When I was in high school, I had to do a dumb volunteering activity for English class. How does this relate in any way to English? I don't know. But my English teacher boasted that after doing these activities, we will get experience for our resume. Yeah, I volunteered in a mosque that my dad used to go to. I was the assistant teacher as in I was supposed to teach the kids Arabic except after growing up on long island, I do not know Arabic whatsoever. And so, here is the awkward part: I ended up learning along with the kids and not helping the kids learn.
Do I actually learn from this experience?
To be frankly honest, I do not and here's why.
Wearing a head-cover, I awkwardly looked at each kid, reciting the Quran so piously that you can tell their over-bearing religious parents will be proud of them. The teacher, noticing my awkwardness, asked me if I knew Arabic. I said I do not. And so, she put me--a 15 year old teenager--next to the little kids--about 5 to 10 at most. You say that it is humbling, but I say that it's embarrassing. I know that it is never too late to learn about your culture, but, when your peers are exposed to the culture earlier than you, I never felt more embarrassed in my life. So I had to humble myself and just smile.
And then, the teacher pulled up Youtube videos about learning Arabic, which isn't bad except that those videos are designed for a younger audience. The videos had such bright colors and the kids had high-pitched voices. My oh-so-young peers were drawn to them; I, however, just cannot help but think it was embarrassing. I--again, to remind you, a 15 year old--am basically treated just like them. You could say that I was infantilized. And you're right. I was. I didn't know the language, so I was vulnerable. With my vulnerability, I acted awkwardly in the prayer room. This awkwardness perpetuates my infantilization even further. And yeah, you can already see the cycle.
What's sad is that I truly do want to learn Arabic except not in a setting like this. Rather, I wanted to learn Arabic in a high school setting where my behind is firmly planted on a chair. Oh and I don't have to wear a headscarf because I won't be with a bunch of little girls raised by religious parents. Obviously, the differences couldn't be more stark. So, when my father took me to the mosque once again, I had a panic attack and urged him not to take me there ever again.
Remembering my experience, I can still feel the awkwardness. It was so real that I can imagine it. But, now, I felt bad because I wanted to be a grown-up so bad that I refuse to learn with little children. By focusing more on who I am learning with instead of what I am learning, I stunted myself. Til this very day, I wonder: what would happen if I were so open-minded?