As human beings, it’s in our nature to compare ourselves with those around us. Something as simple as your first and last name can describe so much about you and yet miss the picture entirely. As a half Persian, half Canadian, born in small town Alberta, I didn’t see much of a difference between myself and the other kids on my street. Sure I had darker features, but as a child you don’t notice these differences in race, culture, skin tone and religion until much later in life. I remember teachers and classmates started pointing out that I was different in elementary school with one simple question…
“What’s your name?”
My name is ‘Vafa’ and it means ‘Faithful’ or ‘Loyal’ in Farsi. Although most acquaintances are curious and intrigued by names they have never heard from cultures they are not familiar with, this was not necessarily the case when moving to Rwanda. I went to the only international school in the city, L’Ecole Belge de Kigali.
On my first day of elementary school, I remember being extremely nervous as my dad took me to school and introduced me to my new teacher. It was gym time, and the students were running laps around the basketball courts. As my father waved goodbye, I realized I was all-alone, in a new school with no friends. I told myself, everything was going to be alright, just try and fit in and don’t do anything stupid. Little did I know, some things in life are out of your control. Throughout the whole class, the teacher kept messing up my name in front of everyone. My new classmates laughed every time the confused, tongue-tied instructor, struggled to say my name… It was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life! I quickly became know as “Le Canadien avec le nom bizarre”. And just when I thought things couldn’t get worse… I couldn’t understand anyone because I didn’t speak a word of French.