Fort Bend Christian Academy teacher Robert Mirza is both an artist and linguist.
Not only has he lived all over the globe, but he can speak, and therefore think, in seven languages. As a polyglot, Mirza has a deep appreciation of culture, aesthetics and the world as a whole.
“I started drawing with the concept of sharing an idea at age 6, and I knew the importance of learning a third language at age 7,” Mirza said.
Mirza has lived in five countries including Egypt, Uruguay, Curaçao, Holland and Guadeloupe, a French overseas territory. Each language, Mirza says, has expressions that do not exist in other languages. To elaborate his point, Mirza used the unique Arabic expression mahlesh, which translates to “it is not the end of the world if that happens/do not worry, because there is nothing you can do about it”.
Mahlesh translated into the languages Mirza speaks:
Spanish: ¿Qué se puede hacer? What can you do about it? As in, to accept destiny.
French: Qu’est-ce qu’on peut faire? Ça n’y fait rien. What can we do about it? It doesn’t really matter.
Italian: Ma cosa si fa?/Non fa niente! What can we do about it?/It doesn’t really matter!
Portuguese: Tanto faz/Não é grave. It is the same/It is not that serious.
Papiamentu: Ta kiko nos por hasi?/ E no ta dje erg. What can we do about it?/It is not to worry about or not that bad.
Dutch: Niets eraan te doen. Nothing to do about it/Listen, that is not to worry about/Come on, it is not that bad.
Language, Mirza discovered, has an impact on the way people live and the choices they make—or perhaps vice versa. For example, a Dutch phrase he often heard was mag niet which means “it is not allowed,” and there are assumptions in Dutch culture about what is mag niet.
“Holland is one of the countries in the world where people are the happiest,” Mirza said. “There is a high sense of morality and universal sense of what you can do or not do morally speaking which might have bad consequences for society as a whole. I have witnessed firsthand comments like: ‘If I fix my plumbing myself, then I would be partly to blame for unemployed plumbers.’ Of course that is extreme thinking, but not uncommon way of thinking in a country with lots of social benefits for all its population.”
Empathizing with the peoples with whom he has lived, Mirza also picked up local slang and idioms.
“For example, in Uruguay they say: No me lo banco, which means I cannot take that or I cannot stand that,” he said.
Fond memories of Curaçao
Out of all the places he has lived or visited, Curaçao is Mirza’s favorite. During the Second World War, Curaçao was the banking heart of Holland and the fueling station of the Allied forces. Mirza’s family were members of the Alliance Française of Curaçao from 1968 to 2000. French culture was well represented with activities throughout the year, especially on Bastille Day, a bustling occasion in which the whole island is aware of the festivities and people must make reservations far in advance.
“While in Curaçao, chirping birds at the porch woke me up every day, as if I were inside a children’s book. Living in the Caribbean is wonderful if you like to be close to the sea and if you appreciate a clean beach with transparent water as if you were in a swimming pool,” he said. “If you are a friendly and open-minded person, you would enjoy living on a tiny island with 55 different nationalities. If after living in a place, natives embrace you and tell you that you became a local, as opposed to treating you like a stranger, the country becomes your home.”
Nevertheless, Mirza cherishes all the countries he has experienced as each place has something extraordinary to offer.
“In Egypt, due to the fertility of the Nile, no fruit or vegetable I ever ate anywhere on Earth tasted as good as Egyptian fruits or vegetables. The hospitality in Egypt is something that is taken very seriously, and the host always spoils his or her guests.”
In Holland, Mirza noticed the excellence of transportation.
“The busses in Holland leave and arrive exactly on time, not even a minute late. It is also exceptionally bike-friendly. I used to bike back and forth to college every day without fearing that a driver would ever hit me. Biking was a real pleasure, rain or shine, and the landscaping is like living inside a fairy tale. All trees look perfect, even the quantity and where they are placed. Street lighting is also impeccable, since Philips/Norelco/Magnavox is the country’s light bulbs company, so you never bike in the dark.”
Mirza commended Uruguay for its churrasco (beef), and the beautiful vacation spot, Punta del Este, known for La Mano, a sculpture of human fingers partially emerging from the sand at Brava Beach. His jovial nature is evident in his memories, as Mirza is capable of taking what many would deem annoying, such as a rooster crowing every morning in Guadeloupe, and illuminating the good—not needing an alarm clock to wake up at the Ecole Normal, a school where students are trained to be teachers.
Why Mirza came to Houston
With such extraordinary and wonderful experiences abroad, many wonder why and how a man like Mirza ended up in Texas. The answer is simple—Mirza wanted to teach.
“It was 1979,” he said. “Besides languages, I also loved teaching art and producing art.”
Mirza has created many works of art inspired by his travels, including an oil painting of a Dutch windmill and another of a pontoon bridge in Curaçao. He had a few options of schools where he could pursue his artistic endeavors.
“California seemed too expensive. Miami seemed dangerous. But at that time, Houston was and still is, a booming and friendly city,” he said.
Just like his other homes, Mirza finds much to admire in the city of Houston.
“I like Houston for its cultural and religious diversity and its appreciation of art, language and international cuisine,” he said. “I am also a fan of the Houston Symphonic Orchestra and the Houston Art Festival. This city is a place where you can be all you want to be, since I also succeeded as a fine artist.”
Teaching at FBCA
Fort Bend Christian Academy students studying French admit that it is not an easy class, but they enjoy it nonetheless.
“Mr. Mirza is patient with all us, and we really appreciate his help,” student Andrea Kohlenberg said.
Another student, Jose Venegas, said he admired Mr. Mirza’s teaching style and how he is a humble and kind person who is always helping others.
“I like the way he teaches French by comparing it to art,” Jose said. “I have improved my French because he encourages us to keep trying even if we are having trouble.”
His relevant tidbits and inspiring anecdotes engage learners, and the FBCA community is thankful to have gifted educators like Mirza, but why did he choose to teach at a private, Christian school?
“It’s like I was saying about the island of Curaçao, with its transparent waters and way of making you feel like you belong there . . .” he said. “FBCA has transparent people with the same noble goal of working as a team for the benefit of the students and following the example of Jesus Christ openly, without being shy or too quiet about it. Who wouldn’t like to be part of an educational system where we celebrate the students, their present and future while at the same time we celebrate the joy of Christ?”
Mr. Mirza began teaching in the middle of the fall semester, taking over classes for the beloved Claude Boutin.
“I already spoke French proficiently, but after Monsieur Boutin passed away I was left with very little interaction with other people where I was speaking French,” Kaden Lewis, French IV student said. “I also lost a little hope in learning the French language. However, Monsieur Mirza aided all of the students through that process while still giving us very good instruction in the language. I am grateful for him helping me regain the drive to continue learning the language. He has aided us in learning the language and thinking more deeply about it on a day-to-day basis.”