These people always went way beyond what was required of them and have always had a positive influence on my life.

Before I chose this path, I was extremely hesitant about it. I had a fear of public speaking, scared that I would have to prove myself because I have brown skin, a scarf on my head and a flat Capetonian accent. I never thought standing in front of a classroom at an institution like UCT was possible for someone like me because during my first two years as a student most of my tutors were white Business Science guys or Brown a person with a private school accent.

It wasn’t until I saw my Auditing lecturer standing before me that I realised that it was possible and to me she was what us young people call #Goals. My journey was thus influenced by her and the other lecturers of colour who stood before me.

It made me realise how important representation is and that is how I found courage to face my fear. I also saw it as an opportunity to change perceptions about woman of colour and more specifically Muslim woman (the detail of this will hopefully be in a later post). Which is why after a year few months of tutoring, I decided to do my first year of accounting articles [The goal is to become a CA(SA)] as an Academic Trainee- where I did some lecturing, tutoring, research and lots of marking.

To do the year of teaching, I had to jump through a few hoops and make sacrifices, but to me it all seemed worth it. I had a passion for teaching and felt like it was my way of giving back in my chosen career path. In return I felt, that I would gain more confidence and increase my technical knowledge, but the year turned out to give me way more than I expected.

My students became my life teachers and made an immense impact on my life- I can only hope I manged to make an impact on theirs in some small way.

It was things like having to stand in front of classroom, when you had been crying minutes before because your personal life isn’t that great but still having to give your students the best lesson you possibly can. It showed me how much strength I possessed and taught me to push forward and give things my all even when it was difficult. (Although, I had amazing students who brought me so much joy that all my worries washed away during my time with them).

I had students speak to me about the issues they faced (way beyond academics), which taught me about appreciation for my own life and it taught me about perception, to see beyond what just meets the eye. It made me realise how important it is to be kind and compassionate. I was humbled that those students felt safe enough to talk to me and grateful that I could help them in some small way.

It showed me that the world needs more kindness and people who are supportive of someone else’s journey when I saw how their faces lit up and how they held so tightly onto a few words of encouragement because they are constantly left feeling like they are never good enough.

They taught me how to say no and learn that sometimes you must be tough to be kind when you know it’s the best option. They showed me how important it is to be myself and be firm in doing the right thing and that it is more important than being liked.

When I was ‘tested’ while standing in front of the classroom because of how I looked and sounded it taught me that it’s okay to be human, to make mistakes and to not have all the answers, but that none of that questioned my competence. It taught me that while I’d like to only represent myself, having obvious physical qualities meant that everything I did would be attributable to other females who look like me so I still had to be the best version of myself.

There were times where standing in front of a classroom frustrated me, because damn students can get a bit much (and being a student myself, I know how I can be and I frustrate myself sometimes). It taught me patience and showed me that every environment has its up and down, and that you need to make the best out of both times, but that ultimately having a passion for what you do helps to pull you through the tough times.

I believe in doing what makes you truly happy and brings you joy, and my students did that for me. The experience has definitely been a fulfilling one- being my first job it kind of set the bar a bit too high though.

I cannot be more grateful to the staff of the College of Accounting at UCT for giving me the opportunity to teach, for the support they provided me with, for an amazing environment (and colleagues) that allowed for growth and for teaching me to be the best versions of myself.

As I wrote this post I find myself amazed that in the pursuit of trying to be of service to others, it is returned to you in tenfold. I have also learnt how important it is to face unfamiliar and uncomfortable situations to help you grow.

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Love Found and Lost

Let me admit upfront that I know I wasn’t an innocent party in this story. I was very hesitant to make this post because of how easily a woman’s image is ruined in our community. Nonetheless, I decided to tell my story because I felt pressure to hide my pain and I no longer want to be part of a “suffer in silence because it makes people uncomfortable” community.

This year I met a guy who I didn’t really take note of until I started to notice his kindness, intelligence, thoughtfulness, generosity and his good heart. Then, one day his smile struck me and it soon became my favourite. I felt a sense of comfort and contentment with him that I never felt with anyone before, as though my soul had always known his and we became good friends.

About two months in, the hand holding started and the flirting, spending lots of time together and chatting when we couldn’t. At that point, we both admitted our attraction to one another. Holding his hand seemed to make my anxiety disappear, and his hugs felt healing.

While things were going more than well, I got to the point where I was trying to pull away because while he made my heart feel full, we had a big difference between us- we were of different religions. Having always wanted marriage and children, he would have to convert for me (and I would never expect that of anyone), nor were those things on his radar. My religion is more important to me than anything and I cannot leave it or go against it even for this guy I felt I now loved.

Despite all of that I continued to see him, but then I found out he was also seeing another girl and we ended things. (I did tell the girl though and they carried on dating). I was told it was because we are not supposed to make sense but they do (they of the same religion and culture) and I quote “aesthetically they will look good together and other people see it”. It broke my heart, but I understood. We decided to stay friends and Initially there were fights, but things between us didn’t really change.

Here I was in the wrong and allowed my feelings to override my better judgement. I should have stopped it knowing about the other girl. But, I allowed myself to believe “we’re just best friends”.

It was great having someone who would check if I was eating every day, if I was home safe, who wished me goodnight every night or spoke to me till I fell asleep or stayed up with me when I couldn’t- to show in his actions and not only in words how much he loved me and how much he cared. Someone who would really listen when I spoke about my dreams and fears. Someone who put as much effort into us as I did. Who was calming and a source comfort. Who looked at me with so much love and made me feel so beautiful that I felt so secure with him, even when and especially when I was laughing my loud and not so great laugh. It was being tagged in memes every day and enjoying each other’s bursts of weirdness. It was having fun together, being able to have deep conversations and feeling safe to open up to one another. It was being understood even when I was silent. It felt easy and simple to be with him.

I loved making him happy, his smile would be brighter and his eyes would sparkle. He was also super annoying at the same time, but an irritation I enjoyed nonetheless. He was someone I wanted to be a better person for, the first person I wanted a future with and the first person I prayed for more than myself. I wasn’t blind to his flaws, but it made me love him more anyways. I don’t know how else to explain what I felt for him, except that he felt like home.

For the most part things between us were amazing, but we had lots of arguments in between (denial can be a strange thing). Months went by and reality eventually struck and we couldn’t deny it any longer, things were going too far. He was still with someone else, and so it wasn’t a healthy situation.

I didn’t realise this on my own and my friends encouraged me to do the right thing. This is how I was reminded that having good friends who help and encourage you to do the right thing is priceless and also that I should not do to others what I would not like others to do to me.

I still wanted what was best for him and told him that if he wanted a healthy relationship with his girlfriend he needed to tell her everything, and that’s when things got ugly and he said horrible things to me. I was told I took all those months between us “out of context” and so he can’t be held responsible for how I felt and I had my character attacked-  his words broke me in ways I could have never imagined (regrettably, I did retaliate by saying horrible things back). But this taught me to be more mindful of my actions and words because of how it can affect others and that my actions should be based on who I am and not be reactive. It reminded me of the importance Islam places on “Akhlaaq” (which means to have good manners/ character).

He did the right thing and told her (things ended well for him, they’re still together). I don’t think he’s a bad person, perhaps he was confused and scared and I can’t judge him because I don’t know his full story, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t angry and hurt. I realised, that I can understand but that it is still okay to allow myself to feel whatever emotions I needed to feel.

We tried to talk things out multiple times, to end things well (It didn’t work). And to do this he pointed out his issues with me, I realised the truth in some of it and tried to deal with it. My issues with him however, were returned with harsh words, insults and often shouting over what I was trying to say. He wasn’t prepared to listen to the pain I felt and got upset when I needed to talk about my pain to my friends. But, I learnt that I should speak up to the people I love when they need to hear something even if it means they won’t like me for it. It also taught me how important it is to truly listen to people, because feeling like you’re being silenced when you try to speak up can cause pain that cannot be explained.

Once our mutual friends found out about our situation-ship, they treated me differently but seemed to treat him the same, they would invite him and leave me out of things. It felt like I was being shunned while he was being consoled. And that hurt me the most, it made me feel alone. I was reminded how easily woman are made to feel like they are to blame and to carry the burden of a mistake for both parties, because guys will be guys.

I decided to be open and be honest about how it made me feel (which seemed to make things worse) but was told “we can’t get involved” and I felt like that aided in how horrible he was towards me. I didn’t know what they were told, so I hold nothing against them, nor was it fair on them to have to deal with the awkwardness we caused. That taught me that people can’t/ won’t always be there for you through the pain but that some of them would tell you to stay silent anyways. However, I realised, those people helped in their own way and that it was not always in ways I could see or understand.  It also made me realise that I preferred to always be honest anyways. I learnt that I never had to take sides and that I should speak up when I needed to, especially in a world where there are so many injustices taking place because it’s easier to turn a blind eye. More importantly, it reminded me to only place reliance on God.

I realise how cautious I had to be when trusting people when stories were being carried and changed. When I heard I did things that I never did and I ended up looking like a liar to the people I cared about, almost crazy when I tried to defend myself. I learnt that there were people who enjoyed causing discord and that many weren’t genuine. I was thus reminded that I always had to be genuine in my friendships and interactions.

But in that time, I also found what true friendship and care looked like, but that’s a post on its own.

I also found out who I was, who I want to be and how I want to define myself. It became a journey of realising how laxed I had become in seeking God and starting that journey again. It was a journey of discovering the strength that I possessed, not in how much I could deal with, but finding the courage to let myself feel and to ask for help when I needed it. To persevere when I felt hopeless and to be brave when I was scared. I was reminded that courage is not in the absence of fear.

It was remembering that I had to leave my complaints to God, because he knew the truth even when others wouldn’t believe it. It was realising that I needed to be more careful with my heart and that people who hurt you are also hurting themselves. So, I remembered that I needed to be kind and compassionate, forgiving even when no apology was received, and to spread love in a world that’s already so full of pain. I remembered that I had to treat everyone well, because goodness should not only be limited to those who are good to you.

Sometimes I’m still angry and sad, but I’ve learnt that I have to let myself feel to heal and use the pain as a reminder to be the type of person I want to see in this world.