Conscientious and somewhat rigid in his approach, the teacher treated all his students as if they were his children. As for my father, he was educated enough to review my lessons. Like the rest of his generation, he wouldn’t hesitate to resort to physical punishment. I had my share of such punishment, sometimes with a branch of a date palm. However, Uncle Salim, who had no children of his own, showed me considerable affection and love. Persuading my father that advice was more valid as a disciplinary tool than beating, he saved me a great deal of battering that was exercised against children in the name of the then universally approved method of “virtuous upbringing”.
Whenever beaten by the “teacher”, we would be so afraid of the news reaching our parents. There was perhaps something of a tacit assumption that beating was a form of mercy, and, as such, our parents had to do their duty. I should say that despite the pain we endured, beating helped us discipline ourselves. It was thus accepted in those days. I deem it to be an inappropriate method for raising children in these days, however.
I should also that I owe a great deal to Ali bin Salim. What he taught me has been of immense use in my life. He taught me how to write and read in Arabic, something I developed later through work.
I fondly remember how we treated our teacher, the pivot of the school:
On seeing him in the morning, we would say, “Good morning, Grand Teacher”; in the evening, “Good evening, Grand Teacher”. If we wanted to take our leave and go to the comfort room, we would say, “God bless you, Grand Teacher”. If we wanted to drink water, we would say, “God give you water, Grand Teacher”. If we wanted to wash our faces, we would say, “God guide you, Grand Teacher”.
As mentioned earlier, our school was but the shadow of a tree, and our only school tool was a “slate”, a small flat wooden frame or shoulder of a camel or a cow. If too expensive, then one would do with alkarba, material made of the palm tree’s lowest part. As regards the pen we used, it was similar to chalk. We would make a’hn, “whitish” powder we brought from the mountain where there now stands a communication tower. We would leave the a’hn in water for some time to dissolve, and then soak the “pen” we cut from a tree called nasal. We used to sharpen the “pen” by breaking it from the middle, so that it would write with deep imprint. Those who don’t know a’hn should note that it is the material from which we make mattresses today. All these primitive tools to write on and to write with are a reflection of the simplicity of our education as well as of our life in its entirety, dependent as it was on our local environment.
To be continued ....