31 October 2004 / 16 Ramadan 1425
I think that blogging and email have been two of my means of procrastinating over the past few days. You see, I’m supposed to be marking student essays – 280 of them! First year students! And I have to have them all done by this Thursday – a physical impossibility. I am making it even more impossible (is that possible?) by procrastinating.
I love teaching; I love the research that my job obliges me to do; I would prefer to not have to mark essays and exams. Alhamdulillah, this makes me a normal university teacher.
Apart from emails and blogs, the other factor that has assisted in slowing down my marking is consultations with students. Unlike most other lecturers, I don’t have specific consultation times. I prefer to have an open- door for students. I sometimes think this is a huge mistake.
Students wanting to talk about the exams; students wanting to know about their essays (why do students expect that 280 essays can be marked in one day?); post-grad students wanting to talk about their research; students thinking that having a discussion with me about Marx and all kinds of leftist politics or about Palestine will be a break from their studying; students wanting to give me long explanations for why they still haven’t completed their essays that I’m supposed to finish marking by Thursday so they can use them in the weekend to study for their exam on Tuesday.
Then there's the student who is homeless and has psychological problems. He accosted (not physically) a female lecturer some weeks ago. Just before that, he refused to leave a colleague’s office because he disagreed with a point my colleague had made in a lecture. He’s been seen by campus security taking a bath at one of the taps in the gardens. He was, at the time, naked. So I need to ensure my open door is not too open.
But the one student that came to me early in the week still weighs heavily on my mind. What do I do about her? Is there any way to help her? Helping her to salvage as many credits as she can this year is part of what concerns me. The other part is thinking of how to help her to survive her life for the rest of this year and into the next.
Lerato (not her real name) and another student saw me in the passage and the other student stopped me and asked whether I would talk to Lerato since she has ‘some problems’. As we walked into my office, I noticed the bandages, one on each wrist. We sat down and I asked what the problem was. (Since I was fasting, I forgot to ask if she would have tea or coffee.)
Lerato is almost 20. In December, she met her father for the first time. She suddenly felt ‘fulfilled’, like her life had been completed. She had waited for this moment for 19 years. In February, he told her he wanted to have nothing to do with her. Since then this has been her second attempt at committing suicide.
Her marks for the first semester indicate that she is a talented student. (She got those marks despite the knockdown blow in February.) This semester she broke; she has handed in only two out of eight pieces of work (one of the two being my essay).
She spoke to me for about and hour, cried a lot, was devastated that her life had been made empty again, asked me what was wrong with her that her father didn’t want her in his life. She hasn’t told her mother any of this. It seems her mother is a tough woman who might not take too seriously this obsession that Lerato has. Of course, the mother probably has her own very legitimate issues with the father.
I spoke to her for a long time, trying to advise this young, smart woman whose life could be completely messed up within the next couple of weeks – if she makes it through them. I wrote her a letter that she could use to try and get her other lecturers to give her extensions for the work already overdue and to ask them to try and defer her exams. I contacted the campus counselling services and made an appointment for her to see them. I invited her to visit me and talk whenever she wants to.
I quietly prayed for her. Prayed that she would gain the strength to be confident again. Prayed that the inner Light of Allah within her breast would carry her through this. Prayed that she would recognise that Light and see that she too is divine. Prayed that she would get over this damn man who just dumped his daughter without taking any responsibility, walked in and out of her life with a few words and left behind a devastated young woman who had been about to make something great of her life.
I pray for her now.
But I have essays to mark. I can’t spend too much time praying. Or thinking. Certainly not emailing and writing blogs. Trying to find her? I don’t have the time. I think I’ll check with the counselling service. But I need to get through these 280 essays.
But maybe I shouldn’t think too much about this. Maybe I’ve done what I could and I should leave it to Allah to sort this out as only He knows how. Or maybe my saying this is shirking my responsibility.
Another beautiful, young woman. Life messed up by another man. May Allah have mercy on all us men.