Baby steps in a new home­town

Kids are streets ahead of grownups when it comes to ad­just­ing to a dif­fer­ent environment and peo­ple

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

crew at the Univer­sity of Cape Town Ed­u­care. You spend enough time hang­ing around with some­one on the mon­key bars and you’re bound to de­velop a spe­cial bond.

Shi­haam and I were not as con­cerned about 20-month-old Saabi­rah, who is happy as long as she has her bankie and dumnna (blan­ket and dummy to the read­ers of this col­umn who don’t speak Saabi­rah).

Our fears grad­u­ally eased, how­ever, when they both seemed to set­tle in well. It helps that Aqeel likes his new school, although he en­joyed a less than aus­pi­cious start. “That’s in­ter­est­ing,” his teacher re­marked on the first day. “What lan­guage is Aqeel speak­ing?” Um, English. “He just speaks fast,” we stam­mered, try­ing to de­fend our son and save face. “And the Cape Town ac­cent is unique, you know…”

What we find cu­ri­ous is that, in a mix of Arabs, Amer­i­cans (North and South), Pak­ista­nis, In­di­ans, Aus­tralians and Brits, Aqeel’s speech has ac­tu­ally im­proved and his vo­cab­u­lary has in­creased. It’s awe­some, as he would say. Even his teacher now un­der­stands him when he speaks. Go fig­ure.

Not that he has for­got­ten his roots. “What does hay­ibo mean? his teacher asked me re­cently. “Aqeel says it when­ever I tell him he should share the train set, and now the other chil­dren are start­ing to say it too…”

That’s Aqeel, proudly South African, although he is start­ing to learn Ara­bic as well, which might make un­der­stand­ing him an in­ter­est­ing chal­lenge again.

His class is also be­ing taught about the his­tory of Doha, which is mak­ing him more aware of his sur­round­ings. The best les­son he has learned about Qatari cul­ture, though, came off cam­pus. On Eid, Aqeel and I went to mosque. While try­ing to find a space, a man called Aqeel over and put a wad of notes in his right hand. As we turned around, an­other man did the same, and then an­other. Turns out Qataris are very fond of kids – es­pe­cially those who go to mosque on Eid ap­par­ently.

“Say shukran,” I told Aqeel, his grin grow­ing in pro­por­tion to his bank bal­ance. “Now let’s sit.”

“But dad,” he replied, “I want to greet the other peo­ple…”

So yes, he has had some good times in Qatar. But this morn­ing doesn’t seem to be one of them. Per­haps my par­ents’ pres­ence this week for a short hol­i­day un­set­tled him. He rev­elled in his time with them, but did ask more than once: “Are you go­ing to live with us now?”

But de­spite my fear of hear­ing about un­cles and aunts who aren’t around any­more, and friends he never gets to play with, I know I need to stop stalling and find out ex­actly what’s eat­ing Aqeel. “What do you miss about Cape Town, my boy,” I ask gen­tly.

“You know dad, we’d go to gym and then af­ter­wards we would buy cheese sand­wiches. I miss those cheese sand­wiches. We don’t get them in Doha.”

Aqeel’s right, there is no Kauai in Qatar – just like there is no fam­ily to see ev­ery day or old friends to play with. He’ll be happy to hear that my sis­ter is vis­it­ing in De­cem­ber, though, and can­not wait to start spoil­ing him. She can start by pack­ing in a cheese melt sarmie from Kauai.

Fol­low Bawa on Twit­ter @rid­waan­bawa

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