Life of a Rooster

Memoirs of a psychiatrist, journalist and educator


on October 25, 2013

Eventually, the novelty wore off, and other students did accept us into their world. My report cards had great comments from the teachers and very good grades, so my parents were happy.

I became good friends with a girl named Francoise. She even invited me one day for “gouter”. That is a meal similar to the English high tea, that is taken around 4 or 4:30pm and consists of bread or pastries accompanied by a hot drink. I was so elated I skipped all the way to her apartment on the Place St Ferdinand, a stone throw from the school.  Her mother served us hot chocolate and crepes. French hot chocolate is made from real chocolate, not powdered chocolate. It is smooth and rich and unctuous, a child’s ambrosia. The crepes were already stacked high on a plate which Francoise’s mother took out of the oven where they were kept warm. We sprinkled powdered sugar on them, and she showed me how to roll them and eat them. I loved Francoise and her mother!

hot chocolate

hot chocolate

a stack of crepes

a stack of crepes


Being Chinese, that was my first introduction to hot chocolate and crepes. I’d never seen, smelled or tasted them, let alone made them. So I was very happy when, in early February, which is crepe season in France, the maitresse wrote a crepe recipe on the blackboard and made us copy it. Then she explained it. I was flabbergasted. What do you mean, pour some into a pan? I raised my finger (in France you raise only the index finger, not the whole hand). “Yes, Fawzia?”

“Madame, Francoise’s mother does not make them in a pan. She makes them in an oven.”

The entire classroom shook and rocked with laughter, which rolled on and on. The teacher was not amused. “Fawzia, just sit down!”

I turned to look at Francoise for some support, but her face had a strange embarrassed expression on it. She bent her head to avoid my gaze. My heart sank. Oh, no. My best friend, who had invited me to gouter! And now I had ridiculed her mother in front of the whole class! I could have sobbed out loud! But I swallowed all and sat down.

Obviously, to the adult me now, Francoise was only embarrassed on my behalf. But I didn’t know then. We never discussed the episode. And now, I think that this crepes-made-in-an-oven episode might have been the very last time that I voluntarily raised my finger in class. I cannot recall a single time other than this one, in the next ten years, of me raising my finger or hand in class voluntarily.

When the teacher asked a question, I would try to disappear from her sight, lowering my head and my gaze to avoid being called upon. Eventually, if no one knew the answer, she would call me, saying, “OK, Fawzia, you know the answer, what is it?” I would then drag myself out of my seat, stand up, and find myself shaking, try to speak and stutter instead. I would sweat profusely, and my heart would beat so hard my entire chest would resonate and shake. My answer would always be correct, but that did not help the severe stress anxiety that had now settled itself in me.

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