The X Page: A Storytelling Workshop

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My Education

by Maya Baltagi


Your education shapes you.

The daily struggles, making friends; each step has its quirks. 

Now throw in constant change and country hopping and you’ve entered a whole new ball game. 

Like most kids of my generation from the Arab world, we got the chance to experience life and, of course, the education system not only in the country of our origin, but also the countries of our birth, and for the lucky few, a taste of the West. 

My journey begins when we leave Saudi Arabia for Houston, Texas. I am in preschool and mom CANNOT walk me to the bus stop.

 I’m determined to do it on my own. There is a small catch though. She has to stand on the porch blowing kisses and waving goodbye until the bus turns the corner or I will have an epic meltdown, the bus supervisor’s words not mine.

At my preschool graduation I keep inviting everyone over for cake as if I’m the only one graduating that day. I’m pumped for the next school year. We don’t end up staying though, it’s time to move back to Lebanon.

“We’re finally home!” I remember my mom saying. Lebanon was in the midst of a Civil War, the “Aoun years” and school, for lack of a better word, was interesting. We ride to school in small vans and go through a number of armed checkpoints between our home and school. It’s hit or miss if they will let us pass. 

The American Community School of Beirut overlooks the Mediterranean Sea. By contrast the field next door houses an army base, which was attacked one day when I was in school. Two grade one classes are crammed into the corner of one classroom. Gunfire can be heard flying overhead.

 Teachers plead with us to keep our voices down, but really how calm can you keep six and seven year olds when it feels like the world is ending. I’m in the first row of kids so I stand up to see what is happening. There is a big window facing the corniche and I can see people running and some falling to the ground. 

What’s that expression again? Out of the frying pan into the fire. 

We escaped one armed conflict only to find ourselves in another. You have to laugh at the irony. It’s 1990, we are now in Saudi, and Iraq invades Kuwait. We have been issued gas masks and are required to carry them with us at all times, even to school. Our school that typically has 2000 students is down to 500, perhaps less. All non-Arab students have fled the country. 

The rest of us can’t go back home, it’s safer for us to live out this conflict here than the ones in our native countries. 

There is definitely an upside to all this, I met a second cousin I never knew I had. A few friends have similar experiences.

Four years later we are back in Beirut. 

Can you see the pattern? 

I finish off my highschool and undergrad years in Lebanon itching for the next adventure. Opportunity strikes and I make my way to Scotland to continue my graduate degree but not without my mom finding someone she befriends to “keep me safe.” I’m the baby and I have a medical condition that worries my mother to this day. Deep down I was hoping I would be completely on my own like my sister when she went. Turns out though mom was right, don’t tell her I said that, if you do I’ll deny it. 

One day things got really bad and my roommates called an ambulance. 

I was taken to the hospital and got admitted for observation, a couple of days later aunty came and got me. 

I recuperated at her place for a week. 

Moms are always right, we fight them on things, but damn it they are always right. 

This was the plan, move to Canada with my new husband and continue my PhD, but oddly enough my UK degree is not recognized and I opt for a second Masters. I spend hours driving back and forth to Hamilton. In the end I didn’t hit that goal but I achieved one that was so much sweeter. 

We end up having three kids back to back, they are now our focus.  

For them stability is key. We have not moved since my arrival in 2007. 

Canada is their home, Kitchener in particular, but for me everywhere and nowhere feels like home. 

One thing I know for certain, home is where my family happens to be.