“Memory and thoughts age, just as people do. But certain thoughts can never age, and certain memories can never fade.”
~Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
A few years ago, I had the pleasure of teaching vocational English to Iraqi refugees. The following is taken from a longer reflection paper I wrote about my experience. It’s been adapted for this post.
She had piercing blue eyes. We sat down, and I started her English intake exam. I got to the question about past employment. She smiled warmly, perhaps a flash of memories going through her mind.
She had been an elementary school teacher. She described her job to me and concluded, “This is my job. I love this job.” In that instant, a special bond was formed. I think it was her passion that drew me to her. This connection took many forms, from her telling me about her children to amusingly asking me not to tell the other teacher she needed an extra copy of her resume (amusing because this was hardly a misdemeanor). Funny and smart, she was also one of the few women in her class not afraid to argue with the men.
One day, we sat together at a computer as I fixed an issue with her email. She asked me if I was married. This is a question I had been asked many times by other Iraqi women. When I would say no, they would usually say, “Really? But you’re so pretty!” To which I would just chuckle and mumble thanks.
Her response was different.
She told me that most women in Iraq are married by the time they are fifteen or twenty, but she refused to do so. She wanted to work, go to school, and establish a career. She proudly told me that she did not marry until she was thirty. Her husband was thirty at the time as well, and now, she has four children. She smiled again, and said she wanted to be a volunteer, improve her English, and work in the US.
As I looked at her smiling, I caught a glimpse of her future. Something within me just knew that she would find her place in this new country, that she would be alright…
I don’t know what happened to her. Today, I remembered her eyes, which were a particular shade of blue that seemed to peer into one’s soul.