It was November 2018 when Khadijeh invited me to her house. There are people out there who can’t quite figure out who I really am on social media, but truth be told, I love meeting and talking to people face to face instead of interacting online. That’s how I find inspiration for my writings!
I sometimes work with a team that supports kids taking extra tuition, from those branded as strugglers to top achievers, so they can all reach their full academic potential. That’s how Khadijeh's and my path crossed. Our brief interactions made me realise that Khadijeh was a mum who wanted the best for her children. Fast forward many months later, Khadijeh dropped by to say thank you to the team, for her son had ‘nailed’ his GCSE exams to the point of taking some of the most challenging A Level subjects.
It was a moment of cheer, celebrating yet another success story. If you know the British education system, you’ll probably know that schools come in different forms: independent private schools, grammar schools, Christian schools, other faith schools and state schools run by local councils. Of these state schools, there are different categories, from top achievers to those branded by OFSTED as ‘requiring improvement’ or ‘inadequate’. As a result, some parents do whatever they can to avoid sending their children to such schools but then again, it can be difficult thanks to a school allocation system based on how close you live to that school. For most, it’s all about catchment areas. However, it’s not uncommon to see very good pass rates from poorly labelled schools. I believe it’s a numbers game. A few students shining and performing better than some students in private schools will struggle to make up average numbers used as key performance indicators by regulators. But gems are always found in condemned schools. When I heard about Khadijeh’s son doing very well in his GCSEs, despite hailing from a school branded as one of the worst in the city, I was in awe. Although I had an idea about their work ethic, I asked her how he’d done it.
What she said was very inspiring, hence this article. It was that short conversation that opened doors for me and, eventually, led me to her house. She said,
I knew that my son was attending one of the worst schools in the city, but I know my son very well. He is driven, focused, he listens, and always tries his best. And so, I decided to approach all his teachers individually. I told them that without their support, my son wouldn’t reach his potential. ‘Help him!’ I said.
From then on, her son’s education became almost like private tuition. The teachers responded, and started giving him extra work and pushing him. I believe it was music to the ears of her son’s teachers who also thrive on their students’ good performances.
Khadijeh’s words confirmed what I’ve always known about life: it doesn’t matter where you come from, the only thing that matters is where you want to be. Cue Ghetto Child (Joe Thomas and Shaggy). Not everyone will find themselves in an environment that fully sustains or promotes their gifts, but if you quit focusing on the limitations and try to find a way out of your situation, you will somehow come across the right kind of support, the right tribe, and the right people. Teaching has been branded one of the most stressful jobs in the UK, thanks to some children who don’t want to learn, challenging parents, and increasing performance targets against reduced budgets, amongst many other factors. It must have been refreshing for these teachers to hear such a request. At the time, it probably wasn’t much fun for the boy who would complain to his mum about the extra work, for they sure did make him work. However, it paid off in the end.
Our conversation led to an invitation to Khadijeh’s house, one Friday evening. Ever heard the adage that you should never judge a book by its cover? In all the time I’d seen her, she was always down to earth. I was shocked by how grand and exquisite her family home is. Think Persian palace, think Khadijeh’s home! Not only that, Khadijeh’s friend, who also hails from Iran, was visiting with her two children. Before I knew it, we were all chatting and laughing as if I’d known them for a very long time. I didn’t have a list of questions to ask, and deliberately allowed the conversation to flow. I could tell that the accountant in Khadijeh was prepared for a structured list of questions when I told her that I’d love to learn more about her culture. However, we never ran out of things to talk about during my stay.
Here are some of the highlights from the conversations we had that Friday evening, served in Khadijeh’s and her friend Rachel’s own words.
Khadijeh: I learnt a lot from my cousin, who came to live with us when he was young. He came from a very poor background, and yet he worked so hard. He was driven, and never allowed his past to determine who he was going to be. My cousin is now a very successful lawyer.
Patience and Relationships
Khadijeh: My marriage was arranged, and my husband’s mum and sister in law came to our place, looking for someone who would marry their son. I didn’t exactly say yes, but my parents told me that it’s hard to find a perfect partner. I learnt patience a very long time ago. They told me that whoever you marry, wherever you go, you’ll encounter problems. You have to be patient with one another, otherwise, your marriage will never work.
Rachel: I met Khadijah about ten years ago in town. My husband and I were sitting by the fountain when she turned up with her little sons who looked so adorable. I’m from South Iran, and our language is similar to Turkish. Whenever I saw Khadijeh, she was like a big sister to me. She’s always been patient with me. She’s also encouraged me to be patient with my husband. My real sister has told me several times to divorce him, but not Khadijeh. She’s always helped me to see the best in him.
Khadijeh: When people are dating, they try to impress each other, and go out of their way to be nice to each other. It usually changes when people get married. They stop trying because they think that they know each other. People will say he/she is mine now, so there's no need to impress each other. Besides, many people's expectations fall once they get married. In an arranged marriage, you don't have any expectations or much background knowledge about the other person, so you try to make it work from day one. I feel that these days, people divorce far too easily. Some people strive for independent lives while they are married.
Khadijeh: People show love in different ways. My husband doesn’t remember special occasions, and would never cook for me even though he runs a restaurant. However, he’s generous when it comes to money. I can spend what I want, whenever I want, and he won’t ask questions. Everybody has a good and a bad side. When their bad habits come to the fore, you pray to God and ask, “God help me!” When your partner goes out of their way to be good to you, be thankful.
Rachel: My husband is the opposite! He complains about me spending too much, or not working. However, he cooks. He expresses love through food and derives joy from making sure that everyone is well catered for. He is always making sure that we have all the groceries we need in the house. He is a provider.
Khadijeh: All men have problems! Don’t sweat it, and don’t expect your husband to be perfect. However, if he’s abusive, then it’s a completely different story; leave. If he beats you up, hit him back!
Rachel: I know someone whose husband used to beat her up all the time. When she was told to fight back, she did. The beating immediately stopped. (This is the bit where one would say LOL! Although these statements were said in a light-hearted manner, and must not be taken seriously, I felt that they were still note-worthy.)
Rachel: Don’t mother your husband. If you take care of him like a baby, he WILL cheat on you! Stop acting like his mother. If he continues to do things that are risky, let him learn and experience the consequences of his actions. One thing I love about the UK is that women and children have rights. In Iran, most men think and act like gods, and their immediate families encourage them, even when they’re abusive. Not here in the UK; you have to be human and kind.
I’ve only highlighted a few issues that I know will resonate with many of our readers. It was such a beautiful evening filled with laughter, jokes and warm hospitality. Not only did I leave with a healthy portion of Iranian ash soup, having learnt about Iranian geography and celebrations, I left Khadijeh’s Persian palace with a heart filled with the belief that despite our different cultures, we share values that continue to connect us. How could two women from Iran sit with a woman who was born and bred in Africa, and share so many stories as if they’d always known each other? It made me realise that as much as we hail from different parts of the world, we share very similar views and values. These shared values know no ethnicity, skin colour or country boundaries. Hope this little story gives you encouragement as you face your day to day challenges, from raising children against all odds to sustaining solid relationships, even with imperfections.
Although we hail from different cultures and backgrounds, we shape each other's journeys through learning and interaction.