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Student scoops prize with writing talent

Afnan Farooqui's love for writing and books started at the Youth Library. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

They’re either going to really, really love it, or really, really hate it.

That’s what Afnan Farooqui’s teacher said when she entered a Canadian high-school essay competition in January.

The teacher was worried because the CedarBridge Academy student’s essay was written in an abstract style.

It turned out they really, really loved it.

In April, the 16-year-old won first place in the Carleton University Bachelor of Humanities High School Essay Competition.

The prize was $500.

“I was a little bit shocked when I won,” she said. “I am neurotic and a bit self-deprecating.

“Then I thought well there probably wouldn’t be many people who would appreciate it.

“Then my mum said people on Facebook were reading it and commenting.

“The teachers at CedarBridge are so lovely. They told me they read it and it was lovely. I was almost relieved, because I wasn’t expecting it to be appreciated by anyone but my family.”

She has written since middle school, but never entered an essay competition before.

“I was always too shy,” she said.

Her older sister, Husna, encouraged her to enter.

“My sister said let’s look at colleges in Canada because that is where I want to study,” she said. “I am in my last year at CedarBridge.

“We came across the Carleton University essay competition. At first I was apprehensive, but then I did it.

“The hardest thing about it was mainly the self-doubt. I was saying to myself ‘I shouldn’t turn it in because it isn’t any good’. I took a couple of weeks to refine it.”

The topic ‘what is a great book?’ came easily to her, as she has always loved reading.

“When I was little, in the summer my mum would drop me off at the Youth Library in the morning and pick me up when she knocked off work,” she said. “I would spend the whole day reading and taking part in the library’s summer programmes.”

In her winning essay she wrote: “A great book never concerns itself with time. It goes on, and walks further as we look on, jealous.”

She also wrote: “A great book is a person, a person whose essence, whose being you yearn to smother in. You want to swallow it, you want to burn it. You want to breathe in it, sleep in it, for only a moment — a minute — never mind forever.”

She said: “It was hard for me to fully express my love for books and how much they have impacted me throughout the years.

“That was one of the struggles how to effectively express this.”

She was born in Saudi Arabia. Her mother Aaisha is from the Philippines and her father, Mohammed is from India. The family came to Bermuda not long after she was born.

“My mother, when she was young, would always write and read and my father would read books about politics or economics,” she said. “My mother didn’t mind me going to the library, but she did view me taking out books as a hassle, as I was irresponsible and often lost them.

“But I did grow up in an environment where reading and education were encouraged.”

The first book she fell in love with was The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

“When I was younger and more innocent, the deeper message didn’t stick with me,” she said. “When I read it again a couple of months ago, that is when the message got across.

“It is about youth and growing up. Probably, if I read it again 20 years from now it will have another meaning altogether for me.”

Next year, she will enter Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada to study economics.

“I don’t yet know what my career path is,” she said.

“When I was little I wanted to be one of those people who happened to know everything.

“I admired polyglots who speak 15 different languages. I understand a little Urdu, Hindi and Tagalog and I am trying to learn German through online apps.

“So I just have this thirst to know a lot about how the world works. I thought economics would be a good approach to that. I am also interested in philosophy, which I think is pretty interesting.”