The summer after my junior year in the American University in Cairo (AUC) I took a psychology class, Psych 400: Drugs and Human Behaviour. Other than the subject which was highly captivating for 20-year-old me, the class conveniently started at 3 pm twice a week and a couple of close friends who majored in psychology attended with me. The teacher was in her late 20s and was not from the AUC staff, but she initially taught at Cairo University and was there only for the summer course.
On the first day of class, she asked us to give her an example of an amphetamine. I was the first to say ‘speed’, to which she disagreed, saying that speed is a psychedelic. I smiled and confidently told her “No, speed is an amphetamine”. She disagreed again and repeated that it’s a psychedelic, before I did the same and we left it at that.
During the break, I could see a couple of geeks sitting in the front row, a boy and a girl, carrying the book and going towards the teacher. I got distracted for a minute before the couple came to me and said that I was right. They showed me the Amphetamine chapter and plastered right there on the first page the example of an amphetamine was indeed ‘speed’. I didn’t have the book yet, but I certainly didn’t need it to know such common-knowledge bit of info.
I then thought I’d make it easier on the both of us and went to chat with the teacher. “You were right, Omar. Speed is an amphetamine,” she began by telling me. “Thank you for adding this to my knowledge.”
“You’re most welcome. I’d like to share with you something on the first day of class. Uhm… I know everything about these different classes of drugs because I’ve done all these drugs. I also read a lot about each because it’s a favourite topic of mine.”
By the end of my confession I could see a moderately worried look on her face. “But why?,” she asked.
“Because the world of altered states, consciousness, and the mind is fun. It is through which one can learn a whole lot about themselves and others,” I cheerfully responded.
“Did you ever seek treatment?” She asked again.
“Oh… no, no. I’ve tried all these drugs and that’s it. I’m not hooked or anything and I just do it for fun.”
Knowing that I didn’t get into serious trouble with drugs until some years after graduating, I was being completely honest with her. She thanked me again for sharing what I did and that was how we began getting along.
Throughout the entire six-week course I became the Golden Boy of the class — alongside being the usual class clown, which then I could get away with more easily. So whenever the teacher would be looking for a tough answer she’d look at me and inquire: “And the right answer, Omar?”
“...Inhalants are chemicals found in a variety of products such as cleaning fluids, glue, paint, paint thinner, nail polish remover, aerosol sprays, lighter fuel. The substances are sniffed or “huffed” , which is the act of inhaling the vapour. In Egypt, inhalants in the form of glue (الكلّة) are common between street children due to its availability and cheap prices. The high is short lasting but on the long run can cause significant damage, mental and physical. …”
And I would drop truth bombs one after the other — sharing my hard-acquired street knowledge while entertaining the teacher as well as the rest of the kids.
It truly felt wonderful to be that student who had all the answers. Even though at the time I was that cool psychedelic dude with long hair who always sat at the back, adding some geekiness to the mix was certainly wicked. It was actually something which rarely happened after maybe second grade at The Jésuites during math class with Madame Nitsa; even then I was one of three or four other Golden Boys. In Psychology 400, however, there was no competition and I was fully dominating.
Naturally, I aced the mid-term with 29 out of 30. But I did something rather odd on the exam paper. As you can see in the featured photo, the teacher added those exclamation marks. And that’s because for some reason I wrote the name of a different teacher. It’s funny how everything I wrote in the test was right, except that little bit of info. Perhaps ‘priority’ is the price my memory had to pay.
Now as I’m writing these lines, I’m having doubts about that instance. Did I not know the teacher’s name and left it blank? But I could have always asked. I’m only saying so because the name, Dr. Khalifa, is written by a different pen, meaning that it was added later. I don’t currently have a transcript so I cannot tell if that was her name. I’m not even sure which is worse: Not knowing or forgetting the name of your teacher after spending together three hours per week for a period of three/four weeks, or thinking she had a totally different name? Oh well.
As for the final, I clearly remember the two essay questions; one was explain the effect of marijuana and the other is the effects of cocaine. So I passionately wrote what I knew and apparently it was more than enough. I aced the final as well. This time I got the full 30 out of 30, ending with a glittery ‘A’ (plus) for the course.
When it came to my major, Journalism and Mass Communication, and both minors, Psychology and Philosophy, I was more of a B student, which I thought was enough because I wanted to have a good time during those four years, consequently I never over-studied. This specific course, though, was different. I loved the topic. Besides, while I already knew all the basics I only needed to learn the technical stuff. And that was a piece of cake.
When in much later years my mother once happened to take a look at the transcript, the ‘A’ next to Drugs and Human Behaviour shone like the sun, which made her giggle and sarcastically say: Of Course!
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