Friday, 20 March 2009

A blast from the past

One of my ongoing goals is #48 - Find something to be happy and thankful for each day. Some days I am better at this than others; that's not to say that good things don't happen to me every day - they do, but I don't always see them (or look hard enough). Yesterday, a blessing came out of nowhere.

I was a teacher for about ten years. It's true that every child touches you in some way - some more than others, but the memories (and stories) are endless. Last night, one of the girls in the very first class I ever taught contacted me via Twitter. I don't tweet much these days, and have been thrilled when a couple of former students have added me as a friend on Facebook. This girl would have been 8 years old when she was in my class in 1997. I think that makes her about 20 now ... gosh, she's all grown up (but I haven't aged a bit, of course)!

What makes this student (and her family) so truly remarkable is her circumstances; she came to New Zealand with her parents and uncle as refugees from Iraq. They had lived in central Baghdad, near an army base, so she grew up hearing bombs dropping and military aircraft flying overhead at night. Her parents were chartered accounts and had a company which ran the payroll for a large telecommunications corporation. Her father was drafted to fight in the Gulf War. The first time he was shot in the line of fire, he recovered quickly and was recalled for duty. The second time, a bullet was lodged near his hip, temporarily paralysing him. His family were thrilled: this meant he no longer had to fight in the war.

In the middle of the night, the family fled their home and escaped to Jordan, eventually making it to New Zealand a year later as refugees. They quickly learned English, but their qualifications and work experience were not recognised here. During the two years their daughter was in my class, I was there to see their family go through the process of starting again in a foreign country: they took courses in English language, worked to upskill in their chosen profession and, finally, gained employment and New Zealand residency.

Towards the end of her first year in New Zealand, we had a school speech competition. Although her English was improving daily, this was still going to be a struggle. I suggested she talked about a topic she knew a lot about: growing up in Baghdad. She told the class about her friends, her school, the uniforms they wore, and how one day there was a bomb scare. None of the children in my class (8-9 year olds) knew what a bomb scare was, and she couldn't explain it in her limited English. To be honest, when I explained it to them, it didn't make much sense either: "Why would someone put a bomb in a school?" my class asked, and I had no answer for that. It turned out that this bomb scare was one of many; a bomb was swept out from under the principal's car, and life went on.

One morning in August, she came to school and asked me "do you like chocolate or cream?". "Both!", I replied. The next day, a huge home-made birthday cake decorated with chocolate AND cream arrived for me; there was so much left over that several staff members took pieces home for their families. I still wear the earrings she and her mother bought for me that birthday.

And now, 12 years later, my girl is all grown up and wants to meet me for coffee. This has totally made my week! I hear that she left school a year early ... to start a double-degree in accounting and law. I've sent her my contact details and will wait to hear from her. Can I just add that I am proud beyond belief? :-)


Kelly said...

How gorgeous she got in touch with you! What a lovely warm fuzzy story for us to enjoy too!

BTW - I ADORE twitter! Add me if you want - wellreadkitty :-)

Bethany said...

Thank you for sharing this! It put a smile on my face, as I am sure it did yours!

Sab said...

That is sooo sweet! Awww! What a cute blessing!

Random Thoughts said...

Being a teacher myself, I truly appreciate the warmth this must have brought you. There are some students that you always wonder about, how are they doing with their life, their educations, how is their family, it sounds to me that this is one such case and you must come back and blog to us how your meeting went. Thanks for the cheery message to start my morning.

Arual said...

This is a great and wonderful thing to be thankful for. Your story made me smile with little tears in my eyes. :)