Ten months before I upped and moved to Qatar, I lost my first child in a miscarriage.
After 4 years and 500 failed attempts at writing this without sounding cliché or cringe, here I am on my 31st birthday, ready to embrace the cringe. This has been a long time coming.
We’re living through testing times, to say the least. COVID-19 is like a manhoos desi aunty pumping up your mum, before you know it you’re grounded for the rest of your life.
And it is easy to get wrapped up in the chaos and uncertainty of it all. Some days, I too find myself in the eye of the storm and wonder how on earth I got there. But for the most part, I’m coping well. Having faith in a higher being keeps me grounded, so does that fact that I have years and years of practice with shitty experiences – as you’re about to find out.
This pandemic feels familiar, second nature even, in a way that only those who have grown up in trauma will understand.
If you had asked me when I was six years old, ‘What is the biggest trial Allah (swt) has tested you with?’ I would have told you: seeing my parents fight all the time, being too afraid to sleep at night, knowing that when the shouting stops – that’s when she’s in trouble, knowing it was on me to save her if that happened, seeing my bruised mother crying and not being able to do anything to protect her.
If you had asked me when I was a teen, I would have said: growing up fatherless. It’s this ever-growing wound in the very fabric of your rooh (soul) which no amount of love or joy can fill. It breaks you in ways that show up much, much later in your adult life and damages every relationship you have. And I grieved 25 years too long until finally accepting it as an irreversible part of me.
At 23, I would have told you: having a lifetime’s hard work amount to nothing as I resigned heartbroken from my first teaching post. Losing faith in teaching and never wanting to return to the profession (at such an early stage in my career) became a ledge above a pit of suicidal despair. The knock-on effect it had on my personal life was devastating.
But none of that compares to losing your child. Your first taste of motherhood snatched out of your desperate fate.
And it was a double whammy for me; I didn’t have my mother around to comfort me. In both the physical agony and the emotional pain, previous trials became insignificant as I felt there had never been a time where I was more alone and lost than now. Isn’t this just the beauty of dunya? There will definitely be another time, somewhere later in life that will top this experience. If nothing else, it will be death itself.
It took this long to gain enough distance from it, to change perspective, and to really ponder on the concept that Allah doesn’t burden a soul more than he/she can bear. Losing a child is hard and talking about it becomes much harder when surrounded by a toxic community sentencing you with stigmas: fatherless daughter, shunned, miscarried…
Everyone becomes a self-certified expert in announcing the Will of Allah, passing off their judgements like it’s law: ‘Must be a punishment from Allah. Deserves it.’
I always write how life in the UK was harrowing and so many readers ask me why I hate the UK.
I don’t hate the UK.
I fully recognise myself as a British-Kashmiri, and I know it is the country of my birth that has contributed to me being an educated woman with privileges denied to others around the world. May Allah grant my grandfather the coolest, most tranquil station in Jannah for what I can only imagine was a life of gruelling slog as a migrant worker in 1960s England. As an expat myself, I think about him every day. His sacrifices are paying off for me, generations later and there is no way I can thank him other than dua…
But what I do feel is: my life in the UK was miserable, and from such a young age I was surrounded by completely heartless people. It is often hard to disassociate the experiences and people from the geographical place.
Although I’m sure with time, this will change.
‘What is the biggest trial Allah (swt) has tested you with?’
Ask me this question now and I will tell you none of it was difficult. Every trial pulled me closer to Allah; helped me understand and identify myself as an INFJ, taught me valuable lessons and more than anything – drove me harder to be someone else’s harbour during their storm. My love for teaching came back stronger than ever and I promised myself I’d be the beacon of hope for my students, just like my teachers had been for me…
So Qatar became the place that healed me. The friends I’ve made out here are diamonds. And the schools I’ve been lucky enough to work in have resulted in the 4 most rewarding years of my career.
But there’s one other huge contributing factor in my recovery. If it wasn’t for COVID-19 and online teaching, I probably wouldn’t have realised the role played by my students.
As I near my 10-year teaching anniversary, I realise although I lost my child and it was agony, in place of that Allah gave me so many more wonderful children. He made a mother out of me in the most unconventional way.
So, thank you
To all the students who have turned up to my lessons with beaming smiles, a ‘good morning’, a ‘how are you today, miss?’, the ones who work hard and the ones who don’t, the sensible ones and the cheeky little monkeys….
To the boys who decided they were going to plan my wedding and tried to match-make me with their single uncles (unsuccessfully)
The boys who used my lotions and perfumes more than I did! The ones who’d measure their height against mine each year and then tell me ‘You must be shrinking, oldie.’
The ones who’d ask me ‘When is your husband free to join me for dinner?’, the ones who would advise me to buy every new phone on the market (because I’m a millionaire!) and the ones who wanted to turn 18 so they could finally drive, and race me to school
The boys who would name every female character in their drama role plays ‘Zoya’ and the ones who laughed so hard, they fell off their chairs
The ones who’d hang around after the lesson ended, do odd jobs for me, and try to guilt-trip me to hand out the chocolate stash in my desk
The ones who’d see me speeding down the corridor, and deliberately started walking 10x slower (yes, I’m talking about you three giants in the labcoats lol)
The boys who tried (and failed) at roasting me, the boys who believed they could persuade me to become an anime fan which then turned into a year-long joke
And to the girls who: wrote little notes and hand-made cards as tokens of their appreciation
The ones who took an interest in everything about me, from the shampoo I used (‘Omg, Miss I knew it was Herbal Essences!’) to what I’ll be naming my first child (‘Can you hurry up and get pregnant? I want to meet your kids!’)
To the girls who fought with me over the A.C. temperature, called me ‘mum’ by accident, the girls who’d laugh at all my jokes until they ended up in a fit of hysteria
To the ones who turned up to my class with a folk instead of a pen, and the ones who turned up to detention covered in egg and flour – the ones who made it so hard for me not to laugh
To the ones who showed me their poetry and prose at break time, and baked cookies for me, and left soup on my desk when I fell sick
To the ones who run up to me in public places, and say ‘Miss, do you remember me?’, or run up to me to poke the dimples in my cheeks (haha)
To the ones I stick my tongue out at across malls and they mime ‘Are you okay in the head, Miss?’ and the ones I (always!) bump into outside McDonalds and Shake Shack at Villagio
The ones who scream ‘MISS ZOYAAAAAAGH!’ from across the way, and make my husband say ‘Oh no, here we go again. I’ll wait over here.’
To the ones who say ‘You deserve so much more, Miss’ and ‘Miss if you need anything, ANYTHING, I am here.’
The ones who have grown up SO fast, they’ve gone from calling me Miss to calling me Baji or straight up Zoya, and are now graduates, teachers, nurses… inspirational young professionals
The ones who participated in all things English related – spelling bees, poetry slams, competitions, afterschool clubs…the ones who made my job so rewarding, made me feel so proud
And to the ones who gift me plants every summer not knowing…
To each and every one of you:
Know that, from the bottom of my heart, I love you so much for the joy and laughter you bought into my life.
Know that words cannot express how our little daily interactions healed me.
Know that I pray for you countless times a day, for your success, your health, your wellbeing in both worlds.
Know that no matter what, you can always count on me.
In an ever-growing, frightening COVID-19 world, you are not alone…
You are amazing. And so incredibly brave for putting up with this situation. You will be the change society desperately needs and I have complete faith in you, that YOU will come out of this crisis stronger, happier, sparklier and better than before.