Baby steps in a new hometown
Kids are streets ahead of grownups when it comes to adjusting to a different environment and people
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