In 2010 I was teaching a grade 10 English class at a badly-managed school near the Empty Quarter.  They were, in many ways, a group of nice kids; loud, excitable, but overall pretty nice.  For whatever reason, their English as a group was better than most other classes.

Chief of the loudmouths was a kid named Tareq – scrawny, acted more like a 6th grader than a 10th grader, tended to shout out answers, but spoke passable English.  When I yelled at him in just the right amounts, he did his work.

That grade 10 was scared of me; maybe that’s why I liked them.

One day, in the department office, a wiry, flash-white bearded Bedouin came looking for me.  Tareq in tow, he explained, in the Bedouin dialect that modernization had nearly wiped out, that he was Tareq’s grandfather.

People did this a lot out there; when they wanted something, they just showed up, no matter the hour.  Parent-teacher conferences happened when a guy appeared and hunted you down.

Dressed as though he were fresh from the desert and carrying a thick, heavy camel-whipping cane, the grandfather extolled at length what a good student should do.  My Arabic was horrific; I followed a few bits here and there, mostly about the necessity for Tareq to both read and write in English.  The whole staff froze and listened; getting that group of English teachers to go silent was no mean feat.  The man had gravitas; his meandering speech was given as though he were a sheikh leading his men into battle in the days before oil.

He turned to me.  My department head translated: “If Tareq is bad, if he talks back, you should hit him with this stick.”  He shoved his cane towards me.

And we laughed.  Me, the English department, the Bedouin grandfather, and, nervously, even Tareq.

I declined the cane, pointed to the one I already had sitting on my desk, and thanked him for the permission to beat his grandson.

Tareq was a pretty good student after that.

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