Tuesday, 15 June 2010

The Underdog

The Underdog!

I’m watching the World Cup games and as usual, I’m cheering for the ‘underdog’ team to win. I always cheer the underdog.

And whenever I see an underdog team win, I remember. ..

Let me take you with me back to 2001.

I had just moved to a new school (the international one I was telling you guys about) and I was supposed to be starting 7th grade.

That meant, that I would be taking 7th grade Arabic. In the school that I had attended previously, I had studied Arabic but the majority of the students had not, and it had been regarded as ‘an extra, minor subject”.
The new school I enrolled in…saw it much more differently.

In fact, it turned out that Arabic had the same amount of credit points as ‘Math”, “English”, “Science”. That meant, it counted.

Very seriously.

[The language that was considered ‘a minor subject’ was French. We all had to take it, but it didn’t really count much. And yeah, when I joined, I knew zero French! But that’s another story ;)]

I remember looking around me in my Arabic class and realizing that that in terms of the skills of reading, writing, speaking I was – how to put this lightly- far behind the other students.

That was not very good for the self-esteem of a *teacher-proclaimed perfectionist*.

I was used to getting straight A’s in all/most of my subjects, but man,
I could tell I would not be getting an in A in that Arabic class!

In fact, it was obvious to me and everyone, that I was one of ‘the worst’ in the class.

I also still remember the very first test we had in that class and the way I studied for it for hours. I memorized all the vocabulary words, their meanings, went over the questions that we covered in class again and again, etc.

The day of the test I was ready.

When I saw the test paper,
I wanted to cry.

The first question was a ‘comprehension passage’. One of the questions he had asked us was for us to read passage, understand its context, and provide the antonym for a selected word.

I understood the passage. I understood the meaning of that selected word in that context. But I could not for the life of me remember the Arabic antonym of it. I just didn’t have that vocabulary ‘at my disposal’.

Another question he asked was ‘provide the singular or plural’ form of the following word (I can’t remember which). In English, this would be a ridiculous question since plurals are formed by adding an ‘s’. Not so, in Arabic. Although we have 2 ‘obvious patterns’, we also have one form known as the ‘Broken Plural”, sorta like the English exceptions. I knew the teacher wasn’t trying to be hard but again, I had no idea what the answer was.

There were several other questions, as well. They were all ‘basic’ questions, things that were meant to raise your grade not lower your grade, but they really weren’t helping mine!

I still remember my grade. I ended up getting a 23 out of 30.

Basically a C+.

The funny thing was that my teacher was so impressed with that. 

Yeah, you could tell he didn’t think I was going to do to good in that class, either.

I mean, I remember him actually suggesting that if I was able to get that, the other students should have done really well, too. [He said that because by then he knew that I hadn’t studied Arabic the way they had and that unlike many of them, English was my native language, so he wasn’t trying to be offensive. Unlike me, they had messed up on the stuff that we had gone over in class, lol.]

Anyways, I could not accept getting a C in my report card. It wasn’t about the grade. It was that I knew in my heart, I could do better. I could!

And this has always been one of the rules I have lived by: if you can do better, than do better. No excuses. Even if means a lot more work, a lot more time, do it. Give the world the best you’ve got. That’s the standard that we should try to reach—our own best.

So I tackled Arabic.
We wrestled…

I didn’t get a C,
And I didn’t get an A.

I got a B.

Definitely not bad—my teacher was thrilled, ecstatic, lol.

But me?

I still knew I could do better.

My next goal was to just get an A.

I was able to barely reach that goal.

Slowly, I was starting to be considered one of the good students in Arabic class, although to be honest, I was still very hesitant and shy to ‘speak Arabic’. I also barely volunteered to read aloud in class. The other students still sounded ‘better than me’, and besides our book did not have the ‘harkaat’ or small vowels that are supposed to appear on the letters- I knew I would read it all wrong.

It was 2006, though, that was the ‘sweetest’ year.

I was in 12th grade then. We were mostly taking Arabic poetry and our teacher obviously expected us to read the poetry aloud. One day, we were reading one of the poems and to my surprise the teacher said she wanted us to read with ‘passion/really let the words come alive’.

To my shock, she called on me.

I think the whole class was stunned because deep down inside, I am pretty sure no one thought of me as a ‘reader’ (not in Arabic, at least).

Then came time for the final final Arabic exam. That exam was not written by my own Arabic teacher. It was written by a group of teachers outside of our school and was given to all schools across the country by the Ministry of Education.

That meant that I was being tested the same as students all over the country [private school students].

I took the test.
We finished school.

It was time for the graduation ceremony.

May 29, 2006.

As I stood there on the stage, the announcer began to speak of the students who had excelled in certain subjects. They passed out an award to the senior who did best in physics, math, English, etc.
And then…
They said “Arabic”,
And they called on me.

And I ,
Who had started out back in 2001 as the underdog,
And collected my award.



  1. Yay! I'm glad to read that your hard work paid off! :)

  2. Long live the underdog!!! Inspiring story, Sarira. We cheer for the underdogs in our house, too, especially since Canada never makes it into the World Cup (lol).

  3. Susanne, thank you! You're like my number one commentator! So kind of you :)

    Rebecca,long live the underdog, indeed! Hehe about Canada not making it. But it's got hockey, right :D

    In my house we were all a bit sad that Egypt didn't make it into the World Cup because it won the African Cup this year. Seemed kinda unfair that it beat the African countries/was the winner of a whole continent and didn't end up getting to play in the World Cup, lol. What really stinks is that last year, actually, Egypt won Italy in a match and also was winning against Brazil until they did the penalty shots...so this 'team' really had a chance of winning ;)

    Speaking of underdogs, I was very proud of North Korea yesterday, simply cause no one thought it stood a chance against Brazil, and it ended up doing pretty well! :)

  4. And how about Switzerland today? :)


Hey :D So am I talking to myself or...? Tell me what you think :D