2012 Storylines Award Winners
Selected by Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers
“My First Thanksgiving as an American Citizen!!”
by Jahara Drammeh
“Coming to America” by Mariama Sallah
“My Childhood Home” by Alba Quiroz
“Why I Never Learned to Read and Write”
by Victoria Kiminta
2012 Honorable Mentions
Selected by Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers
“The Motorbike” by Tracy Nong
“Where Coffee Comes from” by Elvia Soto
“New York Cow Girl” by Milagros Gonzalez
“A Time When I Didn’t Feel Free” by Roosevelt Pugh
“Teacher Lee” by Shun Hing Lau Chan
“My Heroes” by Juan Villarin
“Friendship” by Irolyn Bowen
“Growing Old” by Peter Mansam and Ainsley Teachey
Bronx Library Center
“America to Me” by Myrna Walker
“America to Me” by Shirley Williams
“Happy to be in the U.S.” by Nimatu Idrisi
“My First Election” by Kadiatu Barry
“Personal Trainer” by Luiz Quiroz
Anonymous (piece not included)
“Yes” by Jenny Foong
“Gone with the River” by Dina Lau
Read the selected stories below!
STORYLINES AWARD WINNERS
My First Thanksgiving as an American Citizen!!
By Jahara Drammeh
I am a “prep cook” in a hotel at 52nd and Madison Ave. Every year, for the past 16 years, I have been in the kitchen during the days we get ready for Thanksgiving. Every year, on Tuesday and Wednesday of Thanksgiving week, I help prep more than 50 turkeys for the guests in the dining room of a fancy hotel. This year, I will do it again, but something will be different.
I am off on Thursday this year because I will be cooking my own turkey at home, and I will be doing it, for the first time, as an American citizen!
My oldest daughter and wife will help me, but I am in charge! I am going to marinate my turkey the same way the hotel chef showed me. This year, I will read the recipe (for the first time by myself), but I will change it - to make it my own!! I think I will add onions, peppers, garlic, and lots of spices.
Never did I think I would be making my own Thanksgiving turkey, in my own kitchen, with my proud family around me - as an American citizen!
My wife, my children, my nieces and nephews will all be there. For this very special dinner, I will roast a big turkey, and serve it with mashed potatoes and salad, and then I will serve apple pie with vanilla ice cream on top - for dessert.
This year is different! This year it is my holiday! This year I will eat my turkey as an American!
I know it will taste better than ever!
My Childhood Home
By Alba Quiroz
How I remember the home in Mexico where I grew up!
There were two small houses side by side. One house had the kitchen, and the other house was for living and sleeping. I lived with my parents and five sisters.
We had a garden outside where we planted corn. We also had many fruit trees – lemon, peach, and guava. We even had a cherry tree! Sometimes my older sister and I would pick and eat the delicious fruit right off the tree. Sometimes the birds would get there first!
We had six dogs, and they would bark at many things. There were many puppies born into our home. We kept some, and gave others away. We also had chickens. When I was seven or eight, I loved to hunt for the chicken eggs every morning. Steamed eggs were my favorite treat.
In the morning our house was cool. But by the afternoon, the strong sun beat down and made everything hot. I always tried to stay in the shade. There were two rivers nearby, each about a half hour walk in either direction. My sister and I loved to splash in the river on a hot day. I don’t swim, so I always stayed in the shallow water. The water was refreshing, but very cold. It made me shiver!
At night we could see a million stars in the sky. In the morning, we woke at five o’clock to the sound of chickens in the yard and birds in the trees. Then our day would start again.
Coming to America
By Mariama Sallah
As a mother, one of the most difficult decisions I ever had to make was leaving my two sons in Gambia and coming to America. I had to choose between my kids and America. I wanted to give my children a better life and that meant leaving them behind in Gambia. My heart was so heavy.
It is not easy to raise someone else’s kids because families have different rules and kids are bought up in different ways. Some people mistreat children that are not their own. I wanted the person I would leave them with to take care of them to the best of their ability.
So many times I have seen kids whose parents left them behind treated so badly by their own relatives. The parents go away and send money and many things to ensure that their children are taken care of but some kids really do suffer. I was so torn with my decision.
I left my kids with my sister and she did a wonderful job. I really appreciated all her help. But, there wasn’t a day that passed that I did not miss them. Everyday I pray to God to see my boys again.
I am talking about this so that people would know how difficult it is to leave your children and your country behind. People usually leave in order to improve their lives. It is a big sacrifice that does not always pay off. I hope to God my decision will.
Why I Never Learned to Read and Write
By Victoria Kiminta
In 1975 the first President of Kenya, Mzaa Jomo Kenyatta, sent the Jeshio, which is the national guard, into the Masai villages to force them to send their children to school. The Masai did not want their kids to go to school. They never believed that school was important for their kids. The only school they believed in was to be taught at home how to look after the livestock. That’s very valuable to the Masai people. The more cows you have you are considered a very rich man.
When the Jeshio came into the villages they made us go to school by force. Some of the Masai hid their kids under the beds. Some hid them in the jungle behind the trees and other places. My girlfriend and I were not so lucky. They found me hiding in the bushes and my girlfriend under the bed where her mother hid her. The other kids were found in the jungle. Every one of us was brought back to the village to our parents. They brought me to my grandparents who were forced to register me for school.
The first two weeks every one of us was going to school with our own traditional clothes. The clothes were made from cowhide and were then highly decorated with beads. We sometimes wore three long red cloths which were decorated with beads. Two of the cloths were wrapped across the chest and tied on the shoulders. The other cloth was tied around the waist. The shoes were sandals made from cowhide.
In the third week the headmaster told us we should go home and tell our parents to buy us a school uniform. I went to my grandmother and told her what the headmaster said to us. My grandmother did not have money to buy me a uniform. So my grandmother went to school and told the headmaster we have to wait for my mom to see if she can buy me the uniform. The headmaster agreed to wait for my mom to come.
When Mom came she bought the skirt and blouse. She did not have enough money to buy me shoes and underpants. So I continued to go to school without them. After one month the teachers were told to inspect every student for the school uniform. The madam inspected the girls and the man inspected the boys. The madam found that I did not have underpants on. In those days if you did not have them on they beat you. I was given four lashes on my behind. That went on for two months. I decided to run away from school.
When Mom came back to the countryside she found me at home. Mom decided to take me to Catholic school in the Narok District. Narok is a big town with electricity and the buildings are built with bricks. It was a big change for me. My uncle lived there. I started going to that school, while I was living with my aunt and uncle and their children. My aunt was an evil woman. She did not give me the same food that she fed my cousins. She gave me tea without milk or sugar in the morning. For lunch she gave me water and bread, while my cousins were fed mboga and ugali (which are collard greens and cornmeal) chapattis, rice, lentils and other foods. That went on for the whole six months I was there. I would go to school hungry and I could not concentrate on the school work. When I would come home for lunch my aunt would leave all the dishes for me to wash. One day I got so angry because I only received bread and water to eat. I picked up a two-foot wooden cooking spoon and started to chase her around the compound, hitting her with the wooden spoon. I was cursing her for not feeding me and she was screaming so loud that all the neighbors came out to see what was going on. Everyone was laughing at the eight-year-old girl chasing a grown woman.
After that I went in the house and packed all my things and started walking back to the village where my grandparents lived. The distance was about forty miles. I walked about ten miles before I was able to get a ride. They dropped me off half way to the village. By that time it was night. I knocked at someone’s door and asked if I can stay there for the night. It was dangerous to travel at night because of the wild animals. They gave me some food and a place to sleep. The next morning I started walking to the village. I had to walk down to the valley and up the mountain to the village. When I arrived, my grandparents were shocked to see me back. They asked me how did I get there? I told them the whole story. After that I never went to school again. Until now.
By Tracy Nong
Times were hard 30 years ago when I was a kid growing up in China. My family lived in South China where most people struggled to make ends meet. Although my father’s older brother, Jack, a winemaker, actually made lots of money—at least it was a lot in those times.
One day Uncle heard there was a brand-new $5,000 motorbike for sale. “Sounds like a great deal,” he said. Uncle had always dreamed of owning a motor vehicle. He was fond of saying, “A man’s best friend is his car,” even though he had never driven one.
Everyone thought because Uncle was 60 years old and in poor health, it would be foolish—certainly dangerous—for him to own such a machine. But no one, not even his wife, could talk him out of it.
“If I don’t get that motorbike, my eyes will not close when I die,” he said. So Uncle asked his nephew, Adam, to help him buy it.
Uncle was thrilled when the enormous, shiny motorbike arrived. “Oh my God!” he cried. “My dream has come true.” He had to touch each and every part to believe it. “I will get well and strong again and ride my motorbike all around the city.”
“Uncle Jack, may I take the bike for a spin?” nephew Tom asked.
“Oh no my boy; you may not. Nobody can ride it.”
Uncle, himself, had to immediately try out the motorbike. He climbed on, took his seat, and turned the ignition key. Vroom … vroom … vroom mm … growled the engine. The bike leapt forward, leaving Uncle behind.
While Uncle was in the hospital recovering from his fall, Tom, without permission, took the motorbike for a test drive. A traffic cop picked him up at the first intersection he crossed. Tom had to spend two nights in jail and was fined $500.
And the worst thing was that Uncle could never have his motorbike back—it was confiscated, because it had been smuggled into the country and sold on the black market.
Where Coffee Comes From
By Elvia Soto
When I was growing up in Mexico and just fifteen years old, my grandparents took me to Veracruz by bus to pick coffee beans. Picking coffee beans is very hard because the trees are very tall. There are two types of ripe beans, red and yellow. But, when the coffee beans are not ripe, they are green. The difference between red and yellow coffee beans is that the trees with the yellow beans are shorter than the trees with the red beans.
Sometimes we used a ladder to reach the ripe beans. There was only one ladder and we had to share it. One day, I couldn’t get a hold of the ladder so I decided to climb the tree on my own. When I was on top of a branch, I started to rip beans. After a few minutes, I felt the branch was loose. I said, “God, please help me.” But the branch broke and I fell!
For the coffee season, we had to travel eight hours by bus to Veracruz with my relatives. We would stay there for four months. The day after we arrived, we had to start picking coffee beans. We had to work five days a week. At the end of the day, they had to weigh the sack of beans to know how many kilos we picked. The sack was very heavy. I had to carry it in the rain, mud, and in the hot sun. I quit school for four months every season. I would like to ask my grandparents why they were unfair with me. They made me work like an employee, not like their granddaughter, and without payment.
Even after all the injustice, I think it was a good experience I will never forget. I never imagined that coffee would be the favorite drink in the U.S.A. and New York. In this city, everywhere you look and smell, there’s coffee.
New York Cow Girl
By Milagros Gonzalez
On Oct. 4th, I went to work and when I saw my boss that morning he asked me if I wanted to take a vacation. I told him, “Yes, in Feb.” He said, “No, I mean MV has a company in Texas and they need help and I have to send my best drivers to help out.” I told him that I didn’t have any money to go out there, but he said, “Don’t worry. The company will pay for everything.” “OK,” I said. He said, “Go home and pack.” I said, “Wow!”
I was a mess - I didn’t know what to wear or take. I called my boss and asked him, “How long am I staying there?” he said, “Three weeks.” I cleaned my apartment. I just packed my uniform and clothes for Sunday, in case I go to church or get a day off, because my boss said, “you are going to be working a lot.” So I went with the attitude that I’m going to work, no fun. “Okay, I can do that.” Will, my boss said, “Be at the office at 8am tomorrow and a driver will drive you to the airport (LAG).” When I got to the office, there were three more good drivers that were leaving to Texas with me.
I was so excited going somewhere different. Now, when I got on the plane I wanted to chicken out. A feeling like that was inside of me because I was still sitting in my seat. I was sitting in the middle. I think that’s why I couldn’t move. Inside of me I was panicking. I started to think about how I don’t know Texas. I don’t have a GPS, I’m just going to mess up - but I closed my eyes and started to pray, “God. I turn to you for help because I don’t know what I’m going to get myself into.” Three hours and 45 minutes later, we got to Texas. They picked us up, took us to the office, there the boss introduced himself to us and the rest of the mangers and told us, “Now, go to the hotel and get dressed, we need you to start right away,” Wow, now I want to know what happened to this company that they need our help from New York.
We started to work; everyone got a route and vehicle! Some of the drivers started chickening out and said, “No, I can’t drive the big truck.” Some of them said, “I don’t
know where I’m going.” I said, “I’m here to help, what you want me to do.” Dispatch gave me a route and a big bus, it looked like a truck. I went for it …but when I was on the route I was scared, I used the GPS on my phone. The highway was long, 7 to 10 miles for the next exit. I felt like I didn’t know where I was going but I listened to the GPS and just drove. I picked up a passenger and asked for help – like, I asked him, “Where do I drop you off, I’m from NY?” The passengers and I, we talked, and every day my day was good.
The passengers made my day. I was supposed to stay for 3 weeks but I stayed for 6 weeks and it was fun. I only had Saturdays off. I would ride the bus - the fare in Texas is 4 dollars to ride for the whole day. That was good because I went to the State Park, where Big Tex was. There was a lot of food - like ribs, corndogs, and turkey legs. On Saturdays I dressed up with my cowboy boots and a cowboy hat. My co-workers, they said, “There goes the New York cowgirl.” It was fun but it was sad that I had to leave back to New York.
A Time When I Didn’t Feel Free
There was a day when I was in school. I would just sit there without moving. If you asked me why, I didn’t know why. But as my teacher came to me to ask me, “why are you not picking up, what do I have to give you? I just didn’t know why I just sat down and didn’t move at all. So they called my mother to come to the school. “Your son is not participating in the classroom.” I could see my mom just looking at the teacher and she didn’t know what to do. So he got my mom a letter to take me out of the classroom because I wouldn’t participate. My mom had to take me down to the principal’s office to put me in class that would fit my needs.
I know my mom had to be thinking what would help her son. She must have been sitting down at home and thinking back on what she had to do with me. If she knew, what she had done to me, I think she would not tell me about what was on her mind. So she just kept it to herself. But I had it in my mind too as I got older and knew why all those things had happened to me.
I remembered one day when I was sitting near my mom and I had my books on my mom’s bed. She was showing me how to do my homework I wrote my letters backwards and she hit me until I got it right. I could not open my mouth. It was like a bee sting on my mouth. Then I didn’t move at all.
So I was put in a special ed class. I didn’t like being in the class that I had been put into. I didn’t feel safe being in that class. Just sitting there was like being put in an icebox learning nothing. I continued to go to school but I didn’t learn anything at all. It was like being without a mind in that classroom and 12 years of school left me with an empty brain.
When I was getting out of school, a teacher helped me to get a job where he knew the boss that I would be working for. So I got the job and have been there just about 27 years. But you know all along I still kept thinking about why I was put in a special ed class.
Then I figured out what would help me. I had to pick up a book and start to work it out, to read on my own. I started to read everything that I could put my eyes on. Being one with my mind in a safe place brought more inspiration, just knowing I could pick up a book in my hand, just for my sake and hold it, letting that little book be a part of me. It got in me, just sitting down, reading, my mind started to open. Going through all those things, I worked my way out of my old mind and I am not the same anymore.
Shun Hing Lau Chan
When I was a primary school student in Hong Kong, I never knew how to study or how to do my homework, so my grades were low and I was always the last one in my classes. But when I entered middle school, I got lucky; I had a wonderful teacher named Min Ching Lee. Teacher Lee had a heart of gold and she influenced my life in the most positive ways. Being in her class was a turning point for me.
Teacher Lee arranged her schedule to give extra help to her students - including me - outside the regular class time. She taught us how to solve problems in mathematics and English grammar. She made me understand that learning is not a one or two day event. It is a long-term process. We need to keep on studying to really learn a subject. Teacher Lee tried many different ways to teach us how to achieve our goals. For example, when we study, she told us to offer to work with other classmates who need help. That would give us a chance to review the course and at the same time, gain friendships and learn how to get along with other people.
My teacher enlightened me and opened my mind. She always encouraged me never to give up. Teacher Lee helped us for many years. During the time she taught me, day by day, little by little, I grew to be a confident student.
I have followed Teacher Lee’s advice in my studies and in my life - I never give up. I have always been grateful to her for changing my life.
By Juan Villarin
I have two brothers. They are my heroes.
One brother, Jose, went into the army and served in Vietnam. He had to learn how to survive in the jungle, which included hiding under dead bodies. At one point he was separated from his unit and was wounded by fragments from a small bomb. Luckily, he was found in time and taken to a hospital. He was in the hospital in Vietnam and had lots of operations. He served the country to protect freedom.
When he returned home, Jose became a paramedic in NYC. He drove an ambulance and helped doctors. After he was injured in a car accident, he had to give that up and he became a school bus driver, taking handicapped kids to and from school.
My other brother, Ramon, joined the navy and became an officer. He also served in the Vietnam War, but was on a ship. He worked in communications. He came to New York after the war and became a detective in Queens. He then moved to Florida and worked in a special crime unit. Eventually, he retired because he became diabetic and lost his sight. He was sad because he could no longer work and he died about three years ago of a broken heart.
Many years ago I lived in North Carolina and worked in a nursing home. I worked there for twenty-three years. During those years, a group on us ladies became friends. We became really close and began really looking out for each other. We gave each other wake up calls and carpooled to work. We enjoyed lunches and dinners together and did things outside of work too.
After many years some of us retired, some got fired, some left on their own and some got sick. I got sick and had to go live with my daughter who resided in Detroit, Michigan. I lost contact with my lady friends and did not call anyone for many, many years.
One day my daughter received a message from the daughter of one of my lady friends on Facebook. That is how we became reconnected. How wonderful technology is! With excitement, all the ladies got together and bought me an airline ticket inviting me to a reunion. I was just tickled pink.
I went to the reunion. It did not go the way we had anticipated but we did not care. Those of us who were there had a wonderful, wonderful time. I thank God for placing such good people in my life.
Peter Mansam and Ainsley Teachey
Your body starts to change right before your eyes.
You get forgetful and confused.
You always have pain in your body so you take a lot of medication.
You get slow and weak and tire easily.
Your hair turns gray.
You lose your teeth, hearing and eyesight.
Your skin becomes wrinkled.
You need a lot of help and care.
Sometimes your mind starts going anticlockwise.
Once a man, twice a child.
AMERICA TO ME
a lot of
Lights, Lights, Lights!
Thinking a lot.
AMERICA TO ME
I am America!
a different life-style from where I come from.
the 116th St. subway stairs going Down, Down, Down
into the ground.
fast-food on the street.
about good and bad people.
Hip-Hop, Jazz, Rap and Soul.
a Black President.
I am America!
Happy to be in the U.S.
When I was 18 years old, my grandmother took me to school to learn how to sew clothing. I didn’t like this class because it was not interesting. My grandmother sent me to the seamstress so that I could earn money sewing. But I wanted to go to school to learn how to read and write.
I came to the Library to learn good English so that I can read and write. This will help me do things for myself. I want to be able to fill out forms at the hospital, use the ATM machine and pay bills.
When I was growing up in Ghana, my grandmother did not have money to send me to school.
I came to the U.S. to live with my husband. We have been married for a long time but no child. Now I am pregnant. I am happy to be in the U.S. and to learn English.
My First Election
On November 6th, 2012, I voted in my first election. I could do this because I became an American citizen on August 31, 2012. I went to the polling place with my little daughter. I got on line and then a woman asked me for my card. She gave me some paper and a pencil. She explained to me what to do. I voted for all democrats. That night I watched television with my brother and husband. We were so happy that President Obama won.
I was 19 years old, a little skinny boy, living in Brazil. I used to watch people work out in the gym. One of my best friends, Mocoto, helped me train. He was one of my biggest inspirations. He showed me how to be a personal trainer. By the age of 25, I was bigger and was able to get my license as a personal trainer.
I decided to move to Miami, USA, in 2000 because of friends who used to visit Brazil from the U.S. They made a lot of money in Miami as personal trainers. I was not making a lot of money as a personal trainer in Brazil. So, I moved to Miami and took three jobs-personal trainer, caterer, and moving furniture. But, Miami was a beach city, a place to take a vacation. I wanted to live in a place that had more energy, was more dramatic, and that place was New York. So, I moved to New York in 2009.
As a personal trainer in New York, one of my greatest joys has been working to help people get healthier. One example was a 60-year-old man, who had been boozing for 40 years. He had diabetes and a big beer belly. I started him out with a lot of cardio exercises and changed his diet. In the morning he could eat scrambled white eggs or oatmeal. He used to eat bagels with butter all the time. For lunch he could have chicken breast – not fried chicken. He could have mashed potatoes. Basically, I gave him a low fat diet. But once in awhile he could have a cupcake or slice of pizza – just not every day! It was not good.
Now he is a happy man. He is no longer diabetic! He is better looking and leaner. More importantly, he not only looks healthier, he is healthier. While he used to pass out in bars, now he no longer goes to bars, I feel blessed helping him, and living in the U.S. America is my home.
By Jenny Foong
My boss lady told me she wants me to wash the bed sheet, iron it, and put it back on the same day.
I said, “Yes, ma’am.”
My boss lady asked me if I could please clean another apartment she has on First Ave and 50th Street in Manhattan, for the same pay as the one apartment I already clean for her.
I said, “Yes, ma’am.”
Last week my boss lady asked me to take the dog for a walk right before I was supposed to leave for the day. Plus, it was raining.
I said, “Yes, ma’am.”
Rain or snow, when the boss lady asks, it’s, “Yes, ma’am.”
Many people who hire housekeepers demand a lot. They want to get everything done right away. How does the housekeeper feel? She feels she has no choice.
Gone with the River
By Dina Lau
The girl was so beautiful.
She was my high school classmate.
I loved her very much, Deng.
It was in March of 1979.
She wanted freedom in life.
She swam across the Zhang Zhen River
from China to Hong Kong.
She was stuck in the mud.
Soon she didn’t have any more energy.
She couldn’t get out to the bank.
She was dead in the river.
Like a weak flower.
When I heard the story
My heart stopped.
A life just nineteen.
Gone with the water.
I think of my high school years.
I remember Miss Deng.
Her face is on my mind.
I won’t ever forget
In my lifetime.
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