First day of school creates a wide range of emotions in kids – in my case, it started with great expectations. A full week before the “First of Mehr” day, I was so happily excited and proud to start the grade-one that I couldn’t even sleep well. Early dawn, I would wake up and run to the commode, in order to admire my brand new gray pants and the accompanying blue blazer, with the golden school emblem shining on its chest pocket.
There used to be a private and reputable primary school, only 200 yards from our house, named after a famous benevolent educator. The month before, we had all walked to the school for registration – and my parents had taken me right to the office of chief administrator (Modir) who was a distant relative. Modir was a very refined, handsome and immaculately dressed Doctor of one thing or the other. His friendly tone of voice and charming behavior were extremely welcoming and reassuring.
So when the first day of school came, I absolutely and proudly refused to be walked over there again – especially, now that I had already been introduced and known everyone and everything! I was officially starting to be a grown up, and couldn’t wait another hour to prove it.
But that day, the short walk to school was very different, as the path was filled with a large herd of roaming students. The crowd included a tall and rude six-grader, who was wrestling with his buddies and almost tripped over my diminutive figure. Ever the assertive type, I clearly voiced my dissatisfaction, to which the big bully replied: “What the fuck is your problem, you little piece of such and … such … and … such?” It took me some years of “schooling” to fully understand the curses, but the nature of verbal attack was all too clear.
That day, the big school yard was intimidating too. It was now filled with hundreds of kids who were running amok – pushing, shoving and horse playing. We the first graders were like little midgets lost in that chaotic sea of blue and gray.
When the first bell rang, each class rushed to stand in their distinct lines. Then the second and third bells came with intervals, which gave more time for the lines to organize. All organized rather quickly, except for us first graders, who couldn’t form anything better than an irregular and wobbly curve.
Suddenly, the frightening specter of a giant ugly troll appeared in the balcony. You could sense a cold shiver going through the spines of all the kids, at the mere sight of Mr. Nazem (the principal). He stood there stout and threatening, with small-pox marks covering his entire face!
For a full solemn effect, Mr. Nazem paused a moment, observing the lines and waiting for a deadly silence to fall. Then, he loudly proclaimed: “You have been sent to this great school to become human (Adam) – and I am going to make sure that you will become Adam!” He then cleared his throat and scanned the lines with a piercing gaze. “This school is first and foremost about discipline … and discipline starts with hygiene … and hygiene starts with clean hands!”
At the mention of “hands”, instinctively and automatically, all the 2nd to 6th graders stretched their arms. Slowly and sternly, Mr. Nazem picked up a long wooden rod (Khatkesh) and climbed down the balcony – for what came to be our first weekly hygiene inspection. Vigilantly, he walked among the lines with the Khatkesh swinging in his giant clutched fist. Starting with the six graders, every 30 seconds, the Khatkesh would suddenly go up and down, followed by a kid’s screech. In exceptionally unhygienic cases, you could hear a couple of curses and the bonus slaps in the face and neck.
Line by line, Nazem was getting closer and closer to my spot, until finally, he was standing between us and the second graders. I was holding my breath and extending my hands as straight as possible. When he looked at our irregular and trembling line, I was both scared and angry. Worst of all, his gaze stopped on me with a fearsome resentment – and I couldn’t help but to shout, “My hands are clean … my hands are clean”! He paused, grinned and replied, “But your pants are wet!”
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