It’s been two weeks now, but I only have one question that hammers my mind every day, from the second I open my eyes: „Why?” It’s been two weeks now, but I have not found the answer. I never will.
Tuesday morning, 8h15. Manar? She’s never late. That’s quite unusual for her. Ok, we know she’s been overworked lately, so many responsibilities for a young teacher of her age. She just got out of university last year, full of hopes and projects to change the world and the way the kids are thinking. She is so open-minded, it’s almost offensive in a country like Jordan. She sometimes even challenges the kids to re-think the values they are being taught at home. The rare moments she is not in class, she can be seen sitting at the bottom of the stairs, in the hallway, marking papers and thinking hard about how to upgrade this or that answer. Her young face already showed signs of worry, her forehead sometimes covered with frowns, silently sitting at her usual spot under a dim light.
8h30. The kids are still running around in the assembly room, realising slowly that their teacher is not coming in. Laughter mixed with murmurs run through the room as the kids get more and more agitated instead of getting ready for the day as usual. Julia steps in. She takes over Manar’s class and ushers the kids to the stairs, trying to look as natural and calm as possible as she guides them in the classroom. It takes some time to settle down 24 kids, everyone asking at the same time: „Where is Miss Manar?” „Is she not coming in today?” „Is she here tomorrow?” „What are we doing today?” 24 pairs of eyes, all looking at Miss Julia, who is actually asking herself the very same questions. But her priority now is to keep everything running as smoothly as possible, sticking to the daily routine of circle time, checking of homework, classwork and play time. Still, there is something lingering in the air that she cannot put her finger on; the feeling of eeriness, she felt like the queen sitting in the bottom of a dark beehive, surrounded by a bunch of buzzing bees.
15h15. Coffee smell fills the teachers’ room. Manar should be sitting here with us, having her coffee, chatting in a low voice with Julia, her hijab tightly fixed on her head and her coat covering her from head to toe. Then, she will get up with a sigh, her smile fading away and ready to carry on with the day, marking tests, designing worksheets, going shopping, cooking dinner, doing the dishes and starting everything all over again the next day. She will come in, smiling and grazing slightly the walls of the hallway with the bottom edge of her light-brown coat as she dashes down to her classroom and greets the children who all gather around her for a hug.
Wednesday morning, 7.45 am. I check in and go straight into the teachers’ room. Today is going to be another hot day with dry air and sandy dust in my throat by the end of the afternoon. I look out of the window: a donkey is struggling under its heavy burden while luxury cars overtake him and the bedouin walking slowly on the side of the road. For them, time is only a vague and meaningless concept: „fardaa”, although it means „tomorrow”, it can be anything from „now” to „never”. I sometimes envy the serenity of these people and how easily they seem to come to terms with their fate. Whatever hurdle or tragedy they come accross in life, they will take it with such phlegm and stoicism that can only be innate, written in the genes for centuries.
8 am. The kids start flocking in, dressed in their summer uniforms, longing for a trip on the beach, rather than another day at school. Neverthless, agitated and noisy as usual, they start playing in the playground, with some really loud screams and laughters. We are chatting with a cup of coffee while watching them, except for Julia, standing slightly aside from our group, and looking at the time almost every two minute. Manar? Where is she? I know they’ve been good friends ever since Manar set foot in the school last September. I can tell Julia is worried about her. The bell rings, and another uneventful day goes by without her.
Thursday, 7.45 The first thing I notice is the lack of coffee smell in the air. Instead, a heavy darkness fills the room with teachers sitting around in black hijabs and coats, as giant paralysed insects playing possum in the desert, trying to escape from a snake. The unmistakable sound of crying welcomes me and I suddenly spot Julia, sitting alone in a corner, with huge, blue circles around her eyes; it’s obvious that she didn’t have a good night sleep. Without a word, I give her a hug, and under the schock, only murmur one word into her ear: „Manar?” She doesn’t answer, but sobs uncontrollably, her tears rolling on her cheeks, and dropping down from her chin on her black shirt, leaving a mark every time, like raindrops in the desert sand. Ten minutes go by, in complete silence, only with a donkey braying into the air as it walks under the window with its bedouin master. Finally, she breaks this surreal silence and tries to make some coherent sentences between sobs. „I told her those stairs were dangerous and she should try and run downstairs whenever her husband gets difficult.” In the background, a chorus of blackness nods unanimously: „Insallah, he will get what he deserves. Insallah, she’s in a better place now.” It’s 8 am. The kids start to come in. No time to think about how the pieces of this tragic puzzle fit now together.