Last week, one of my students arrived at my nine o’clock class, and rather than pulling out his textbook, he pulled out a huge Tupperware full of these little, crispy donuts. He proceeded to pull more things out of his bag: paper plates, a carafe of Arabic coffee, the teeny tiny little Dixie cups that are used to drink Arabic coffee, and a sticky date sauce which he poured over the donuts. He was like the Mary Poppins of Arabic breakfast snacks. It was great.
This kind of thing is not at all uncommon in my line of work. I work with international students, people from countries where food is equated with friendship and care and respect and love. I teach them about participial adjectives and in-text citation. They teach me about Kabsa and glutinous rice balls stuffed with black sesame paste.
I once had a former student come up to me on campus and press a small box in my hand. “I’ve been looking for you all day to give you this, dear teacher.” Inside were Turkish pastries she had made herself, each a piece of art crafted out phyllo dough and pistachios.
The majority of my students are Middle Eastern. From countries like Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Oman. Every time there’s another horrible terrorist attack followed by fear-mongering and hate, I worry about them. I worry that people won’t treat my students with the same kindness that my students have treated me with.
I want to invite everyone who has ever said anything fearful or hate-filled to come into my classroom. I want them to sit down with us and talk and laugh and drink tiny cup after tiny cup of spicy Arabic coffee. I want them to see my students as I see them — as funny, kind, warm-hearted people, who sometimes, if you’re lucky, show up with donuts.