I Cry for his Loss

i cry for the card, for his loss,
 for his Iraqi-Syrian past,
 for all the burning hours of summer school
 where he committed himself
 to finishing high school in three years.
 
 i cry for his words, for his loss,
 his inescapable self that has hidden
 a kind face in a chaotic classroom,
 his sly smile catching my every
 snuck-in witty remark
 (even when no one else could).
 
 i cry for the system, for his loss,
 shuffled by our government’s wars
 between homelands that stole his home,
 for his pride in Iraqi architecture
 that he may never see again.
 
 i cry for his future, for his loss,
 for how unequivocally kind his soul remains
 after all he has witnessed in twenty-one years,
 for his brothers who wait under his watchful shadow,
 for our country to give him a chance.
 
 i cry for his words, for my loss,
 to not have his presence in my classroom,
 to have the nicest thing anyone’s
 ever written to me
 disappear with a graduation ceremony.
 
 i cry for the world, for their loss,
 for robbing refugees of their rights,
 for keeping the beauty that is him,
 that is within all of them,
 from sharing their strength
 with all of us, inshallah,
 for a brighter tomorrow.
 

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The Last Plane

Red hair, green eyes, tall and sure of himself, he peeks into my room, searching for a familiar face after lunch. I have seen this look before, as my students often seek their native-language counterparts.
 
 “Who are you looking for?” I ask, the after-lunch crowds raucously meandering around our conversation.
 
 “I am looking for you. I am a new student.” His accent is smooth and meticulous, genteel and articulate.
 
 “Oh, OK. What’s your name?”
 
 “Arvin.”
 
 “Where are you from?”
 
 “Iran.”
 
 “Iran? … And… how did you get here??” But I have to look away because the tears are already in my eyes.
 
 “I boarded the plane on Friday morning. I was in the last group of Iranians to come.”
 
 I want to continue the conversation, but I can’t. I can’t because the tears will fall. I can’t because I have to teach for the next ninety minutes. I can’t because every waking moment of my life since this election, since this inauguration, have become a cycle of servitude. Of serving this need or the next, of wishing for this and receiving that, of hoping for the best and seeing the worst.
 
 Instead I tell him where to sit and hand him a hard copy of I Am Malala. We will listen to the lilting Pakistani accent from Audible today as we continue to highlight human rights violations from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (we will highlight thirteen incidents in three chapters; we will connect media suppression and fascism and women’s rights to an education too closely to our lives; we will hear Fazlullah’s rants with an American accent).
 
 My weekly volunteer returns from the library after a time with a group of students. She meets with my Iranian student to explain to him his role in the group as they create posters connecting Malala’s experiences to the UDHR. He fits in well and tells the group he cannot draw very efficiently, so can he please have the role of interpreting the quotation from the chapter and connecting it to the UDHR document?
 
 He has been here for five days. He got in on the LAST PLANE.
 
 After class, my retired-white-woman volunteer asks, “If he just got here from Iran, how come he can speak English?”
 
 And that is when I decide.
 
 I have to start here. Right in this moment. With this woman who drives one mile from her upscale mansion in Cherry Creek North to “make a difference.”
 
 “Pretty much all of the students who come here learned English before they came. Usually only the refugees have interrupted schooling. But most countries start teaching English when the kids are in kindergarten.”
 
 I swear her jaw drops ten inches. She wants to say something, but she doesn’t have the words to describe her ignorance.
 
 “Oh…”
 
 And now you know, I want to say. But I don’t. I don’t cry when I want to, because I have to be strong for them. I don’t tell her that Trump’s America is not my America, not Arvin’s America. I don’t tell her that the combination of students in this room represents the values of our country better than most Americans I know. That a red-headed Iranian entering my classroom five days past an executive order banning Muslims is as beautiful to me as Ziauddin’s tears in the New York Times documentary as he sees Swat for the first time in three months (which we watch at the end of class).
 
 Instead, I say, “Thank you for your help. I’ll see you next Wednesday.”
 
 And that is all I can do to resist.
 
 All for today.

Why We March

We march because we have daughters. Because no one has the right to grab them by their pussies. Because “women’s rights are human rights” (God bless you, HRC). Because the world needs a wakeup call.

We march because we have sons. Sons who will grow into men who can learn how to respect women.

We march because we can’t be bullied. We can’t have anyone–male, female, binary–telling us what to believe. What to do with our bodies. What level of education we deserve. What pay rate we should succumb to.

We march because of our mothers who fought their way into the workforce. Because of our grandmothers who balanced households and work during WWII. Because of our great-grandmothers who were forced into marriages with strange men. Because of every woman who was ever mistreated or controlled by a man.

We march because politics matter. Political policies affect our lives, from whether we have birth control choices to being able to play sports in school to having equal opportunities in higher education.

We march because we are women and men, Muslim and Christian and Hindu and Jewish and Buddhist and atheist, LGBTQ and straight, married and unmarried, parentsĀ and grandparents, employees and employers, activists and pacifists.

We march because we are human. Because the United Nations created the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and we see it as a binding contract with our government. A binding contract with our world.

We march because we are free.

We march to protect that freedom.

It Is No Small Irony

It is no small irony who appears at our door for Mythili’s birthday party. We had warned her beforehand of the possibility of no-shows, and I want to gulp back my inadequacy as a mother. I am not there, I hear myself saying, to chat with the mothers on the sidewalk as they smoke cigarettes and hover near their cars after leaving you at school, to ask, “Can your daughter come to my daughter’s birthday celebration?”

I wonder though, in all honesty, if my schedule didn’t bear down on me, if I had all the time in the world, if I’d even dare for a moment to participate in conversations whose language I barely understand.

So let me put it frankly. The only child who rang our bell appeared with her mother and younger sister, head wrapped in a scarf. No, not the mother, the this-must-be-a-Moor mother. The baby sister.

It wasn’t until hours later, when she stood in the quickly-darkening hallway, the same small girl in tow, that I remembered: this is the girl and the mother I saw disembarking the ambulance in the rain the other day, my frenzied walk home interrupted by the sudden heartbreak of a scarf-wrapped head on a child too young to know this kind of pain.

“Fatima’s sister doesn’t go to school, we don’t know why,” the girls tell me when I inquire about the girl’s age, whether the girl is in Riona’s class, selfishly thinking of my youngest who has the greatest difficulty making friends.

Of course she doesn’t go to school. Her mother, from Morocco, the one who doesn’t speak Spanish? The one who, upon a singular invitation by Isabella has sent her daughter daily to our door for my barely-speaks-Spanish daughter to help this poor girl with her Spanish science, religion, and art homework?

It is no small irony that she is the singular invitee who appears at our door for Mythili’s birthday party. An outcast, a Moor, a Muslim. The epitome of the pitiful look I encounter when I mention the name of the school my daughters attend. Never mind that the Moors settled this land hundreds of years before the Christians, that the glamorous palace people travel thousands of miles to see in Granada is actually of Muslim architecture, that the very name of this city I live in is a blend of Moroccan “Carto” and Latin “Nova.”

When her mother buzzes our bell to collect her child more than an hour after I suggested the ‘party’ would end, I want to speak to her. I want to pull the small child standing next to her into our apartment, to spew out a slur of welcoming words, to let her know that her daughters could appear here any day of the week, that we would welcome them faster than the public healthcare system they traveled across the sea to access, that we are not Christians, but have the heart of Christians.

But, as usual, as the hallway light, on its perfect timer of impatience, flashes from brighter-than-we-can-handle to complete darkness, all I can say is, “Pasa, pasa,” gesturing to our small hallway crammed with our grocery cart, a table, and my American, Chinese-made bicycle, as her daughter gathers her coat, puts on her shoes, and takes in hand the three balloons on Chinese-store sticks that my girls have portioned out for her.

They leave without a proper exchange of words. Without me thanking them to the fullest extent, without their ability to tell me what they wanted to say. A perfect summary of the past three months of my life.