Today I went to a school about half an hour outside Toronto and presented ESL to Author to a group of grades six, seven and eights. ESL stands for English as a Second Language.

Basically I talked about how I was an ESL student when I first arrived in Canada. For me to become an author in English, was my dream come true.

It’s a complex presentation that meanders through the racism I suffered when I was a kid in a small town in the ’60’s to a turning point in my grade eight year that became the climactic scene in my novel Dahling If You Luv Me Would You Please Please Smile.

Remarkably, the librarian had tracked down a copy of Dahling through, it was a copy with numerous library markings on it and it had originally come from the Winnipeg Library system. It was tattered and worn but the kids absolutely loved it!

It is SO nice when the kids have actually read my book before I arrive.  Usually it doesn’t happen. I get there, and the kids have never heard of me even though the teachers may have.

But here, the grade sevens had read all of Dahling, and the grade sixes were more than half way through.

The presentation goes through the process of me trying to get published, including my first attempt at a picture book, and then the first story that kind of did get published.

My husband was on the majlis (the board) and they asked me to write for the women’s page. I thought, housecleaning tips and recipes! No thanks! I said, “Give me the children’s page, I’ll write some stories.”

And since the first rule of writing is write what you know, I got an idea to write a story about a boy who wakes up for Fajr prayer, the first prayer of the day, the one before sunrise (in the summer that means getting out of bed by 5 a.m.). Before we pray we have to wash–a lot! It’s called wudu, where we wash our hands three times,  our mouth three times, our nose three times, our face three times, our right arms to the elbows three times, our left arms to the elbows three times, then we wet our hair, clean our ears and then wash our right foot to the ankle three times and our left foot to the ankle three times!

Then if you fart or go to the bathroom, you have to go back and make wudu again.

You have to be in this state of wudu before you pray or your prayer isn’t valid. I got an idea. I wrote a story about a boy who gets up to pray Fajr, but in the middle of his prayer, he’s got a big problem, he has to fart! But he doesn’t want to go back and make wudu again, so he squeezes and hopes nothing slips out.

At this point the kids are laughing pretty hard. When I describe the contortions he makes to keep from breaking his wudu while he’s praying, it really is pretty funny! Of course the boy in the story doesn’t quite make it, and then it becomes a dilemma of conscience. It’s actually a story about spiritual awakening and is a very popular way to convey information about my culture in a friendly way.

(This is my story Fajr and it was first published in this community newsletterand eventually became the first story in my book Muslim Child. (I wanted to start with a story that ‘demystified’ Muslims, brought us down to earth, showed how human we are–and what could be more human than having to fart?)

Then I talk about the reaction it got from the community, including grown men coming up to me and saying, “Rukhsana, that was such a good story! I know just what it feels like to try not to fart while I’m praying!”

I always end the presentation by telling the beginning of the novel Dahling. I was a bit worried about this group getting bored because so many of them had already read that part, but I needn’t have worried. They were fine, very attentive, and at the end they had some excellent questions for me, and then came one very cheeky question from a big guy sitting in the back row.

It is still the case that the back row is reserved for the ‘coolest’ kids. And he had a big smirk on his face when he asked, “So Miss, do you ever fart when you pray?”

All the kids laughed!

I didn’t even hesitate!

I said, “YAAAH! (like duh) What do you think? I just go back make wudu and pray again.”

All the kids laughed with me and against him. He looked pretty embarrassed.

A few minutes later he asked a more ‘respectful’ question.

But honestly, I know some teachers find certain questions like how old I am, or how much money I make, inappropriate.

As for age, I never have a problem telling them flat out how old I am. (48) And I can easily maneuver around questions about how much money I make.

Those are not impertinent questions at all. The fart question was, but no damage done.

That’ll teach him, the cheeky little beggar!

Later the teachers came up to me and said that this had been a pretty tough group. They had been a bit concerned that they wouldn’t be engaged!

Ha! I’ve had much tougher crowds than that! Kids that were downright scary! These were a piece of cake.