“Mom, I don’t want to go to school.” I said as my mother was combing my hair to put the while bow on it. It was September 23, the first day of fall and when school started in
Tehran. I was getting ready to go to the Armenian
school to start first grade.
“Gayayee, eat some breakfast,” said my dad in a tender tone. I never had appetite in the mornings. My older brother was starting fourth grade and the youngest brother was not school age yet.
As we were getting ready I could hear the Bugs Bunny cartoon on T.V. It was in Farsi. Our home language was Armenian but all the television programs were in Farsi. I had quit kindergarten and preschool. But this time I did not have a choice. My mom had sewn my uniform, navy blue dress with two pockets and a white collar. In those days most girls wore white bows on their hair. If they had long hair they put them in pony tail or two braids with the white ribbons tying the ends. I wore white socks with lace and black shoes.
My dad had bought us new briefcases. I was excited because everybody was telling me, “Wow, you are starting school.” I did not know why that was something exciting. I wanted to stay home, play with my dolls, sit on the swing in our backyard, or watch cartoons.
How can this be fun? Spending time with strange kids was scary. I didn’t want to sing or dance. The first day of preschool was devastating. Mom had left me there hoping I would adjust, but while the other kids were doing a circle dance to the piano music I sat next to the teacher crying. I did not return to school. The following year I stayed in kindergarten for one week, but I did not play with the other kids. During recess and lunch I searched for my older cousin to talk with her.
On that sunny fall morning of 1963 to start my first grade class the whole family got into the red 1958
Plymouth. The school was ten minutes away. My mom took me to where I was supposed to line
up. Then they took my brother to the
other school where upper-grader attended.
It was a block away.
The janitor brought a big hammer and hit the bell that looked like an upside down pot. Everybody line up quietly. First grade boys and girls, and fifth and sixth grade girls only attended that campus. Even though this was a private Armenian school we followed the rules, boys and girls were separated after fourth grade. We all sang the song praising the king of
Iran, the Shah. That was our flag salute. After that we prayed in Armenian, and then we
walked to our classrooms.
The playground teacher was in charge of student’s behavior. Mrs. Hamasik was famous for her toughness. She yelled from the top of the stairs where she could see everybody. We all faced her. I wanted to turn around and look at my mom but I was so scared to turn my head. We lined up in pairs. I did not know anybody in the line. As I looked at the kids with their friends, I wish one of my cousins were there. I wanted my mom to hold my hand. But she had left to take my brother to the other campus. Tears filled my eyes, but I was afraid to cry. I saw Mrs. Hamasik yelling at some kids. I was like a statue with tears. My stomach was hurting. I didn’t know what was going on. The principal came forward on the second floor patio and said, “Ready, start.” All the students started to sing.
The school consisted of an old two story building from 19th century. The classrooms were upstairs. They used the first floor for storage I climbed the big stairs and entered the corner classroom. There was a window in the back facing the ally. The window was high with bars, it was like a prison. We could not see anything.
I sat next to a boy called Razmik. The wooden desks had a flat part with a curved dent to hold pens and ink. The rest of it had a tilt to hold the book in an angle.
The homeroom teacher walked in. We stood up to salute her. She spoke Armenian and smiled. She wrote the letters A and S on the blackboard. We repeated. Then we started reciting the Armenian alphabet without recognizing the letters. “Where is my mom?” I thought. “I don’t know the alphabet. How come the other kids know how to recite the letters in order?” Finally, the bell rang and we had ten minute recess. I went to the playground and sat at a bench. There were tall pine trees near the gate. There was a tunnel passage to got to the large gate. I was thirsty but I did not want to use the long sink with six faucets. Kids could use their cups or use their hands to hold water to drink.
As he janitor rang the bell again we lined up to go inside. The language teacher for Farsi walked in. She was Armenian but she had to speak Farsi. My heart was pounding fast. I was looking around and following what other kids were doing. When she switched to Armenian I felt relieved. She wrote the letters A and B and we practiced writing those letters. To write A in Farsi you just draw a line from top to bottom like the letter I in English, but then there is a sign on top like an eyebrow. They call it the hat. It was hard to draw and make the hat right on top with the correct curve. Letter b had a dot under it.
It was time for the second recess. I was hungry. As I put my hand in the pocket of my uniform I found some nuts and raisons. My mom had put them there. I smiled, that was a sweet surprise. She knew I didn’t like eating breakfast but I would be hungry later on. I was very skinny and to be healthy I needed to be chubby. Everybody was worried.
The third session was math. Miss Hasmik walked in. She had a beautiful smile. Miss Hasmik was tall and slender, with long red hair. She looked like an Italian actress. She asked us to stand up and clap our hands and chant. She could tell we were not paying attention and needed to be energized.
I don’t recall the rest but I was so happy to see my dad. After school we went to the local stationary store to buy the school supplies. The store was packed with parents and kids. The smell of the erasers and new books has stayed with me.
As we arrived home, my brother ran to the backyard to play. I took off my uniform and hang it on a chair. Mom served us rice and stew. After eating and playing a little bit, I sat down to do my homework. The new notebooks and pencils were so clean. I had homework in Armenian and Farsi. Finally, I was a student. Staying home was not an option. I learned a new role.
Saturday, May 18, 2013