In Search of Self: My Journey from being a Christian Pakistani to a Pakistani Spartan — (I)

“The past gives meaning to the present. Often, it is only in the context of someone’s past experience that we can understand why what they are saying or doing makes any kind of sense” (Stone, Patton & Heen, 2000, p. 34)

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7-year old ME with the hope of becoming a medical doctor

Before defining my work and talking about the areas of research that interest me and provoke my thinking, I would like to take you on a journey with me. I want you to know me as a woman and to learn about my experiences as a Christian Pakistani and as a Pakistani Spartan. This is my narrative about who I was, who I am, and who I inspire to be– this is my story.

Born and raised in a traditional, middle class Christian family, I learned not to question the dogma, either it be a religious or parental in nature. However, being a father’s daughter, I learned his way of authority and power. In his life neither he nor I understood what I did but now when I look back,  I know I was  a silent rebel (I still am, in many ways). I did what I wanted to do but with his approval. My whole world revolved around my father.  He always said that one day I would be a doctor (of course, a medical doctor). The seed of passion for science was sown and as a child, I dreamed of becoming a medical doctor. Yet, science topics were not discussed at home. My mother was a nurse, so medical terms and medicines made their way in our daily conversations. It was the school teachers, who nurtured my passion for learning science.

 I was in 4th grade and had taken my first term exams. My science teacher Mrs. Naseem (not my mother) was revising the question paper in the class. She asked me to answer a question. Shy and nervous I was.  She encouraged me to speak. She told the class that I was the only one who got 50/50 in general science. She appreciated me a lot. After that she encouraged me to participate in the class regularly. Her encouragement strengthened the passion for learning science. Because I was an average student, after that I have nothing to boast about. I have my reasons for not getting higher grades, but I don’t want to get into the details. So let’s settle down with the fact that I just had good grades, never failed in any subject.

After studying in Pakistani federal government school in Tripoli, Libya, my parents came back to Pakistan. I was admitted in Presentation Convent after summer vacation in September, 1985 in 8th grade. Mrs. Misbah, my 8th grade English teacher helped me improve written and spoken English. She did that without making me feel embarrassed.  On the other hand, my math teacher humiliated me for not getting good marks in a math surprise test. I still remember her words, “I don’t understand why Christian girls want to study science, when they are not good at math and in studies.” She herself was a Christian and getting 80% marks in math was one of the criteria to study science in 9th grade. Ah, she sure did hit the wrong button. I worked hard and I scored 88/100 and what a surprise!!! The first day when class teachers of 8th grades were suppose to separate students in science and arts groups, my class teacher was absent. My math teacher was given the charge. I still remember her calling my name, “Saima Naseem” and I stepping forward and correcting my name as “Samina Naseem.” She was surprised, really surprised. I don’t have words to tell how proud I felt when I passed by her to stand with the science group girls.

My 9th and 10th grade science teachers were good, especially my math teacher, Mrs. Bashir. She was a real hero for me. She knew I needed extra help in math. She explained me exercises separately many times,  gave extra time, and helped me to understand formulas and methods of doing problems. In 10th grade national exams, I performed well all because of Mrs. Bashir, who took extra pain in helping me understand math. It is not just me, who acknowledges Mrs. Bashir’s extra efforts with her students. Every student in Presentation Convent, who had the privilege to be in her class, would agree that she made math so easy for her students. Though I didn’t do math after 10th grade, I can still do the basic math well.

My college life… 11th, 12th grades and 2 years of bachelors in science majoring in botany, zoology and chemistry. My dad couldn’t afford to send me to a private college, so I got admission in a public college. Mrs. Raana Akhtar, what a great teacher she was. She had masters in chemistry. I remember the first day of  11th grade chemistry class. I was scared that she would ask definitions of terms like atom, molecule, compound, etc. She did not. She explained every term to the class as if we were hearing it for the first. She refreshed our memories and then asked to define the terms. I was in love with her the very first day of my college classes. Luckily, she continued teaching inorganic chemistry to my cohort at bachelors level too. I loved studying inorganic chemistry because of her. When I quit my studies (I will discuss the reason in the second part) and went to see her in the college, she was really sad to learn that. She said that after a very long time she thought one of her students would excel in inorganic chemistry. The best compliment an average student like me could possibly get from her teacher. She was very kind.

My biology teacher, Mrs. Iffat in 11th-12th grade, who taught us one of the zoology classes at bachelors level too, talked about content so openly. I overcame my fear of talking about reproduction and other such topics in her classes. We had home exams in the first year of bachelors. Parents of science students were requested to meet the teachers and collect their daughters’ results. The second day when my dad went to collect my result, he had the shock of his life.  Mrs. Iffat told my dad that his daughter could have achieved really high scores, if she  had been a little more serious in the class. She told my dad that I was one of the naughtiest students. My dad surprised, asked in a confirmation tone pointing toward me, “Madam, are you talking about my daughter?” Her affirmative reply brought a smile on my dad’s face. His reaction and reply surprised my teacher. He said that he was so happy to learn that his daughter “talks and laughs”  (I was a very quiet child at home). Last but not the least, my English compulsory teacher in bachelors. She was the first one who recognized and appreciated my creative writing skills when I wrote an essay  “My College Classroom.”  I used humor to highlight the problems in our classroom, from the dust on chairs and tables, to cobwebs all around the classroom, and ceiling fan motor hanging without wings. After reading, she suggested that I should seriously think of continuing writing. But it was something that was not supported beyond the college walls.

The other side of the reality. I couldn’t score enough to meet the merit for getting admission in a medical college in my 12th grade board exam. So the dream of becoming a medical doctor was shattered. I believe that whatever happens, happens for good. Even if I had good scores, my parents were not in a position to bear expenses of medical college. It slowed me down, but didn’t stop me. The teachers I talked about, made a difference in my life. They not only developed passion for the subjects they taught, but they saw the potential in me, encouraged me to recognize it along with making me realize things that good teachers do. As a teacher, I did and I do with my students, what these teachers did for me. My experiences with these teachers define me as a teacher. Many of my doctoral friends would say, ‘Ahan, a classic example of “apprenticeship of observation” ‘(Lortie, 1975). It is indeed. But only to the extent that I find my teachers’ approaches useful. I don’t imitate their style. I have developed my own style, of course I added humor to what I do. Majority of my teachers were Muslims, but they never differentiated their students on the religious basis. At least I can say this without any doubts about the teachers I mentioned.  I learned from these teachers the significance of encouraging students, helping struggling students in their studies, recognizing students’ potentials, and having faith in students. The most important lesson I learned that neither teachers nor students in the classroom have any religion. This formed the base of my teaching and everything I do as a human. I don’t differentiate between my students or people I meet on the religious grounds.

Here ends the first phase of my life…To Be Continued!

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