Math and Stereotypes

I’m taking a Creative Non-Fiction class where the teacher is asking us to write “episodes” of our lives memoir-style. We all had to choose a theme to base our memoir on, so I chose identity with a focus on my experiences in Lebanon. I’ve written two “episodes” so far, but I didn’t like the first one much, so here is my second attempt. Let me know what you think!

It was an early summer afternoon, and my grandmother’s dining table was hopelessly buried under my papers and textbooks. I bent my head over a page of math problems, though my 12-year-old brain was busy creating a wonderland where math didn’t exist. (Not that my tutor needed to know that). I had always suspected he found quiet amusement in my inability to understand what he was teaching me, a point which won him no favor. I gazed down at the numbers strewn all over my notebook and tried, unsuccessfully, to make sense of them. At this point, a break would have been more than welcome.

I did not have to wait long. Mr. Imad, either out of pity or boredom, decided to make small talk. As is wont to happen when you don’t know how to relate to a pre-teen you barely know, his go-to subject was the weather.

“Wow,” he said, leaning back, “Sure is hot isn’t it?”

I smiled a little, thankful for the distraction, “Yeah I know—Lebanon’s so humid. In Saudi it was hotter, but it was dry heat— not like this.”

“Oh Saudi’s different!” he said authoritatively, “It only has one season: Summer!”

He looked at me expectantly, waiting for what was sure to be my inevitable chuckle at his hilariously true observation.

Instead, my eyebrows rose. Summer year-round? Really? 

Although it was just a silly remark–more of a joke–he triggered something in me and I couldn’t bring myself to drop it. My mind flashed back to a particularly cold February day in Riyadh: Crossing the school playground while clutching my thick jacket to myself, shivering while the wind nipped at my face and re-styled my hair.

I shot back (with a tiny dab of pre-adolescent derision), “Of course not. In winter it gets cold enough to wear coats and sweaters. It’s freezing.”

My teacher’s grin faded just as fast as it appeared, and confirmed that he honestly believed what he had said before, “Oh, wait, really?!”

“Well, yeah. It’s not always hot, you know.” I said, almost defensively. Nothing irritated me more than when people made judgments about something they knew nothing about. Saudi Arabia has a laundry list of faults, I thought, but don’t make ignorant remarks just because you feel like you know better.

I was young, and perhaps his gaffe was the perfect target for someone who resented his condescension about my math skills (or lack thereof). But though Mr. Imad was the first to make such a remark, it was hardly the last. That moment was the beginning of my realization that being raised “outside” made me far less susceptible to jumping to conclusions, something that often isn’t taught in classrooms. Even though it hasn’t made things easy, it’s something I wouldn’t trade for all the mathematical talent in the world.


2 thoughts on “Math and Stereotypes

  1. Oooh, I like this one. It’s quite true too. The more you leave your little box, the more you see that the world is more than black and white. (and duuuuude, remember the hail? Ooof…)

    • Merci! And YAY! You finally commented on here! Woo!

      And yeah the hail! I was gonna mention that but my story already reached the two page double-spaced limit. Very annoying limit to have but I’m getting used to it. I just finished the third installment, and I’ll post it here once I get proper feedback on it. I admit it’s rather odd to be finishing homework hours before midnight, but here I am…

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