Don't Write Me Off
Haddiyyah Tegally | May 2019
As a bookworm, I tend to feel bad when I meet people who tell me that they rarely read a book, let alone open one. Reading, especially fiction, has always been such a beautiful escape for me that I have trouble understanding those who view it as a chore. Is it the digital era that makes them less eager to invest their time in reading? Or is it because this activity is associated with past negative educational experiences in the minds of certain people?
It is not easy to be an emerging writer in Mauritius. You do not get much support, whether from local institutions, your family members, or your friends. Many of them have never read any of my written works. They say that it is due to lack of time, but if they actually read for pleasure, would they still come up with this argument? After all, if they are too busy to read a short story, how can they still manage to stay up late at night to binge-watch TV shows? Even when they get free books, they still do not read them. I am well aware that in this digital era, attention is changing and that it is easy to feel overwhelmed with the information overload. On the other hand, I feel that literacy is taken for granted. In this fast-evolving world, it seems unbelievable that 750 million adults around the globe still cannot read and write, and yet, it is a fact. A sad one indeed. I am grateful for the education I received, although I often felt underestimated for being more of a literature lover than a math geek or science nerd.
When I told people I wanted to become a writer, I was often discouraged, since for most of them, writing is “just a hobby.” I went to a public yet so-called elite school, which only valued future doctors, lawyers, or accountants. Students were rapidly placed in different streams according to their academic performance. I was in one of the top streams until the time had come to choose my field of study, when my desire to study literature came out as evidence. This decision was frowned upon by many. Furthermore, despite my abhorrence of numbers, I had to choose mathematics as one of my main subjects because apparently it was the only way for me to get a university degree or a good job. Of course, I learned (too late) that it was only to some degree true. I most probably still suffer from math trauma today. Despite having good results, I was placed in another class, with those labeled as “underachievers”. Many of them had chosen literature by default. Suddenly, I had new classmates. It was like being the new student at school. I lost my bearings and at the same time, my confidence.
Instead of nurturing a culture of reading and writing, schools can have an adverse effect on students. If I felt excluded merely because of my choice of subjects, I wonder then how children who are slow learners or have difficulty with reading and writing must feel. Just as I still hate counting, I assume that among those who struggle with literacy, many must have had to cope with negative experiences at school. There is too much pressure on students, right from an early age. I am confident that such a stressful environment affects the motivation of children with regard to literacy and learning. To help resolve this issue, I believe that there should be classes and events where reading and writing are promoted as fun and interactive activities, without any assessments and grades involved.
Literacy being a major part of education, it is essential to learn it in a positive environment, with adequate materials. With literacy comes the empowerment of individuals. It is key to lifelong learning and plays a major role in personal and collective growth. So, to ensure their empowerment, how about making kids read stories that are in their mother tongue? People need a richly literate environment if they want to integrate more and more reading and writing activities into their daily lives. Surely, it must help to have a good understanding of the oral language to be able to interact with the books which are in that same language. Young Mauritian writers should also be encouraged to write more in their mother tongue to ensure a sustainability of both demand and supply. Sadly, there are no local institutions offering courses in creative writing. Many of the local schools are not even willing to pay well-known Mauritian authors to facilitate writing workshops. I grew up with the idea that opportunities are very limited in Mauritius and that my life would really begin the day I leave the island. Nevertheless, I must say that the nation has come a long way. Ten years ago, the first Mauritian Creole dictionary was released. The language is now being increasingly promoted in various industries.
Recently, I tried to apply to creative writing courses abroad and was appalled to see how expensive they were. And then the Women’s Creative Mentorship Project happened! Who would have thought that my “hobby” would bring me to the United States for an in-person conference? Who would have thought that this same “hobby” would enable me to meet writers and publishers from different parts of the world? No, I did not become an accountant or a lawyer, regardless of my teachers’ advice. But guess what? I am writing more than ever. I am standing on the threshold of new possibilities, and it feels good.
Haddiyyah Tegally is the author of two short stories, "Rave Party en fumée" and "Connectés," which were published in Collection Maurice (a collection of short stories published in Mauritius) in 2017 and 2018 respectively. The 26-year-old writer uses her pen as a way to reach out to the marginalised. Recently, she has been selected for the International Writing Program's Women's Creative Mentorship Project and is currently working on her first novel with the support of her mentor, Shenaz Patel. Haddiyyah holds a Bachelor's degree in Mass Communication and was awarded the Bachelor of Arts Mass Communication Challenge Trophy in 2016.