As a kid growing up I did not pay much attention to people's race, ethnicity, or even where people’s families were from. I always just saw people as themselves, especially since I myself was born in Saudia Arabia, have Somalian parents, but was raised and grew up in Syria. Even though I knew that Syria was not my homeland I thought, who cares? It's not like it really matters. That is, until I started K1 (preschool) and I started getting picked on for being the only non-Syrian and black kid at school. I always saw myself as Syrian, but other people like my classmates didn’t. When I started first grade at Rachad Kseibati Elementary School in Damascus, I knew my race would make me different. Knowing that it was a school full of first through sixth graders, I thought that no one would want to be my friend because of how dark I am. That’s why I decided I would keep my distance and not talk to anyone.
Fast forward to the first day of school. We had to play an ice breaker game where we had to think about a fruit that started with the same letter as our first name. After we thought, we had to share out in a small group. There was this one girl in my group whose name was Angam. At first I did not pay any attention to her. I thought she was just another classmate, and I had made a promise to myself that I would not get close to anyone.
After we were done with the game a kid named Ali stood up, pointed to me, and asked, “Why is she so dark?” I did not know how to respond to that, and I felt so embarrassed. I wanted the earth to open up and swallow me. I don't even know why he said that. Was it because I looked different and I wanted to fit in? I could not say anything. The girl named Angam stood up and said “God made her like that. Have you never seen anyone with a different skin color?” I was so surprised to see someone stand up for me like that since everyone, including my teacher, found the boy’s comment funny.
Ever since then, Angam and I were inseparable. She was the only person who was willing to be my friend or even speak to me, so there was no way for me to push her away. And it's not like I wanted to anyways. She taught me so many things, like how to stand up for myself or how to love being the black girl that I am. She would remind me daily that just because there was no one else that looked like me in the school that it didn’t mean that I was somehow the odd one out. And everytime someone tried to come at me, she would encourage me to not stay quiet but to stand up and talk back.
Angam is the reason why I’m the strong, opinionated person that I am today. My voice is loud and clear because of her. I learned that just because one apple on a tree is rotten doesn’t mean that all the other apples are also bad.
© Rawan Ibrahim. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person's teacher.