A Middle Eastern girl must dress as a boy in order to attend school
|My Name Is Salma
Everything about me is a lie. My name is Salma, but everyone knows me as Ahmed. Each morning when I wake up for school I don’t dress in the traditional sari as most girls do, rather I dress like a boy. I put on brown pants, a white linen shirt, sandals and a hat. I do this so I can go to school.
Several years ago I overheard a conversation between my parents.
“Salma needs to go to school.” Papa said.
“You know that’s illegal in our country. Only boys are allowed to go to school.” Mama responded
“What if Salma dresses like a boy, no one will know the difference.”
“I’m not sure I feel comfortable with that.”
Papa and I finally convinced Mama that I could be safe dressed as a boy and no one would know. She made me promise to not draw attention to myself. This meant that I was not to raise my hand too often to answer questions in the classroom.
I was happy that I was able to go to school. My passion is reading and writing. Every day I read the newspaper and I love to learn about what’s happening in the world. I hope to one day be a journalist so I can tell the world what it’s like to be a female in my country. I wonder if the rest of the world knows what’s happening in our village.
As I walk to school, with my book bag slung over my shoulder, I wear a hat that I pull down to shade my eyes so others do not notice my long eye lashes. My hair is cut short so I look like a boy. I don’t mind having to play this charade because it’s the only way I can achieve my dream.
I prefer to walk to school alone, so as to protect my identity, but recently a boy named Faddey has joined me on my three mile walk. I have to admit I enjoy the company and it’s safer to walk the streets with someone else. I usually let him do most of the talking.
“How did you do on the math test the other day?” Faddey asked.
I down play how well I did by responding, “I did ok, How about you?”
“I got 80 percent!” He said excitedly.
“That’s great!” I responded.
Yesterday, as we walked to school, there was an air raid and we took cover in a nearby store front that provided overhead protection. As the missiles continued to fall, Faddey and I instinctively held onto one another. I noticed his body felt strong and muscular. Did he notice that my body felt soft and feminine? He looked at me with questioning eyes. He started to say something, but then he stopped. I hope he can keep my secret.
After the attack ended we waited for what felt like an hour to ensure that the air raid was over and that we wouldn’t be hit by flying debris. We ran home without saying a word. After a few days we were told it was safe to return to school. On our first day back to school, Faddey ran to catch up to me. We talked a little about the air raid but he didn’t mention anything about my identity. I was hoping he had forgotten about the situation; but I was wrong.
“Can I ask you a question?” Faddey nervously asked?
“Sure.” I responded, wondering what this was about.
“Why do you dress like a boy if you’re really a girl?”
His question took my breath away. I didn’t know how to respond because I was concerned about my safety.
“I mean, I think you’re a girl.” He said.
“Yes, I’m a girl but you can’t tell anyone because girls aren’t allowed to go to school. If they find out I will be punished!” I pleaded.
“I won’t tell anyone, I promise.”
I could hardly breathe, so I let silence fill the air.
“I think you’re very brave.” He said.
We parted ways as we approached my house.
“How was school today?” Mama inquired.
“It was fine, but I’m not feeling well so I’m going to lie down.”
Are you coming down with something? Mama asks as she felt my forehead. “You don’t feel warm but you look pale. I think resting for a bit is a good idea.”
I had a difficult time resting because all I could think about was if Faddey could keep my secret. I was also worried that my parents would find out. They would be so disappointed in me. I stayed home for a couple of days because I was afraid of what would happen if I returned to school. By the third morning, Mama had insisted that I return to school. I didn’t want her to become suspicious, so I agreed.
While I was walking to school the next morning I heard someone running behind me; it was Faddey.
“Wait up, Ahmed!” Faddey shouted.
Once he caught up he asked, “Where have you been?”
“I was sick” I said.
“Were you really sick or did you stay home because of our conversation?” He inquired.
“I stayed home because I was afraid the school found out the truth about my identity”
“I’m the only one who knows and I promise to keep it a secret.”
“How can I trust you?”
“I have a secret to tell you.”
“I’m glad you’re a girl.”
“Why is that?”
“I’ve had a crush on you since the day we started walking to school together and I was relieved to find out that you’re are a girl.” He confessed.
We both stopped walking and looked into each other’s eyes. This was the beginning of something more than friendship. We knew we had challenges ahead of us because we could not display our affection in front of anyone, but it was nice to know I had someone I could trust with my secret.