Meeting Madiha

Friday I met a former student. It’s strange how a few months can change perceptions so much. I stopped by the stores near their home that I went to dozens of times before when I taught there… I saw the homeless man who fixed my tires and slept in the car wash, the old Somali lady buying tens upon tens of lotto tickets, in her niqab, desperately filling out the cards hoping tonight would be the night…The Publix employee who told me to have a nice day and when he smiled, not a tooth to speak of, the kids braiding hairs on their porch steps blasting music from their car… This was once normal. Now it felt strange. I was an outsider looking into what was once understood.

There are some students who remain a part of you. Madiha was such a child. Afghani refugees, her and her brother came to the US last year speaking not a word of English but excited and motivated to learn. I remember when she finally learned the alphabet “Baji if you keep teaching me like this and I keep learning like this… I’ll be a doctor in no time!” I knew that Madiha would probably get up to speed, she was younger and had some prior schooling but her older brother worried me. He grew up wandering the bazaars of Islamabad selling chai. Without any background and so close to middle school how could he learn what he’d missed the past six years?

I never met two children with so much wisdom and self respect. “We’re fine, our house is big. we have a stove and bathroom.” I remember because of a glitch in paperwork the school was not giving her lunch. One day she noticed that though I paid the cashier… I never took any food. I will never forget how her face reddened with shame when she realized I was buying her lunch. In tears, she refused to eat insisting she wasn’t very hungry. I could only make her eat on one condition, once she became a doctor she would give me checkups on the house.

This past Friday after six months, I saw them again. Though they weren’t expecting me their house was immaculate. Nine people in one small apartment and not a stray shoe or toy to be seen. Before I could even take off my shoes one of the sisters about my age rushed to prepare tea while the other arranged snacks despite my protests to the contrary. I showed them a game I brought explaining that it was probably a bit advanced but in time they would read it better. Imagine my shock when Muhammad… with barely a year of schooling under his belt read the back of the box “How many states can you find? With this game learn the capitals, landmarks, and fun trivia of all fifty states. Play now” This boy a former tea vendor with no schooling who did not know the letters a from d just 9 months earlier… Eagerly showed me his report card and read me excerpts from his favorite story explaining why the potato famine intrigued him so much..

He told me his family wanted him to work when he turned 16 but he would only work once he graduated from college. Turning to me he explained “I’m going to be an engineer but I need to get scholarships so I have to do really good in school. Then I’ll make enough to support my family, I heard engineers can make up to 1,000 a month” His eyes widened in sheer disbelief when I told he may make three or four times that.

Selfishness takes many forms. In their success I find joy. In giving, I gain.I walked away on a sheer high. A mixture of pure happiness that they were succeeding, relief that it wasn’t too late, and hope that their future could be what they dreamed. They are brave heroes, embodying the American dream that anything is possible if you work like hell to get it.

34 thoughts on “Meeting Madiha”

  1. Once a again, another fabulous post. You need cease to amaze me and those kids are just beyond words. They are or should be an inpiration to everyone. At the very least a reminder of what is possible. They are my hero’s! (I cried)Answers:Lynnnogreenyes yesoutgoingI DO love spending time with my kids…..always. BUT something just for me….it’s take pictures.I LOVE 80’s top 40 music…it reminds me of HS and some ridiculously fun times.rebelZanie….I like it. ๐Ÿ™‚


  2. Q- Welcome! and thank you ๐Ÿ™‚Mystic, it means a lot to me that this post meant something to you. Thank you for sharing that.Estarz, thanks :)It’s true, their parents are also working hard too.Baji, thanks, that is so sweet! ๐Ÿ™‚Mommyblogr, thanks, they really are inspirational. I walked away saying, okay I feel like Constituational law is hard? This kid is discussing the POTATO FAMINE with me. I got no excuse. Glad to learn more about you! I know you better than I thought:) I shouldve guessed photography!


  3. mash’Allah, the strength and determination of the people who come to this country seeking a better life never ceases to amaze me. It also never ceases to break my heart when they are treated with derision and scorn by those whose ancestors were immigrants only a few generations before. This is an issue which has been near to my heart for 6+ years now and has driven my academic pursuits and it is always redeeming to hear stories like yours :).


  4. Beautiful Post and even more beautiful the kids you posted about :). MashAllah> It is out of the bleakest of circumstances that the brightest of stars arise. These kids are the future stars of tomorrow. ๐Ÿ™‚ . I wish them all the best with all my heart. InshAllah they will go places if they keep motivated and strong.Reza.


  5. Good post Aisha: I used to volunteer with the IRC downtown and I took care of an Iranian Kurdish family. It is amazing when people come from a place where they struggled so hard just to stay alive, how much when given opportunities (education, jobs, etc.) they strive to better themselves and often succeed to theirs and my own wildest expectations.They were a beautiful family and after both education and working at jobs for over a year and saving money….they moved to Columbus OH where the father’s uncle lived. I pray they are doing well.They left with a lot of love from us, and a computer I built for them. Along with many tears.


  6. Southern Masala, you’re right how its interesting that they can be treated by derision by people in their very shoes not so many generations removed ago. It’s sad. Shabana, thank you.Sister, mash’allah its very inspiring what we can do when we are determined.Reza, those are beautiful thoughts for these children. May God keep them trucking to their destinations insh’allah.Simply Rosie, thanks:) Time to do what?Mezba, indeed…Nermeen, lol you’re reading this during class? I too am often guilty of this ๐Ÿ™‚Ash ‘I remember you sharing about them. It’s very heartwarming to know you helped someone along their way.


  7. I think that the sheer strength of people like the ones you’ve just written about is amazing. Too often, we become numb to the triumphs of immigrants, simply because so many people have such incredible stories. How sad for us!Great writing, chica ๐Ÿ™‚


  8. that was very touching Aisha. those kids sound amazing. too often we get so wrapped up in our ivory towars and focused on our own petty struggles. its nice to hear about people succeeding against real odds.


  9. Shabs, I think just beacuse there are many immigrants who struggle with valor doesnt make their indiviudal stories less inspiring like you said. These kids are amazing.Maleeha, we all have struggles, some have more to overcome than others. These kids have a lot of dreams. I pray they reach their goals.Bongi, thanks ๐Ÿ™‚Boxin, thanks that is very sweet.


  10. Emory, it means a lot to me that this meant something to you. How would I submit this to NPR? And for what? I’m not aware of programs they have that would be interested in this. Mia, aw thank you Mia. Like I said in my post.. it truly is a selfish act to love them. They give me far more than I could ever give them.


  11. Well, you did it to me, I cried before I finished reading your post, now its not just the movie “Fried Green Tomatoes” that brings tears to my eyes. Also, for anyone interested history professor Juan Cole from U of Michigan has quite an informative blog regarding the war in Iraq and the Middle East in general. It is found at http://www.juancole.com/. Also, you can go ahead and send the package to my parents house, should I expect it round Christmas time? Lastly, I finally updated! How exciting!


  12. Shuja, nah uh. you know I’m gullible. did you really? wow. if I really evoked such an emotion out of you I think I will now perenially suffer from writer’s block… Random motley of shout outs… I’ll check out the Umich site thanks, and your blog too.And um totally deserve the December remark… Thursday, I am going to the post office anyways.. so..insh’allah.


  13. I think this is my favorite post of yours ever. Is that really Madiha in the photo? She is so beautiful. What an inspiring story. You should submit it to SOMETHING. I love the part where she says she’ll be a doctor in no time. Wow.


  14. Fatima, thank you! They are amazing children.Tee, really?? Wow, that makes me happy:) (but also gives me writers block!). Yes that is Madiha, can’t you see in her eyes her wisdom? She’s special. Her brother as well.


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