Kitchener-Waterloo

Waterloo student Lama Abdallah pens winning poem about wearing hijab

Lama Abdallah is one of three high school students in Waterloo region to win the University of Waterloo's HeforShe Writing Contest. She wrote about her experience of wearing a hijab in Canada.

'You have moulded me into a native speaker of excuses,' poem starts

Lama Abdallah is a Grade 12 student at Sir John A. Macdonald Secondary School in Waterloo. She wrote about her experience wearing a hijab in Canada and was one of three local high school students who won the University of Waterloo's HeforShe writing contest. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

How dare you imply

That I don't know my own mind

That I am so weak I bend to the wills of the men in my life

That this scarf is on my head

For any other reason than my wanting it to be

That I am a victim

Trapped in the chains of a barbaric faith

No more.

Those words are part of a powerful poem by Waterloo high school student Lama Abdallah about her experience wearing a hijab in Canada.

In her poem, Fluent in Excuses, the Grade 12 student at Sir John A. Macdonald in Waterloo talks about the questions she is regularly asked about her choice to wear the head covering.

"Sometimes you find yourself on the defensive automatically when someone asks you a question, for me I wear the hijab," Abdallah told CBC's The Morning Edition.

"I didn't like that I was fluent in excuses or that I had gotten used to saying whatever I could to make other people not feel bad for me."

She said she hopes her poem will help clear misconceptions around Muslim culture and hopes girls who wear the hijab don't feel like they need to be on the defensive.

Write about gender equity

Abdallah is one of three high school students in Waterloo region won $500 for her poem in the University of Waterloo's HeforShe Writing Contest, which was launched in the fall. The poem will also be published in an anthology.

Other winners included Rose Danen, who wrote a short story called The Broken Road and Kaleigh Wiens who wrote a non-fiction essay called Asexuality: Not Just for Flowers or Snowflakes. The winning pieces can be read on the WRDSB website.

The contest challenged students to write a poetry, fiction or non-fiction piece on gender equity and how it overlaps and connects between gender, race, ethnicity, faith or sexuality.

Ten writing pieces from the Waterloo Region District School Board will be published in the university's anthology on gender equity in March 2018.

Abdallah's love for poetry and admiration for the HeforShe Campaign pushed her to enter the contest with 97 other high school students in Waterloo region.

Here is Lama Abdallah's poem:

Fluent in Excuses

You have moulded me into a

Native speaker of Excuses

The straight, unaugmented truth

Is a decrepit book written in a forgotten language,

Faded and weighted down by the threat of time,

Weeping dust when at last it is opened.

And I am the isolated author trying to remember

Forgotten tastes and textures 

That were once sweat and pain and laughter

And a happy ending between the covers of a leather-bound manuscript.

I want my happy ending back.

And I will go through pain and sweat and laughter to get it.

No more

No, I'm not that hungry. The first day of fasting is usually hardest.

Fighting to get past a cage of clenched teeth

No more

No, I'm not dying of heat. You get used to it.

Regurgitated from the back of my throat

No more

Oh, it isn't that bad. I don't have to do my hair every morning since it's covered up anyway.

Slithering from the barrier of my lips

And no more of the questions

in your squinted eyes and pitying expressions 

Does your religion make you starve yourself

Will you be forced into an arranged marriage

Is your father allowed to beat you

Does he make you dress like that

Why you and not him why you and not him why you and not him why you and not him why you               

No more

I am not oppressed.

How dare you imply

That I don't know my own mind

That I am so weak I bend to the wills of the men in my life

That this scarf is on my head

For any other reason than my wanting it to be

That I am a victim

Trapped in the chains of a barbaric faith

No more.

I will re-learn what has been forgotten

I will dust off the rumpled pages

And lose myself in the beauty again.

Yes, I am a little hungry and I choose to be.

Yes, I am hot and I am glad.

Yes, I choose to wear the hijab.

And no, I will not be your excuse

To victimize women of my kind,

I will speak exactly what is on my mind

Without worrying how it conflicts with your views

On telling a woman how you think she should dress.

Corrections

  • A previous headline for this story spelled Lama Abdallah's name incorrectly.
    Dec 19, 2017 1:19 PM ET

now