The Odyssey

Only Anwar seemed interested in the saga of Odysseus. He was at full attention learning about Ithaca, Penelope and Telemachus, the abduction of Helen from Menelaus, and Odysseus’s journey to war, building trojan horses, and being captured by Polyphemus, the Cyclops. I drew a one eyed monster, turned around, and everyone was all of a sudden interested in the story.  They stayed with me all the way to Odysseus’s return to Ithaca where, after slaying the wretched, squatting, vile suitors to Penelope, enjoyed a fine feast with his wife and son. I gave each student a sesame seed bar from Greece, so they could feast as Odysseus would have. They demanded to know if it was halal. A quick check with another teacher, and they were satisfied. I should have started with the honey bars, … or the Cyclops.

The kids came back from break complaining of the heat. As the girls sat down, they tugged at their hijabs to let air in. One pulled hers off just to cool down. The others followed. After a minute, they began to put their hijabs back on. I said that in my class, hijab was optional. They left them off for the lesson.

After reviewing the weekly spelling words, then quizzing them on English fraction words such as half, third, fourth (quarter) … tenths, I gave them free time. One girl put her hijab back on and worked on a USA puzzle with the boys. The other two girls walked to the floor fan and delighted in letting the wind blow through their loose hair. They’d turn toward me, bent forward and let their hair fall over their faces. Then they’d pop up and say, “ahhh!” They said they were hantu. Ghosts.

Arfat led the puzzle builders, but he was talking in Rohingya. I demanded, “English only!” Arfat then barked orders at his team of puzzle piece wranglers, “I need Nebraska! Please may I have Nebraska?”

Meanwhile, the hantu girls sang a tune I recognized: the Spongebob Squarepants theme song. Knowing the lyrics by heart (who doesn’t???), I wrote them out on the board and explained the words they didn’t know; absorbent, porous, nautical, nonsense. We sang Spongebob as they flipped their wild hair in the fan and hissed like hantu.

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