Friday, March 14, 2014

"I Would Like....

To help poor people all over the world
And I would help them to have peace and houses
Little children in Somalia,
I am sorry that you are suffering with hunger, diseases, and illness
I would make a school for you to get an education."

-Written by one of my clients, practicing her English

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


M. stood staring at the microwave with her hand over her mouth. At 50 years old she is just learning to count and today, for the first time, she pushed the numbers on the keypad of the microwave. "It's hot, when you take it out," we showed her, teaching her how to open the bag. M. laughed and laughed when she tasted it. "It already has salt! Americans make everything so easy," she said in Somali. We counted to ten over and over as we ate pre-salted popcorn and spiced chai tea.

Thursday, February 13, 2014


My fingers are sore from tearing raw cotton and my heart is sore from the stories of her past. I say that I ache inside but still I can drive home and recite the alphabet and make a phone call to fix the broken cable box and cook pancakes on the stove. What was once a footprint in the snow is now a puddle on the front lawn. I don’t know how to remove all of the seeds. I’m so much slower than her teenage boy (it’s 1pm and he is still not yet dressed for school). I tear at the fragments until they are smaller fragments of their predecessors. We combine our pieces until they are whole, like carnival candy, sickly sweet. She sold the fish and the bird and tells me she will move to Florida where she can wake up and see the sun. She begs me not to leave. I hope the boy makes it through high school. I hope the snow melts more than hearts. I hope the bird has a new home where it can use its wings. I hope a cotton pillow will help her fall asleep. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Friday, January 24, 2014

Learning to Count

And the living room smelled like cardamom spice.
And the air wrapped around us like a hug.
And we danced in bare feet.
And the song on repeat.
And the little girl laughed and reached for my hand.
And hot pink daisies and a bright orange dress.
And nothing was familiar.
And everything was familiar.
And the sun got jealous and tried to come in.
And we spun in circles and fell on the floor.
And for an hour I could remember.
And for an hour she could forget.

Saturday, January 18, 2014


"Before you now kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend."

-Naomi Shihab Nye

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Waste Not

R., a nine year-old ball of energy with red string in her dreadlocks and hot pink sneakers, came to my walk-in hours for homework help. She needed to erase a paragraph she had written on crocodiles, so I opened a pack of brand new neon erasers and told her to pick a color. She chose yellow, but instead of erasing she held it in her hand and stared at the page. “What’s wrong?” I asked her. “It’s too new and pretty,” she told me. “I can’t use it.”

I reached back into the desk to open the pack back up. “Here,” I said, handing her a second neon yellow eraser. “This way, you can keep one new and pretty and use the other for erasing.” I thought to myself, “problem solved.”

But R. still sat there staring at the two erasers in her hand. “No,” she said. “I just don’t want to waste it. Do you have an old eraser I could use?” R. looked around the desk and found an eraser that was much less bright and shiny, which she used that to erase her paragraph. “Did you know that you can save the eraser crumbs by squeezing them back together. I’ve made five new erasers that way,” she told me.

"I didn't know," I told her, "but thank you for showing me." I don't know what it's like to grow up in a world where erasers aren't taken for granted. I don't know what it's like to learn not to waste because wasting is not an option. I don't know what it's like to carry that feeling with you for your whole life. There are so, so many things that I just don't know.