Our talks are always undetermined, no forecast, no pretence and without prodding. Sometimes I wonder if she even hears me between the rolling of the eyes and “I don’t know” to every question (gets that from her mother – heaven help me when she’s a teenager). She’s only 6. But there are times when I wonder how old she really is and how much I’m left speechless when she does decide to ‘talk’.
We were doing homework months ago. The wife is travelling again (if I hide her passport, do you think that would dissuade her being happy about being an Emirates Gold Member and taking off again?). I’m trying to navigate the challenging waters of 2 kids, the school runs, the sniffles and laying there when it’s far too quiet for my liking.
She’s sitting on her bed working on her Arabic and doing so well and I’m trying to persuade the soon-to-be 2 year old to sit quietly with her pencil and paper (who clearly hasn’t decided to wait for the ‘terrible twos’ but has succeeded at the ‘terrible ones’). The time when it’s quiet and I get to see how her mind processes what she is learning has always intrigued me – both as an educator and a Baba. Eventually, she quiets and Saffiya looks up at me and says “Baba, are we rich or are we poor?”
I will swear now that the hair on the back of my neck stood up because the moment she said that it was like a 1000 images of my own life, how I grew up, where I came from, where I had been and where I was – like the way people say life flashes in front of your eyes.
“What do you mean?”
“There are so many people that don’t have money. Does that mean they are poor?” She continues working on her words and I know this time I can’t let slip because she’s at that pivotal moment where she is trying to understand life dynamics and I could bust this up and cause her therapy for years if I don’t nail this.
“A lot of people don’t have money. Maybe it makes them poor for money but there are other things they can be rich with.” patting myself on the back now.
“Baba, we are rich because I have an iPad and we have a big car and birthday parties.” Hmmmm – ok. Now what?
“Money is sometimes very hard to get, hayati.”
“Baba, when I was four years old we started doing chores from the jar and momma gives me money. And if I want a toy, I have to buy it.”
“True. That is why momma goes to work so that we can have money to buy food and live in this house and have our car and make sure you are able to go to school.” Breathe Baba Breathe – as I’m trying to channel my wife from 3000 miles away.
“But even if we don’t have money we would still have those things and I would go to school, right?” She puts down the pencil now.
“No hayati, your school, the car, it all costs money. We work hard so that you and Mackenzie are having what is needed and sometimes we can’t get the best things so we have to buy cheaper things.”
“But what about the kids that don’t have these things?”
I am thinking back to how I lived and how the smallest sweet was a luxury, how when I left Egypt, $20 had to get me through 2 weeks of food, how there were days when we didn’t have enough to eat before my father was paid. I wore my shoes until there was nothing left. But I also remember not caring. I knew that I was going to make my own way and I was ok.
“There are some kids that don’t have those things. Some kids wear the same clothes, can’t get to school and some can’t even get water to drink. But you know what? They can also be rich. Not rich with money, but with people and friends that love them. That is also being rich.”
“So we could be rich and poor at the same time?”
“Yes, Saffiya, we can be. And, we can be rich or we can poor at different times. It’s part of life and we have to be thankful for what we have and always try to help others that need it.”
“Hamdoola (Thank God), Baba”. I smile and tell her I’m proud of her for what she is saying. She goes back to her book again.
“Why are you thinking about this?” I ask her.
“At school we talked about this and about Dubai in the Past. Maybe we should give some of the toys to kids that don’t have?”
“Sure. We can go through them tomorrow.”
“Ok, but lets just give them Mackenzie’s because I want to keep mine.”
Well, ok, don’t think I got entirely through to her. But, maybe I didn’t need to. This was her way of processing a definition of what was rich, what was poor, and how we can be the same and none at all.
I have to thank her school for putting these bits and pieces of thought into her head that she can engage with us in.
I guess the point of this was also for me to think about what I am teaching her, talking to her more about when we are helping people, what that means, being more aware of small things and not trying to have some life changing conversation. I know that for me, I felt pretty rich right at that moment.