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Mariam Adam


readingWe Have a Crazy One

“Welcome to our new school year. I will teach you Reading, Social Studies and Heritage Language. This will be our classroom and eventually we will be 20 students with 4th and 5th graders mixed together. Let’s take our first and exciting tour of our new school building!” I said speaking in Somali and Arabic, nervous as if on a first date.

Not your quiet, gentle kind; nor one who spoke softly; neither was he average in size and build - looked more like a third grader. Ahmed looked you in the eye and searched for answers entertaining or absurd. He grasped your attention unknowingly with his teenagerish loud voice and boldness. I began to wonder what was his life like in the camps.

As I guided my twelve wide-eyed first-time- in- any- form- of- school-setting students around the school, we started with the hallway. We walked in a single file towards the right side wall. “So, who can tell me why we do that?, I asked cheekily. A student raised her hand, “To not get lost and follow the leader.” “Good,” I replied.”Yes, Ahmed,” ‘To walk like camels following the leader not knowing where they are going but simply following the leader,” he replied smiling and with a booming voice.  “Good, good”, I replied scratching my head.

We all walked single file. Chatting, pushing with curious looky loos stammering down the hallway with winter boots towards the Cafeteria. I started to give background information about what we will see and what rules we will have to follow when we are there. “The food smells different,” said Fadumo kinda closing one eye. “Yeah, it reminds me of the days when mum didn’t have any spices left, she smiled. I added that the food might smell different because of the different spices and ingredients that were used. I also had to add that the food was healthy and well planned - sadly, that just went over their heads as unimportant info. Fadumo continues, “I hope it tastes better than shuuro ‘coz I only had that at the camps - every day!” Now if she lived on shuuro, a type of oatmeal for two years, what on earth will be the missing nutrients, vitamins and minerals her body is lacking? “Ms. Adam, Ms. Adam, let’s move!” were the voices that snapped me out of my temporary trance.

“Students, here we are - this is Ms. Johnson, the lunchroom supervisor. Please introduce yourself as she gives you your lunch numbers,” I explained in Somali language. I started calling the students and had them practice saying My name is  and Thank you. When I called out Ahmed, his reaction and movements still are engrained in my mind till today. He dashed off and ran to the lunch stations, grabbed  food and started to dropped them in his oversized shirt and started to run around and take as much as he could. What had happened here. We were all in awe and a state of shock - as if the best soccer player scored in the wrong goal!!

I ran after him, held him tight and made him sit on the floor and watched him breath deeply and rapidly. I gave him a few minutes to catch his breath. I was wondering what did this all mean, was Ahmed in some form of Post Traumatic Stress - on his very first day of school ever.

I remember vividly what happened and Ahmed’s reactions. After speaking with Ahmed, he explained how at the camps, he and his older brother would be the ones who would run and grab food when the organizations brought food to the camp. Ahmed and his brother used to wait in line the first few times the trucks arrived. They were pushed aside and people grabbed anything until there was nothing left. He and his brother would go home feeling sad that, because of them, the family would be very hungry. Since that day, Ahmed felt obligated to collect food for the family. With time, he mentioned how with speed he was able to collect more. After explaining all of this to me, I made a promise that I will check with school social worker and see how students who are new and in shelters get help with food.  

From the lunchroom, we walked in quietly into the Media Center and met Ms. Anderson. Vividly, like it was only yesterday, I remember how Ahmed described the place. “ This place smells like a new show box; one that I got two days ago at the shelter but was too big. I took it and smelled it forever,” Ahmed said. I wanted to hear more so I asked him if he had any books or had seen a library before and he replied after opening his black eyes that gleamed like the sun in an ocean. “I have never seen so many books; it like a million books, Ms Adam,” he replied. “The only book I have is the Quran and that is my dad’s. My aunt, at the camp had Dheg Dheer; it smelled like a damp cloth forgotten to rot. It was the only book anyone read to me.”

Again, I began to analyze Ahmed’s absence from books such as Mo Willems, Kevin Henkes, and more and more. Do I open his brain and pour stories, characters, emotions, connections and background knowledge - or let that happen by osmosis. Oh, how I couldn’t wait to read every children's lit to him, getting him caught up with all the best selling books. I couldn’t wait until I heard a distant voice; Ms. Anderson calling familiar names. I ran to the front desk and Ms.Anderson wanted to give Faduma and Ahmed their library cards. I mentioned that Ahmed was in the Children’s bilingual books area and that I hadn’t seen Fadumo. I will look for her, I reassured Ms. Anderson.

I remember walking around and unexpectedly noticing legs from underneath the teenager books section. I asked curiously, “Fadumo, why are you lying on the carpet?”

“Oh, Ms. Adam, I always sleep on the floor and it is freezing and merciless. I feel warm, cozy and safe. Back in the camps, every night an intruder climbed and carelessly raced on my body. Every night this intruder never forgot to visit with me. I prayed that for only one night I was left in the blanket of darkness. Big, cold and racy cockroaches zigzag through my clothes like water traveling down my throat on a hot summer day. I brush it off angrily and the cockroaches get on me as though to punish me for disturbing their plan. Every night mom turned off the lamp in our tent, every night the cockroaches returned. One night I decided to spray my body with the spray mom used to spray the toilet - I had no cockroaches that night. I slept as if I was on an island all to myself.”

Deeply drawn into the story, I found myself pushing imaginary creatures off my legs. “Ms. Adam, there are no cockroaches in America, are there?” she asked hoping to hear the affirmative. I reassured her that if they do exist, it can be taken care of easily.

We had our library cards and a complimentary book gift for the kiddos. Oh, how I wished that I had the choice to pick for my kiddos - but I reassured myself that I had the rest of the year to fill their buckets, oh and I will read the book about Bucket Fillers or something, or every book ever.

“Let's line up and go back to class and get ready for dismissal, Super Scholars”,  I authoritatively called thanking my latest ENVoY management course. However, my use of my eye motion and zero signal hand gesture were met with giggles and started making me giggle when I heard the littlest one say to his neighbor, “I can’t wait to tell Hoyo we have a crazy one!”

Each student had a book and a library card number. Wow, I can just remember the faces of excitement as we walked back the hallway to our classroom. I simply couldn’t imagine what day two held for all of us!