by Sameer Iqbal
Hello, I’m Sameer and I’m new to the Write On! Extra community. You might be wondering why there’s a different face on the article today, expecting Farzana’s (my mum’s) picture with her bright yellow scarf and big smile, as she introduces another week with a new idea before launching into her important Connectors. As a change to this season’s line-up, starting from today we have a new youth section. I, along with my twin brother Najam, will be your fortnightly hosts, showcasing young people’s writing from here and around the world. It’s my turn to host this week, even though my brother is two minutes older than me! This is why my face is smiling at you here in this picture. I’m thrilled to be introducing the youth section of the Thursday Connectors page.
Our Youth Connector this week is Omar. Omar lives in Barking and Dagenham and he wrote this piece for ‘Write Back’, a programme which was started by one of my own former teachers, Sam Norwood, from Robert Clack school. I am humbled to be using a story from ‘Write Back’; one so close to my home and community. I know it has grown over the years, with young people from my area attending the Futures Youth Club, where it is now based, to be a part of it and to explore their creative side by writing about personal experiences and sharing stories which mean so much more than they seem.
Omar’s story is called Courage. I hope you enjoy it.
Hi, Omar. Let’s connect:
Day One – Saturday
I’ve got to move to a new school. Again.
They say school is the energy for your soul, the saviour to your worries, the work you need. But it’s only been a burden for me.
I don’t know why my school decided to split our year up into two buildings. We were all happy at the Lower Building. But now I’ve got to split away from all of them into a new building, full of intimidation; a building where only the most known of people or the tallest of people enjoy the fruits of life.
And the process is the longest thing ever. I have had to do two tours, go to classrooms and look extremely unusual in a new place. I prefer being in that comfort zone, being in that box; it always helps me.
When my friends at the old building find out I’m moving, they’re upset. Not because I’ll be away from them, but because some of them know I will suffer, with all the older students potentially wanting to eat me alive.
I really don’t want to move.
Day Two – Sunday
After buying the uniform for the new year, I decide to take some time to reflect on who I am.
Every day I’m in the same situation.
I’m not like everyone else in my world. Everyone is busy getting adds on Snap or getting into relationships or being known. They have lots of friends, lots of followers on Instagram; they’ve got a nice life.
They’re social and happy.
I’m antisocial and unhappy.
I’m just a big guy with buck teeth. No girl considers me relationship material, no boy wants to shake my hand. I’m usually picked on for my looks, being smart, making mistakes. For being Somali. For trying too hard. For being myself.
So, I’ve always had to deal with loneliness.
Battling my inner demons has been a big struggle for me and sometimes I struggle to hold back my anger. I would always have warm tears dripping down my face, with my fists clutching, as if I wanted to kill if somebody wronged me. My blood would boil rapidly as if it had a low boiling point. It was hard to control. All of this was due to loneliness.
I’ve come to grips with who I am and what I want to be. I want to be someone who fits in. Someone who is happy. Someone who isn’t scared or afraid to meet new people.
I just hope, this time, I can finally reach my happiness.
If I don’t, I give up. I would rather be lonely for life.
First day of school!
I put on my (very long) tie ecstatically as I wait for this new, fresh opportunity to get to grips with my demons. It’s only a 15-minute walk away, so I make sure I have some time to reflect and hold onto who I really am.
I really and truly have a smile on my face.
I decide to quickly eat my cereal and say, “Ma’salaam” to my mum as I run out of the door.
The building is bigger than I imagined. There are a lot of people rushing to the gate, smiling, with their friends. So instead, I go to the office, where I’m welcomed by the kind-hearted office clerk. My timetable is printed out for me and I’m immediately sent to my first lesson.
It’s so intimidating. Swarms of people running to lessons like bees. Loud voices on top of loud voices, as if a sandwich is being made. Teachers screaming at students to get to lessons. I can’t wait to step into a classroom.
As soon as I get there, what do I hear first? No, “Welcome” no, “How are you?” No smile.
Instead, it’s, “What you saying, Abdi?”
Why do people always call me that? My name is Omar. Just because I look Somali doesn’t mean I’m Abdi.
I don’t answer his question; just walk straight inside. But I DO give him a look.
Otherwise, my classes are normal. Everyone is (surprisingly) quiet. I do my work. We listen and leave.
Break-time is full of confusion. Some people just ask who I am and that’s it.
Suddenly, I hear that same voice: “Ayo, Abdi, why’d you air me for?”
All of a sudden, every single painful moment of my life, every harmful word that has been said, comes back to me:
“Eee, look at this fatty.”
“Bugs bunny, bugs bunny!”
“SOMEONE COLLECT THEIR BRO!”
“Someone record, content content!”
I’m scared to utter a single word back to him. Every moment of anger and sadness I’ve experienced comes back. My head rolls from left to right. The force that comes from the clutching of my fists is stronger than I have ever felt before. My mind, my blood, my heart is full of hatred.
I have always been taught to control my emotions and contain my anger. My religion has taught me and logic has taught me. I don’t want to show my hatred; I want to turn it into kindness.
So, I step away from him. I say, “I’m all right,” and run away.
My bag starts to shake; tears turn to rain as I continue to step away.
My mental state is one of confusion and anger. Why do all these emotions come to me because of a single stereotype?
I don’t want to have friends any more; I’m tired of all these negative emotions. I would rather be lonely.
So, during my time in school, I decide to keep myself to myself: confined and blunt.
Lessons are the same as always. Quiet, if we have our regular teachers, loud, if we have a supply. I just decide to keep quiet through it all.
I miss my old friends at my previous school. Although I only had a couple of true friends there, they were the best towards me. Now I am separated from them. This only increases my loneliness.
It’s as if a huge underlying shadow invades you, takes over your soul, commands you to show its feelings to the world. It’s won both the battle and the war.
I have never wanted to be in this situation. I have only ever wanted to love people, show affection and kindness towards others, excel in my schoolwork and hope for the best.
I know, now, that is never going to happen. I have to come to terms with what I really am.
A few days later
For the past few days, at break and lunch, I’ve been sitting at the bench, reading a book called The Art Of Being A Brilliant Teenager. It has helped me pass time, while going through the dreads known as Break and Lunch-time.
I’m deep into a sentence when I hear someone speak to me.
“Hey, are you OK?”
She has a mix of black and brown in her puffy hair, huge brown eyes and a nice, wide smile. The way she asks me, is as if an angel’s hand comes out to help me.
“I’m all right, man. How are you?”
She calls her friends over and they sit with me.
“You’re so cute, man, how comes you’re by yourself? Where’s your friends?” One of them asks.
I tell them my situation.
Until this moment, I’ve never experienced kindness. They bring a smile to my face and then they say something which not many people have ever said to me: “We can be your friends!”
Although I don’t show it, my happiness is immeasurable. I didn’t know anyone could be this kind towards me.
For the next few minutes, we speak about our favourite songs and movies. Two of them want to start on YouTube, so I give them tips on promotion. We speak about their dreams and my dreams. The smiles they give me are infinite.
They want to take a snap with me, so we took a huge group selfie.
I think I now know the value of empathy, thanks to them.
A few months later
I’m still in the same school. Surprisingly, I did last.
The feelings of empathy have also stayed with me.
The pain and suffering of others can be everlasting. You don’t see what others see. Someone could be with you and have the biggest smile on their face but could have immense anger and sadness in their heart. Every single tear dropped, every wail cried, every scream of anger – it’s rarely seen.
And the thing is, you may seem happy, you may enjoy the fruits of life, but others won’t. You are made up of the feelings that surround you. If others are always negative, it will poison your happiness and lead to your own negativity.
Ships don’t sink because of the water around them. Ships sink because of the water that gets inside them.
Being empathetic is a trait that’s hard to develop, but it’s so worth it in the end. It doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your own happiness or feelings. It just means being kind.
Choose kindness, for kindness in this world leads to prosperity. Being that helping hand, being that role model, being an inspiration – that’s what we need in this world. Someone must change someday. But that someday is today and that someone is you.
A question: What makes a good first impression?
Is it your looks? Your smell? Your smile?
It’s your character.
Your character – your kindness, your friendliness, your manners, your excellence, your happiness, your sadness, your anger – that’s what makes up who you are.
You don’t know if your words can change a life or ruin it. The human heart is special yet fragile; feelings can break people or make them feel special. Never underestimate the small gestures, the difference between compassion and aggression. Your etiquette is what makes a human heart flutter and shine.
If those people hadn’t helped me, I would have never made new friends. I wouldn’t be as confident as I am now. I would not be House Captain for my school. I would not be in my school debate team. I wouldn’t have written this story. I would still be lonely. And, most importantly, I would lack empathy.
Every bit of happiness they gave to me, I have given it back tenfold, because I love them for what they did.
I’m not telling you to go above and beyond to care for someone. But when you see someone sad, share a smile, as a smile can be considered an act of charity. Ask people how their day is going. Reassure the worried. Enlighten the upset. Calm the angry.
Our differences make us the same and we are all human at the end of the day.
Thank you, Omar, for your courage and for sending this piece of writing in for us to share. Your article sums up the anxieties so many of us face on a daily basis. I’m so happy you found what you were after. Your story sends a positive message to other young people. We should never lose hope.
That’s it for today. Next week, my mum will be back with more Thursday Connectors for you.
Young writers can join ‘Write Back’ and submit stories via: www.write-back.org or email: email@example.com
Connect with ‘Write Back’ on: Twitter, Instagram and search for ‘Write Back’ on Facebook.
Ships don’t sink because of the water around them. Ships sink because of the water that gets inside them.