I have students who once lived in Eritrea. They are some of the most amazing children I have ever known. They have this inner light that is beautiful, joyful and strong. They came here less than a year ago and despite no exposure to English prior to coming here they have all advanced well beyond what we typically expect from other children. It is something about their attitudes, their confidence, their absolute loving hearts. I remember the first time I became aware of how extraordinary the older sister was. The children were eating breakfast in the classroom and the little sister asked her older sister for some of her cereal and the sister just gave her the food. Went without so her sister could have some. I was floored by this small act of kindness, but it is just the tip of the iceberg with them.
Today I was sitting with the older sister who was telling me in her broken but clear English about her trip across Eritrea to Ethiopia. She had a white board and marker and was drawing pictures to help with the words she didn’t understand, and I was asking her questions and seeking elaboration on her answers by drawing too. She told me about how her Mom was pregnant and carrying all of their clothes and food on her back. The older brother was carrying the younger sister who would have been perhaps 4 or 5, the youngest brother would have been a baby of 2 , and this little girl who is in 5th grade told me how she carried her brother. First on her back and then when it started to hurt, in the front of her body, going back and forth for days. She told me about how she didn’t really care that she didn’t have food but what she wanted so much was water because her thirst was so great. She remembers knocking on the doors of strangers to beg for water.
She told me a story of how she saw an animal that is like a tiger but not one, that is dark with dark eyes, I said panther and she said yes that is it a panther, how she saw the panther eating (something or someone it wasn’t clear) and how she was so scared. She told me how there were snakes in the forest and while her brother was looking for firewood he saw one or it was in his clothes after he had fallen asleep and how he had to kill the snake with an ax. She drew a picture of the snake in a coil and then erased out the lines down the middle to show me how it was cut in half by the ax.
She told me about the plane ride to America, how excited she was but then how her little brother threw up on her in the airplane and the flight attendants helped her to get the vomit off her clothes. I asked her if she ever had dreams of when she was in Eritrea and Ethiopia, if she was ever scared in her sleep and she told me no but one time she was scared because her father came to check on her, that he always checks on her, and he came to ask her Are you cold my baby? Do you need a blanket? Which I absolutely love! And she was only ever scared one time to wake and see him standing with the light behind him and his face hidden in the shadows, so she screamed and woke up everyone in the house.
She apologized for her terrible English, said that she can tell the story so much better in her own English (language).
I met her father, I shook his hand, “Your children are wonderful,” I said, so very wonderful. I sit here now with tears in my eyes, moved beyond words by this story. Moved beyond words because every single morning they greet me with a warm hug, at the end of summer and the first days of school they ran to me and threw themselves on me hugging me so tightly. I had missed them so much their joy and light is so ________. There is no word for it. And the naughty little brother who is so pouty, but I can always say something to him that makes him smile, he tries not to, but he looks up through his long dark lashes at me and the dimple on his cheek gets really deep and then he is at my side smiling and trying to get me to make him laugh.
Oh how inspired and moved I am by this incredible story.