The 45-year old high school English teacher walks from a class that ends, to a class that has yet to start. Balancing on a cane he earned after being hospitalised a few days prior due to the tragically miscalculated discussions of two street racers. He is greeted by one of his colleagues and friends, a high school Arabic teacher who shakes his plastic arm warmly, a big smile on his face. There seems to be no attention given to his lost limbs and prosthetic. It was a sight every eye was already familiar with for years at the American International School in Dubai.
His shoulders are broad and his back is straight, as he limps to meet with his students and they greet him back with wide grins and happy faces. The air around him is of confidence, it buzzes with energy that can almost feel tangible to a stranger. When asked about what he is to his students, one of them said he is more present as a father figure than his own because of the recurring travels.
At a young age, Sharif Abu Senna’s parents, Said Imam Mohammad, a former Egyptian general and his mother, an Italian headmaster and teacher raised him to a stable mindset about how he views himself since he was born with a disability. Over the years and in many different parts of the world, he blossomed under the encouragement and support of his parents to be the person he is today.
“It makes no sense for me that [some people talk] about my disability because I’m normal,” Abu Senna said, with a warm smile stretching over his face. He isn’t bothered by the way his body could have held him back, but rather he openly embraces his condition and is fully aware of the magnitude of possibilities he was constantly offered over the decades. Once his teaching classes ended, he walked out into the elevator after a small chat with another colleague. The door opens on the ground level and he is greeted by his eldest son, Abdullah, aged 8, who is quick to embrace his father and hold his hand for a kiss. An act of respect that although seems normal and of a certain routine, draws a smile on both of their faces.
“He’s so positive,” his eldest daughter, Ayatollah, aged 12, said, her facial features looking so much like her father’s. “He taught me to be very helpful to others and to cheer people up and make them happy and to smile always no matter what mood I’m in,” she added.
“I needed stability and coming from an upper Egyptian mentality, we believe in big families so I loved having many kids,” Abu Senna explains after sharing his story of traveling around the world to study and to build a career.
“A hero is one that is created by heroes and he naturally creates ones as well,” Sherifa Ali Mohammad, Abu Senna’s wife, recalled a saying that she believes to be true about her husband.
“Sharif is constantly training our children to be heroes. Although there are certain things that I might disagree with in front of him, I would find myself agreeing with his decisions later. My child cannot be a hero if not for these decisions; he wouldn’t be able to handle life and its complications otherwise. I hope our children grow up to be just like him,” she added.
There is a certain charm to Abu Senna’s way of living and his family. A smile constantly etched on their faces and in their eyes. Lessons that his parents taught him about positivity and the power of the mind are passed down to all individuals he’s teaching; students and his children alike.
With only one arm and one leg, Sharif Abu Senna is able to stand upright in front of all the obstacles he faced in his life growing up. From changing different schools because of their minimal facilities to having to try to be independent, he had found blessings in finding diving as a professional hobby after crossing the English Channel between France and England alone in 1988 to falling in love with drawing; a talent he inherited from his father and an activity that helped him hold the pen and write.
The 45 year old English teacher not only teaches English. Abu Senna mastered the concept of learning and giving back his knowledge through life lessons and anecdotes he enjoys sharing. The English teacher is much more than that in the eyes of the students who deeply respect him.