What I Would Say If I Could

What you took away with your error:

Trust. Friendship. Education. Love. Accountability. Faith.

What you didn’t hear:

Danger. Toxicity. Neglect. Ignorance. Hate tactics.

What we have lost:

The connection of the Kabul airport that they shared. The trauma of it–of suddenly being ripped from the only home they had ever known, of fearing the Taliban would come for them next, or their mother, their father, their faith in humanity. The collective trauma that bonded them together and allowed them a communication that none of us could fathom. A connection, through Dari, Islam, and kindness, brought to her by her paraprofessional interpreter. A confessional for her to share how horrid her foster mother was. An English classroom where all her friends are, where her teacher loves her and wants to help her. The relationships with her peers who now can’t understand the reasons behind her choice.

YOU are the reason behind her choice. You broke your professional commitment to a system we have in place that is meant to protect children, and you gave power to the toxicity of a human not fit to be a mother to anyone, let alone a fragile, motherless child. You sided with lies instead of the truth, and everyone will suffer because of it. Especially her. Especially this girl whose mother was murdered by the Taliban, whose foster mom has stripped her of her religion, language, and connection to her culture, who has manipulated and molded her to be a completely different human being because she was too fragile to say no to her.

I will never forgive you for all those hours you spent in my house, looking me in the eye, holding my foster son accountable, asking me point blank if I’d had enough, listening to me, trusting my judgment, only for, one year later, for you never to trust me again.

I have been teaching for more than twenty years. I have seen belt marks on children. I have heard stories of sexual abuse. I have called to report starvation, emotional abuse, neglect, alcoholism, and drug addiction. I have done my job to protect the children who shuffle in and out of my life year after year.

And I thought you could do yours.


So is mine.

Only one of us is doing it right today.

And it is not you.

Thank You (In Every Language)

There aren’t enough words, in English or Dari, Pashto, Spanish, Arabic, Tigrinya, Romanian, Swahili, Kinyarwanda, or the twenty-three languages of Guatemala, to express my gratitude today.

Today was EXHAUSTING. It started with the first time this semester that I drove my car to work. Yes, I have been walking in the snow and ice that has stolen Denver’s mild winter this season. Yes, I have ridden my bike all of seven times. No, I haven’t driven my gas-guzzling car even once.

Until today.

It was supposed to snow today (again), so it was a good day to drive. My eight-passenger car was filled to the brim with clothes you gave to us.

My colleague, my two daughters, and several of our students marched back and forth from the long sidewalk of our 100-year-old school to the parking lot. Back and forth, breaking our backs, to bring this to them. My colleague and I spent the entirety of our ninety-minute planning period sifting through and organizing the clothes, planning a lesson that should have happened three months, three years back… but there is so much to teach them in the time they put their faces in front of us. From the only-in-English auxiliary verb ‘do/does’ that exists in nearly every question and EVERY negative answer to how to navigate our complex transportation system to how to cope with the fact that they witnessed a pregnant woman murdered in front of them in the Kabul airport and don’t know how to calm their nerves for three hours with me every day.

But they find a way.

We find a way.

Today’s way was labeling the piles with notecards and making copies of said cards for these students to pick up as they walked in the door.

“Let’s continue to practice with present-tense verbs. What clothing do you need? When I say you, I mean your whole family. For example, you could answer, ‘I need exercise shirts’ or, ‘My brother needs hoodies.'(always an emphasis on that final ‘s’)”

They held up their cards. They looked around the room at the piles of clothes that surrounded them. They asked their paraprofessional interpreters what the words meant. What this day meant. What craziness, what generous craziness, lay before them in perfect piles.

And they recited their sentences. They practiced their English. They learned what a hoodie was. The English word for scarf. For long sleeves. For T-shirts. For little brother (there was an entire bag of clothes for little brothers; another for little sisters).

I met you twenty years ago, my friend, in my first nightmare year of teaching. When it was so hard and they crammed thirty-eight of these kids in my room and I didn’t know if I could handle it, and you stayed at that high school way longer than me (I gave in to pregnancy rather than facing it), but ultimately you left the profession. Yet I know your heart is still there. Your heart is still here with me in this classroom of Newcomers.

You gave me a lesson today, you and your friends and your book club and your kind-heartedness.

You gave us a lesson today: in English vocabulary–everything from learning the names of clothes to how to write a Thank-you card (“Miss, what is this ‘Dear’ meaning at the beginning?”) to what it is to be human.

And it’s in all their faces. Their joy. Their gratitude, their hope in an America that you have given to them today.

Thank you. Gracias. Mulțumesc. شكرًا لك. له تاسو مننه. متشکرم. የቕንየለይ. Asante. Murakoze. Thank you.