Tuesday, January 21, 2014

GOOD-BYE MESHARI: Remembering a former Saudi student who died too soon

MEMORIES OF MESHARI AND THE MARSHMELLOW CHALLENGE. Meshari (right) took my blogging class at the Georgia Tech Language Institute three times! His blogging allowed me to get to know him in a special way. Read this blog for more photos and to read about why we did the Marshmellow Challenge in one of three blogging classes I taught Meshari!.(photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
This Rumi poem is for you Meshari with affection:

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.

Ideas, language, even the phrase "each other" doesn't make any sense.

"I'll meet you there" Meshari 
 (photo from Facebook)
I still don't know the details of Meshari's death. I saw the first notice of it surface on Facebook two days ago when a former blogging student, Clara, from Spain mentioned mourning him. Surely, there are more Meshari's than the one Clara and I shared, I told myself. Then another former Language Institute student, one from Gabon, posted a status update honoring the loss of Meshari and posted a photo with "my"
Meshari in it.  Meshari is dead? Really?

And as I am composing this blog to memorialize Meshari and process my feelings of loss, Clara wrote back to me in a private message on Facebook and informed me that Meshari died in a car crash on Sunday, January 19 in Saudi Arabia, his home country. Meshari is gone suddenly. Just like that. 

I met Meshari for the first time either in the fall of 2010 or in January of 2011. He had enrolled in my blogging class at the GT Language Institute. He was a highly spirited person who had clearly taken my "non-academic" writing class to "cruise" while maintaining his visa status and awaiting acceptance into a university graduate program.

Meshari knew how to navigate the boundaries between displaying respectable student behavior and having irreverent good fun. Since I was teaching the blogging class from a creative writing perspective, I asked students to write some poetry and gave them some guided exercises on metaphor to help them use visual language in English. For starters, I asked students to bring in examples of metaphors from their culture and language. Here is the metaphor Meshari brought me:

"I never thought the burka would seduce me."

And yes, this metaphor that Meshari had taken from a contemporary Arabic song challenged all of us! He had meant for his response to the metaphor assignment to provoke discussion--and indeed it did!

We began by answering non-Muslim student questions about what a "burka" is and how is it different from a "hijab" before moving onto the meaning of "seduce." (See this blog for a more in-depth discussion about this class period.)

Within days, Meshari had translated the lyrics to the song. I am reposting those lyrics here because I treasure it as the handiwork of Meshari:

I never thought the burkas would ever seduce me
Until I saw Al Nofood Mountains wearing them.
All mighty God when these eyes looked at me
Charming, sleepy, magical....
In their magic, Saad how they put me to my knees!
My time was wasted in loving those eyes.
If they hurt me and also heal me
I'm sure I'll die soon.
Saad tell those charming mountains
If they want me to live longer,
If they see me,
I am just thinking about their magic
Even when I am asleep
I am still thinking about the burkas…

It was so typical of Meshari to follow what was fun for him at the same time as meeting the requirements of the assignment! I am laughing now, as I remember my surprise and anxiety the second time and third time that Meshari showed up to take my blogging class! He spent three sessions working on a blog he had named after one of his favorite hobbies, "Smoking Hookah+." 

Now if you go to his blog, Smoking Hookah+ on blogspot, all of his posts and profile have been deleted. This practice of students deleting their blogs after completing my course is all too common, but I understand that as students advance in their professional careers and educations often choose to remove their experiments in English writing from the internet.

It is heartbreaking to me that as I search for pieces of Meshari as I knew him on his blog and on Facebook, that they have vaporized. His Facebook profile and cover photos have been replaced with blackness. Some of his status updates remain, but images of Meshari are gone.

Here is a class photo of the second or third time Meshari took my blogging class.
BLOGGING CLASS 2011. Meshari is standing in the back row, second from the right.(photo by unknown)

 What will I remember about Meshari? His laughter! One time in class, I used laughter yoga exercises as a warm up lesson to enliven students and let them see how differently they would write afterwards. Well, Meshari laughed so hard and then excused himself from class. He didn't return. Later, he explained that it was such a cultural challenge for him to "fake" laughter. He said his culture in Saudi Arabia is much more joyful and filled with laughter than our U.S. culture. 

Then there was the time I couldn't find Meshari in blogging class until I wandered to the last rows of computers in the computer lab and found him laying on the floor with his headphones on listening to an important soccer game. Months later, Meshari started instant messaging me on Facebook, and we were remembering the "good times" in my class. When I reminded him of his soccer listening behavior, he enthusiastically reported that while currently working in a bank with his clients, he still kept the soccer game on and followed it!

I will remember Meshari's smile, laughter, and readiness to have fun. My life was made better by my having met this spirited young man. I will miss him. I mourn his too-early death and grieve for his friends and family as they cope with their loss of Meshari.

This is for you Meshari:


  1. I am so sorry to read about your loss and the world's loss of Meshari. People come into our lives for a reason and then they are gone. Also for a reason. It seems that you have told us the reasons for Meshari coming into your life." I will remember Meshari's smile, laughter, and readiness to have fun. My life was made better by my having met this spirited young man." I think the world has lost another good one but you have written a fitting tribute to him and his memory.He will be remembered....

  2. He is definitely in a better place right now..

  3. What a beautiful tribute for a beautiful soul. Thank you for sharing Ruth. Wrapping you around with infinite love and wisdom my friend.