"Ignorance is bliss" some people say. Not always, but I can definitely defend this expression using life as a kid. Kids are ignorant, and they're happy, and alot of this happiness wouldn't amount to the same if they were looking at their life through educated, adult eyes.
When I was a kid, we moved from London to Dubai and life flipped a one-eighty degrees. Everything was new: from the yellow sky to the multitude of fast-food that was suddenly permissible, from small colourful classrooms to huge confusing ones, from silent house-lined roads to high-rise buildings on streets that never shut up.
As we slowly started to settle into our new city, the friends and acquaintances that I expected would quickly replace the many we had had in London weren't coming. "We don't know them yet- how can I send you to a house I know nothing about?"- explained my mom every time I huffed away after a rejected birthday party invite.
One very ordinary morning brought a knock on the door. A wobbly woman stood there, dressed in an over-sized shirt, trousers that did nothing to complement her figure, and a hijab shabbily tied around her head in haste. A boy my age and a girl two years younger cluttered around her legs. "Ah! You have a new friend now!" she bellowed, eyeing me top to bottom, before shoving them to me with a laugh. "Yalla, go play! Leave me alone with khala our neighbour!' She stepped in uninvited and unnoticed by my mother, who was busy staring at my new friends' bare and dirty feet in horror. Little did she know how accustomed my mother's sparking-clean floor would soon become to their rough feet.
Our visitor came from a flat two floors beneath us: Palestinian, and one of two wives to a man, from an Iraqi village we had never heard of, whose face hadn't learnt how to smile. Their two-roomed apartment was cramped with two families and a zillion of objects, boxes and equipment in no discernible pattern. Zaid and Israa spoke a coarse hybrid of Palestinian-Iraqi dialect and had a wide vocabulary of words that even the walls of our own house would shrink away from. They rang the bell two or three times at uncustomary times of the day to play with us, always with an update on the status back home before letting themselves in.
"Mama said to get out off her sight"
"The television is broken."
"They're having a fight."
Zaid would occasionally grab the garbage bin mid-conversation to spit in. He and his sister were more comfortable walking around our house than we ourselves were. They'd barge into the kitchen for a snack and peek into rooms to see what everyone else was up to. In our family, my father's afternoon nap-time was holy and had to be respected with utmost silence, but any attempts at hushing them up would be met with "Okay, don't worry, I'll go listen at his door to make sure he's asleep first."
My mother, courteous as she is, allowed the kids inside everyday, and from time to time, their mother herself, who like her children thought it perfectly normal to invite herself into my parents' bedroom and spread the collection of latest clothes she'd brought on their bed for display. But her pursed lips and tight smile spoke volumes of the inner debate inside her- between being the polite, good neighbour and between not allowing this clearly un-cultured family from getting too close. This worry intensified after we went to a clothes store once (they had spotted us climbing into the car and hurried over to join us) and I ended up running between clothing racks playing hide and seek, avoiding my mother's glares.
I remember the day they moved out. Zaid and Israa came over to say their goodbyes. They were exceptionally quiet. My sister and I tried to soften up the atmosphere by cracking a few jokes. They laughed but I noticed their eyes shined with tears. All I could see then was that these kids didn't follow the same rules we did. That hadn't come in the way of our play-time. I was blind to all the socio-economic differences between us- to the completely different background their family came from and the strikingly mismatched way we had been reared.
And that is why I say sometimes ignorance can be bliss. Because if it was not for the blind innocence of kids, Zaid and Israa would never have been able to play with us. They wouldn't have had an escape from the awful environment they faced at home, and they wouldn't have been able to witness a stable family. When they cross my mind, I wonder where they are, what they're doing, and hope they're okay, but deep down, I know if I ever did meet them, the adult me wouldn't be able to ignore the gulf of differences between us.