Arts & Culture The Expat Issue

The expat who changed my life

"I often wonder how different my life would have been had Miss Speers not intervened and saved our friendship."

By Sharifah Alhinai

piece of art staring at a piece of art. That was the thought that went through my mind as I watched Aleya Lari excitedly examine the ‘Self-portrait’ of and by Vincent Van Gogh- her favourite artist- currently hanging in The Louvre Abu Dhabi.

Aleya (left), Miss Speers (center) and Sharifah Alhinai (right). Image:Courtesy.

Aleya and I have been best friends for more than 13 years now, ever since we were running around in shorts and pigtails in the loud, sunlit halls of elementary school. Back then, Aleya was ‘the new kid’ and though she was quiet she evoked the curiosity and interest of the entire fourth grade with her vibrant artwork. I remember thinking this girl is talented! Unfortunately, in the colorful rush that was the fourth grade, no friendship ever blossomed between us.  It wasn’t until we were desk neighbors a year later that we truly bonded. By the time we were in the sixth grade we were full-on ‘besties’, with the matching friendship bracelets to show for it and everything.

Halfway through the sixth grade, something happened that made Aleya and me ‘angry at each other’.  If you ask me what it was now, I won’t be able to tell you because I can’t remember for the life of me! Whatever it was, the reason felt so significant at the time that we didn’t talk to each other for weeks (decades in 11-year-old girl world)!  I thought our friendship was beyond salvation. Aleya probably did too.

Enter Miss Tiffany Speers.

Miss Speers was the kind of teacher every kid at that age would want. A Canadian who was in her 20s at the time, she was always dressed in cool, girly-colored Lululemon sportswear (a few girls even emulated her style).  We weren’t afraid to play a friendly-game of basketball with her before class or to hang back during break time and just have girl talk with her. She was young, fun, approachable, and sweet. On top of that, her lessons were always both entertaining and informative. We thought, and still think she was ‘the coolest teacher ever’.

Because Miss Speers was so in touch with the class, she immediately noticed when Aleya and I weren’t speaking anymore. And she didn’t like it. A few weeks into our fight, she discreetly called us both back into our empty classroom during recess, made us face each other and work it out. I remember she said that she thought our friendship was too great to lose and reminded us of the good times we had with each other. By the time recess was over and the rest of the girls were rushing back in, Aleya and I were best friends again.

I often wonder how different my life would have been had Miss Speers not intervened and saved our friendship.

I wouldn’t have been at The Louvre, celebrating Aleya’s birthday by ‘fangirling’ like a teenager in front of one of Van Gogh’s masterpieces. School would have been a totally different, inferior experience and my life certainly would have had less value and less color in it.

Sharifah Alhinai (left), Aleya (right). Courtesy.

Few people have made a positive impact on my life the way Miss Speers had and I always make sure I express my gratitude to them. So, here I am, expressing my gratitude. Miss Speers, I hope you realise the real magnitude of what you probably thought was just a small action at the time. Perhaps you don’t even remember this, but you brought art back into my life and, for that, I am eternally grateful. 

Sharifah Alhinai is the co-founder and managing storyteller of Sekka.

The views of the authors and writers who contribute to Sekka, and the views of the interviewees who are featured in Sekka, do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Sekka, its parent company, its owners, employees, and affiliates.