Thursday, August 14, 2008

School daze!

My brain is reeling after my first official day teaching English, literacy, and life skills to refugees. At the first home I visited, both of my students were sound asleep when I arrived at 11:00 a.m. These single moms work at a chicken factory -- all night long. They arrive home at 4 a.m. and have to get their children ready for the school bus at 8 a.m.

I was walking back to my car when they called out to me. They wanted their English class even though they were both exhausted. And one of them is pregnant, too!

When I stepped into the home, the odor was overpowering. Cockroaches streamed up and down the walls, the trash cans had diapers in them, the refrigerator, stove, and sink were filthy and covered with unwashed dishes.Notice the sharp knife under the child's chair? I'm not sure why, but leaving knives lying around for your children to play with is all too common here.
My initial dismay and revulsion were quickly tempered with sympathy. How dare I criticize when I have no idea what these women have endured in their difficult lives? I made a mental note to focus heavily on the "keeping a clean, safe home" lessons in our curriculum.

Toward the end of our lesson about shapes, colors, letter sounds, family members and introductions, a young man knocked on the door. He needed help with his laundry. One of my students and I traipsed over to the laundry room with him. Yes, he had a problem -- scalding water was pouring into the machine. We discussed the different knobs on the machines and how they affect clothes.How do you explain "delicate cycle" to a young man who doesn't know much English? We had some laughs as we worked our way through that lesson. My next visit was in the home of a Somali woman with 7 children. She struggled to work on the lesson while her three preschoolers and baby were all demanding attention. (photo removed by request)

(photo removed by request)

She had prepared lunch for her family and insisted that I try some. This is what you call "Somali Pasta." My friend demonstrated the eating technique by dipping her fingers into my plate of noodles, pulling up a few strings, wadding them together and putting them in her mouth. The bowl of water was for me to rinse off my fingers. I dug in, and it was yummy.My favorite part of the day was holding the baby while my student and I had a long conversation in English. She told me that she was living in Mogadishu, Somalia, when genocidal war broke out. Her father was shot and killed. Her mother and siblings fled -- running. Separated from her family, she ended up on a boat to the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa. She does not know what became of the family she left behind.

At age 15, this young girl married and began having babies. She explained that she had to get married, because she had no family and no one to help her. Later, she was sent to a barren refugee camp on Kenya's northern border. She hated this place, but had no other options. Finally she, her husband, and their six children were put on a plane and found themselves in Atlanta, Georgia.

Her husband told me that in Somalia, he and the other boys used to sneak out at night and go to a secret school to learn a forbidden language -- English. His wife did not have even that option. She learned how to read a little Arabic. But she does not know how to read or write in any other language. Eager to learn, she is very bright and has picked up enough English here and there to converse with some confidence.
After hugs and kisses from his big brother, the baby fell asleep in my arms. I didn't want to leave.

And I can't wait to go back.

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