x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

A trip to high school delivers a blast from the past

A quick nostalgia filled visit back to a familiar place: high school.

I've entertained the idea of going back to my high school for a while. Passing it every day for the past few months on my way to work has piqued my curiosity, making me wonder if and how it has changed since I last left it in 2006.

The American International School in Abu Dhabi (AISA) was where I spent my formative school years, from grade five to 12. On a nostalgia-fuelled impulse one afternoon, I decided to pop by for a quick visit after hours.

From the outside, the school looked exactly the same as it always had, and I strolled into the "girls' side" as though I had never left.

However, as I walked in and navigated the empty corridors, I was quickly confronted with an AISA that was now a remodelled Technicolor version of the one in my memory.

The once-unremarkable bathrooms are now blindingly white and fitted with vending machines, and the ancient artefacts in the computer room have been replaced in favour of spiffy, new models. The shiny new desks that fill the freshly carpeted classrooms are placed in perfect rows, markedly devoid of crudely scrawled vandalism. Each classroom door is painted a different bright colour.

The initial shock of all the new things faded away, and I was transported back in time as I started to notice the familiar. Two murals on the wall next to the stairs are still there, as is the speckled marbled floor. The blue lockers are exactly the same, but I couldn't for the life of me remember which one used to be mine. I was quickly transported back to the present when I saw a teacher come out of a classroom, her face as unfamiliar to me as the painted yellow door she walked out of.

When I reached the top floor of the school I expected to see the artwork that my senior class had painted on the ceiling tiles next to the art room, but was genuinely disappointed to see them replaced by sterile, white panels. That one trace of our existence was swept away to make room for the new. Looking up at the blank ceiling tiles and projecting an image of the paintings from my memory on to them, I realised the evanescence of youth and how fleeting time really is.

I passed by two girls in blue-and-yellow AISA Lions basketball uniforms lying down on a sofa in the reception area as I made my way out of the school. They looked up at me for a moment like an intruder who had encroached on their territory, then quickly went back to snapping their gum and tapping away furiously on their BlackBerrys. I smiled as I remembered my glory days at school; at the risk of sounding like a reminiscing geriatric, it was a wondrous era of beautiful simplicity that I wouldn't change for the world. And although we have undergone some renovations over the years, AISA and me, we have both managed to stay the same at heart.