Growing up in Jeddah during the 80s was like living inside a television. The shows that ran from 6-7 am, were anchored in your mother’s native tongue, hollering at you to hurry up and go to school.
School hours, from 7am to 2pm, were anchored by a selection of teachers, calling you stupid in three Arabic accents, taking turns with your schoolmates’ untied sneers.
[On the way home from school, you ask the driver to take the long way home, just so you can prolong the precious silence. Once in a while, your faithful driver complies. He’s heard. He understands.]
Growing up in Jeddah was great when you got out of the TV and watched it instead. In the afternoon, there is an hour of cartoons on TV. You’re given the break to be a child again; dreamy and certain for fact that Adnan and Lina misunderstand Absi, and the Bionic Six is your lost biological family, and that Captain John Silver is the hottest guy in the world.
When Maghreb prayers was announced from seven minarets in the neighborhood, you brace yourself for all the forces of hurt to amalgamate and gather on the homework table.
[Even now, all grown up and a lifetime away from Jeddah, worse than cartoon closing credits, hearing the call for Maghreb prayer retains its power to sink your heart.]
You hated homework. But school marks had the power in changing the world. You can make your father proud, your mother content, your school teachers and mates respectful. So, yes, you’ll ace all of the subjects as long that you believed everything on TV and that Nimnims are real.
Your father comes home from work and if he weren’t too tired to watch, you’ll anchor your own TV show. You’ll report how your day went, and reassure him about the clarity of your life’s purpose. And that he’s not wasting his money on your private education.
You won’t tell him though, that at bedtime you’ll gather your little brothers under the bed and calm them with soothing words, and wait for the raging storm in the living room to pass.
You won’t tell him though, that in Jeddah during the 80s, amidst the cultural disarray, broken accents and adult expectations, your life’s purpose was to protect your little brothers’ childhood from the kind that you’ve had: a premature bullshit.