Pen Pals

Dears, images-3

I am having a Greek Salad (with pickles on it) at the Mushrif Mall. The feta cheese in Abu Dhabi is out of this world. Sometimes I just have a few slices for breakfast.

Yesterday, I had the best pedicure ever at the Marina Mall. Two hours of getting all the gungarunga off my soles. Fantastic. I never even got antsy, which Nancy is prone to do.

Before you shriek about all this malling, you must know mall culture here is important and delightful. People from all walks of life and regions, as well as religions, stroll slowly and stop often to sip strong coffee and chat.

It’s like Paris’ cafe culture, but located inside because of the heat. I am not typically a mall person but I love it. This mall features an aquarium and I’m looking at it from the Mugg & Bean (a South African chain of coffee shops).

Mushrif Mall is located near David’s school where I just gave a talk on writing to 100 fifth graders. I loved looking out from the stage at a sea of international children. l think they liked looking back at a Filippino Mermaid–of which I am neither. But writing allows us to craft our own identities out of the landscape (or seascape) of our lives.

Unknown-2And some time ago, perhaps when I was a Fifth Grader, I decided to be a writer. I told David’s classmates how lots of people told me NOT to write and/or that I couldn’t do it. I forged ahead anyway. Failing spectacularly at times. Finding my voice, ironically, as my father lost his.

I read a few passages from “Brain in a Jar,” and then asked for questions. About 100 hands went up. They were so engaged in the story of telling stories.

“Have you written a book for kids?”

“When did you start writing?”

“Are you famous?”

“Will you read us the ending?”

“Where is your grandfather’s brain now?”

“What’s your next book about?”

I easily could have taken questions all afternoon, but the kids had to head back to classes after a half an hour. I loved every second of talking with the kids and listening to them.  A few lingered behind to ask me something in private.

One girl came to tell me she was from South Korea, and we greeted each other in Korean. I had mentioned in my earlier remarks that a murder in Seoul was one of my tales to tell. I had also mentioned that my first writing job was for the Korea Herald during the 1988 Summer Olympics.

And then, another girl came to ask a question. I couldn’t hear her at first, and asked her to speak up. She repeated, her accent being non-American but not possible to pin down, and the words stopped me in my tracks: Why don’t you write about a mass shooting at a mall?

How do you answer that? Why is she asking that? What am I supposed to say? Does she think mall shootings are common in malls in America? Or, was she in Kenya when a shopping mall was attacked there? Did I prompt her by talking about murder in Seoul? WHAT DO I DO? I didn’t have the skills to answer her so settled on, “I don’t think I want to write that book.”

images-2She smiled and ran off to join her class. Happy and carefree. May she stay forever young.

And just FYI, lest you think it’s all iced coffee and warm waters for us here, David has been teased by some international boys for being American. The teacher and assistant principal are working on solutions. David doesn’t seem particularly bothered.

Which brings me here, to Mushrif Mall, one of the most peaceful places on Earth, wondering what prompted that little girl’s question. TV? Real life? A movie? Her homeland? My homeland?

I had intended–but forgot in the flurry of questions–to end my talk with a reference to the pen being mightier than the sword. It’s a phrase that shows up in histories and cultures around the world. West and East. North and South. In fact, I recently discovered that the Prophet Muhammad once said, “The ink of the scholar is holier than the blood of the martyr.”

I’m looking at the school of fish swimming their tank, and wondering about the kids who can20140928_162731‘t go to school today because of violence in their countries. Or after violence in their own classrooms, as has happened repeatedly in my country.20140928_162703

In lieu of righting these wrongs, for now, we can write about them.20140928_162819



P.S. After school, David gave me a thank you letter from everyone in his class. He read them to me in the cab on the way home, while I looked out the window and cried.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s