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Hello, said Doubt.  

I was six years old when I first met Doubt. It was when my family decided to move back to Canada. One day I was in Egypt, and the next I was in no man’s land. The change came out of nowhere — it left me damaged. My language was no longer my language. Everything became lost in translation. Nobody understood what I was saying, nobody cared to understand. I was speechless. My language was their trash, and I had to throw it away and conform. To the land of Language.  

ESL 

I was confused as to why this teacher wanted to teach me in a special classroom where I was the only student. It was only when my parents arrived that things started to make sense. I remember asking my dad, “But, why do I have to leave my classroom?” His response was “to learn the Language.” Everybody thinks ESL is a place where people learn the Language. But the only thing I learned was how to be Doubtful. ESL stands for English as a Second Language. This title in itself indicates that no matter how well you learn the Language, the Language will never belong to you – you will always be secondary. Always Other.  

My classmates noticed that I needed help with the Language, so at recess they chose not to play with me. Because to them I was the girl who spoke in a different language. To them, I was weird. They would take my paper and say, “How old are you?” questioning my intellect. I never blamed my classmates for their thinking because it was the adults who removed me from my own classroom and isolated me from everybody else. I felt ashamed for not knowing the Language. So, I did what I knew best: I began collecting the seeds of Doubt from an institution that prided itself on being a safe place where children could learn.   

Salam, said Doubt.  

I was fourteen years old when my family decided to move back to Egypt. I yelled, but the decision was final. Everything felt like déjà vu. I time-travelled to a memory that I suppressed over the years. But this time, I knew how to blend in with the unknown. Because of my past experience, I became less terrified. Now, I fluently spoke the language of the unknown. I came back to a country whose language I once knew. But I felt displaced. So, my mother took me to educational centers so I could re-learn the Arabic language. But it didn’t matter how much I studied the language because I was unable to speak the language fluently. I was told by people who knew me, “How could you forget a language that you once knew?” My response would always be “I understand the language,” but that was not enough. I felt misplaced. Wherever I went, I had to continuously re-learn languages or else I became an outcast. Most people view language as a bridge that brings people together, but in reality, language divides people. In my first year of schooling in Egypt, people chose not to communicate with me because I did not understand their language. Some students would talk about my situation and would wonder among themselves, “why would someone move to a country where they do not speak the language?” Not only did this question make me feel unwelcome but it made me feel unlanguaged. 

Because nothing has ever belonged to me, I decided to change the narrative. I decided to change the language. After a year, I noticed a shift: the Egyptians started viewing me as their experiment. They would only communicate with me so they could practice the English language. And they found this funny. And to me having their company was better than having no company.  

I am always in-between countries, in-between oceans and in-between Llanguages —I am always carrying luggage filled with Doubt. And I am left with excess baggage and nowhere to belong. Somewhere in this liminal space  I became stuck. I built a home of uncertainty between countries, between oceans and between Llanguages. For a long time, I became satisfied with quarantining in my liminal home, where nobody could see behind my mask. I was invisibly uncomfortable with myself. Until the day I decided to answer the door of dreams. 

Writing. 

My calling has arrived, but I am stuck in my liminal home. I am unable to embrace my dream because Doubt caged me in-between lands and in-between Llanguages. I try to write, so I can escape. I try to search for my ink. But these spaces suffocate me with Doubt. I am afraid that I am not good enough. I am afraid that people will see through my mask. I am afraid that I will not be enough. I am afraid, and unable to JustBe. 

I search for my ink within spaces that are filled with Doubt. I have allowed the in-between Llanguages to imprison me, believing that I was not enough. It was time to be courageous. It was time to JustBe. 

I allowed myself to escape from these spaces that only served Doubt. I finally had the ability to scream, to tell the world: I WANT TO BE A WRITER! But in every corner of Llanguage, I was met with silence. I crawled back into my cage because Doubt was having a laugh at my sorrow. 

And I was unable to JustBe:

I was filled with pain while I ached for validation. I tried to be brave, but I would remember the silence that followed my dreams. And some nights I could hear Doubt sneering, I told you so. 

Why did I answer the door? It is an action that I regret from time to time. I would call out for help, but silence followed with every sound I spoke. During this torment, I searched for my ink one last time. Because I was in despair, writing became an obligation to sustain my sanity in this liminal space that was filled with unknowns. I fled from a cage that imprisoned me, that kept me STUCK in-between Llanguages.

But then my hands found the ink. And the empty paper, lay waiting, patiently, for the ink’s arrival. And the ink had a story to tell, and the paper was ready to listen – to hear. A union was formed between. And in-between the two is where I belong. Between the ink and paper: a home where I could JustBe.

Goodbye, Doubt.                                                                                                         

مع السلام

12 comments on “

  1. Stephanie Bell says:

    This is such a sad story, Miske, and all too common. I’m happy to hear you’ve found a home on paper ❤
    I'm currently writing a piece on the exporting of American models of writing instruction as sort of colonial mission trips, and your narrative here confirms so much of what I've observed in the way English language learning is approached in the west. How can individuals who've gone through this experience advocate for change on this front? What could York do to re-frame "ESL" language "deficit" as additional language resources? What would writing assessment policy that advocates for and supports multilingual student writers look like? I feel a multilingual and student-led task force would be a powerful way to advocate for change that helps to empower individuals who find themselves vacillating between linguistic cultures within an unequal landscape. I'd love to hear your thoughts on these issues.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Asma Hashi says:

      As I began to read your experience I felt a sense of daja Vu. Just like you Miske, I was forced to move back to Canada. A country I left since I was baby. Coming back made me so miserable. I didn’t understand anyone, I was isolated, didn’t have friends, and even got tricked into pulling the fire alarm. You really captured the feeling of being stuck in the space of language. Even though it was painful to read in the beginning, you light up my heart with your brave and strong ending. Never give up on your dreams no matter how much silence your met with. I’m excited to see your future writing and keep up the amazing work💞

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Miske Ahmed says:

      Thank you, Professor Stephanie, for your kind words. To answer your questions: I believe one of the biggest problems that need to be fixed is the name. ESL. If people want to change the narrative, they have to change the name. ESL carries so much sadness, doubt, and unfilled feeling with language. Students need to advocate for a name change, ESL is not cutting it anymore, and students do not need to leave with excess baggage of Doubt from an institution where you come and learn. York university needs to re-frame ESL because these three letters have caused so MUCH pain. I noticed other universities started a positive change by changing ESL to ELL. English Language Learning. This changes the narrative it simply implies that anybody could learn the English language and that it’s open to all. But by keeping ESL as a name, you are allowing people to feel like OTHER and it gives a message that says they will not be enough, no matter how much they learn the language. I believe writing assessment policies that support multilingual students need to make people feel welcomed and allow them to embrace their language and simultaneously learn the English language. Finally, I hope today is the day that change occurs. I hope all professors could reflect on what ESL does to students and hopefully, they make the change from ESL to ELL.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. Freewriter says:

      Thank you, Professor Stephanie, for your kind words. To answer your questions: I believe one of the biggest problems that need to be fixed is the name. ESL. If people want to change the narrative, they have to change the name. ESL carries so much sadness, doubt, and unfilled feeling with language. Students need to advocate for a name change, ESL is not cutting it anymore, and students do not need to leave with excess baggage of Doubt from an institution where you come and learn. York university needs to re-frame ESL because these three letters have caused so MUCH pain. I noticed other universities started a positive change by changing ESL to ELL. English Language Learning. This changes the narrative it simply implies that anybody could learn the English language and that it’s open to all. But by keeping ESL as a name, you are allowing people to feel like OTHER and it gives a message that says they will not be enough, no matter how much they learn the language. I believe writing assessment policies that support multilingual students need to make people feel welcomed and allow them to embrace their language and simultaneously learn the English language. Finally, I hope today is the day that change occurs. I hope all professors could reflect on what ESL does to students and hopefully, they make the change from ESL to ELL.

      Like

  2. vincerexim says:

    Very beautiful piece, Miske. I could somewhat relate to your experience, as I’ve experienced being outcasted for having a speech impediment. Nonetheless, I have found great solace and empowerment in the craft of writing, and I believe you have as well. Nicely done!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Blu says:

    It was a passionate piece, Miske! I sometimes don’t realize that language can be dividing as much as it can bring bridge people together. I realized that after you returned to Egypt and attempted to re-learn the Arabic language, you started calling language with two ‘L’s’ — Llanguage, probably to signify that you were in-between languages among other things as you describe. Is that how the idea to spell ‘Llanguages’ came about?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Miske, I’ve been looking forward to reading your piece and listening to your whole story since yesterday, and I’m incredibly blown away. You do such a good job personifying Doubt, that feeling that’s so intrinsically pushed in a lot of younger people who are trying to learn a new language. I used to be in ESL and everything you spoke about resonated with me. I remember when I would leave classes to do reading exercises, my other classmates would ask me where I went, and I didn’t know how to explain to them a situation that they would never find themselves in. You have such a command with your language and it’s an honour getting to hear your story ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Anisa Ali says:

    Miske, you’ve written such a powerful piece. Your explicit emotions made feel like I was there with you, crossing over all those oceans and walking through those foreign spaces.

    I think that the harm caused by ESL Learning lasts eternally, as I can attest to that experience. On top of feeling left groundless, I missed out on crucial education, like early maths and science, to be taken away to play and colour in ESL.Changes need to be made, needless to say. Your piece demands it. Your difficult journey has sharpened your insight and now you write so beautifully. I’m proud of you.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. wilsonsash says:

    Miske, your piece speaks to me as someone who had speech therapy lessons to get rid of my accent; we never quite fit in with the country we’ve left or the country we now find ourselves in. Your piece is, I’m sure, eye-opening to many. I think it speaks volumes that you have found a space where you belong—your writing speaks that truth.
    Thank you for sharing yourself with us, and thank you for being my panel member!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. gcrone14 says:

    Miske, miske, miske.

    Your piece was so inspirational, so evocative, so special. I resonated with doubt so much— and, through working with you on the panel, you and I know doubt too well. You’ve helped me— through our conversations and this incredible piece — to say goodbye to doubt.

    Doubt still knocks on my door, still echoes in my brain, still plays tricks on me. But now I feel like I have something to turn to in moments of doubt, in moments of weakness, in moments of hurt. This piece will forever be my reminder to say goodbye to doubt, to hear its knocks but not answer its door, to keep optimistic and happy about my work and my life, and to move through with a sense of certainty, strength, and a home in writing.

    I hope you have an excellent day, and return to this piece not with doubt, but with a proud smile on your face. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. hanniemarg says:

    I really loved this piece and I loved that you chose to have an audio portion because I think that it helped bridge a connection between writing and speaking languages. It felt as though through your writing and the liminal space that you created, you were able to articulate your thoughts out loud and stand up to Doubt. Doubt might have tried to stop you at one point, but it felt as though you reclaimed the power of your space and Doubt no longer has you trapped.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Fardowsa Hirsi says:

    Misky, this was a wonderful yet powerful piece. I myself, know the damages an ESL class has. For years, I’ve been caged by fear and doubt of not belonging and feeling indifferent because of the languages I was unfamiliar with. It was through writing and reading I too, had found my calling. Finally, ignoring all the negativity and doubt I’ve carried so deep within my soul for years! I learned to not assimilate but embrace my individuality that has made me an even better version of myself. I too, have finally said “Macsalam Doubt”.

    Truly a moving piece that captures the heart of many readers including myself. Never stop sharing or writing! You’re an amazing writer and please do let me be the first to purchase your first book! 🥰🥰

    I see many great things ahead of you! InShaaAllah Khaire beautiful ☺️

    Liked by 1 person

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