2010 Storylines Award Winners. 

Selected by Naomi Shihab Nye. 

Euphemia Perez: “Melody”
Pedro Munoz: “Growing Into My Life”
Ji-Xing Liu: “Bird Friends”
Adjowa Maglo: “My Journey”
Milagros Gonzalez: “I’m Different”


2010 Honorable Mentions. 

Selected by Naomi Shihab Nye.

Hajara Muazu: “The First Time I Lost a Loved One”
Neela Arnold: “Getting Lost”
Charlaynne Jarvis: “My Story”
Fatima Elmansouri: “From Chellah to Andorra la Villa”
Sheldon Blair: “Misconception of America”
Monica Smith: “My Day at the Hospital”
Frankie Mercado: “My Hands”
Diaw Ndiaye: “Horse Narougor
Judy Joseph: “Growing up with Cerebral Palsy”
Noelia Marcano: “My Staten Island Ferry”
Djeneba Samake: “My Story”
Aisha Jobe: “Aisha’s Story”
Gean Chambers: “Where I Feel At Home”
Lisa Ng: “The Would Be Vacationer”
Elliot Adorno: “Working in My DayCare Center”
The Kindness Group: “Kindness/NYC Style”
Joe Roman, Juan Villarin, Lucienne Cyriaque,
George Garrett, Nathan Goldring, Lyndell Johnson,
Mody Diop, Nakisha Rodriguez


Read the selected stories below!

STORYLINES AWARD WINNERS

“Melody” by Euphemia Perez

            I was born in Belize, a small country in Central America.  I came here in 1980. A few years later, I became a home attendant. I have been working with the same agency for 27 years.

            Melody has been my patient for the past five years. I love her like a daughter. Melody needs complete care. She can’t speak, walk or feed herself. On Saturdays and Sundays we go to the beach. We like to listen to the bands play music. It makes her laugh and dance in her chair.

            Since I met her, I have become a happier person. Working with Melody has changed my whole life. Soon, I’m going to retire but I want to see how far I can go with my education.  Meanwhile, I will still take care of Melody.  I will miss her.  Melody likes me to read books to her.  I worry over her because the next attendant might not take care of her. 

            She will always be in my heart.  I wish I could stay with her.  Sometimes, when I think about her I cry myself to sleep.  Mr. Danny, the person who has custody of her, doesn’t want me to leave.  But I am 70 years old.  I told him that but he says, “Please stay 2 years more.”  Then I think about it.  I will stay 2 years more with my loving Melody.  Then I can finish my education.
 


“Growing Into My Life” by Pedro Munoz  

           I am the youngest of nine children.  In 1968 when I was six years old three of us were sent to a Catholic home called Cardinal McCloskey’s. We were sent there because my parents didn’t have the financial means to take care of all of us.  It was a large institution where nuns cared for children.  The boys and girls were in separate buildings.  We were twenty to a room.  My five years at the Catholic home were filled with both surprises and disappointments. 

One of my first memories there was the loss of one of my teeth.  I asked the nun what I should do with my tooth.  She told me to place it under my pillow that night so the tooth fairy would find it;  I did as I was told.  The next morning I looked under my pillow and found a new wallet and when I opened it and looked inside I found a one dollar bill.  I felt so happy about my unexpected gift.

            While I was at home I became very sick and I was placed into the infirmary with other sick children.  We were each placed in metal cribs that had bars on all four sides and on the top.  The cribs had legs which were on wheels so they could be pushed about.  The nurse would move us close to the TV so we could watch Star Trek.

            One Christmas Eve my brother and I watched out the window as heavy snowfall came down.  The next morning the nuns and counselors allowed us to go outside and play in the snow.  As we were outside we heard a loud whirring noise above us and looked up.  We saw a helicopter was getting lower and lower and finally landed in a large field next to the home.  The door of the helicopter opened and out came Santa Claus.  He said, “Ho, Ho, Ho, I have presents for everyone!”  My present was a microscope and I couldn’t wait to try it out.

            One of the times when my father came to visit we were allowed to go with him on his bus trip back to the train station.  I thought I was going to go back home with him.  My father got off the bus but then the doors closed and the bus began to move away.  I started to cry then I got very mad.  I took off one of my shoes and banged on the bus window as hard as I could.  The window finally broke.

            When I was 11 years old, we went back to live with my parents.  My adolescent years and young adult years had many struggles and at times I lost my way. I am only grateful that as an adult I am finding my own way.  It hasn’t always been easy.  But with help of staff members and my tutor Lois, learning has been a great journey in my life.  On September 20, 2008, I gave up alcohol and drugs.  So then I started going to St. Vincent’s out-patient program.  I thought in my wildest dreams I wouldn’t last a year.  But I managed to complete one year on September 20, 2009.  Then I went across the Brooklyn Bridge as part of a group celebration of sobriety.  I felt so proud.  Now, on September 20, 2010, I will have been sober for two years.  Becoming sober made me able to get help for my reading and writing at the Tompkins Square Library. Now, if I don’t know how to spell a word I’ll leave the space blank and continue–I know there is no need to stay stuck in one place.  I think that is true in life as well.

     

“Bird Friends” by Ji-Xing Liu

            I like sparrows because they are birds that live all around us.  You can see them every day in all four seasons.  Sparrows are distributed very widely; they are in America, Asia, everywhere.  Their relationship with us is very close.  Their plumes are not very beautiful; the basic color is brown with some black and grey.  They do not walk step by step but jump by jump. 

           When you eat something in the park the sparrows will gather around you looking for food.  If you show them a little bit of food the young sparrows will come very close to you and peck the food from your fingers and swallow it.  Then they will shake their wings and want more.  When the sparrow parents feed their young the baby sparrows do the same thing.  The young sparrows open their mouths very wide and the parents put the food inside.  Young sparrows do not know to be afraid and keep a watchful eye for danger, but their parents behind them are like bodyguards.  If they sense any danger they will call the youngsters away at once.

           The hardest time for sparrows is snowy days in winter.  The weather is cold and the ground is covered with snow making their search for food very difficult.  Sparrows live in hunger and cold, what can they do?  In summer time, about six o’clock in the morning, we can hear the sparrows making crying sounds.  In the evening at about seven o’clock they get together and call loudly to each other.  They gather happily on the trees.  By nightfall there are no more sparrow voices.

           When I first came to the United States I was very homesick.  Then I saw the sparrows, the same birds as in my homeland.  It was like running into old friends in a distant land.  It alleviated my longing for my hometown.  This is another reason that I like sparrows.



“My Journey” by Adjowa Maglo

It was August 6, 2009, and I had a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) because I had fibroids and was anemic.  I was hoping not to have a hysterectomy but instead just to remove the fibroids, but I wasn’t lucky.  The surgery happened at Harlem Hospital. My surgeon, who was 60 years old and born in India, had worked in that hospital for 30 years.  But she retired three months after my surgery and returned to India.  I found this out when I went to see her because I wasn’t feeling good and had a lot of pain. I was shocked and panicked and felt betrayed and abandoned.

My surgery caused me another big problem – with my family.  As an African woman, your family wants you to have kids.  Because of my surgery, I can’t.   So I have to keep it secret from them.  Whenever I call home, my mommy asks me “Please, can you have a baby?”  And I say “Mama, there are so many kids out there who need help, and I will devote my life to them.”  She always says, “I don’t give up.  I will pray for you to change your decision.”  This is so hard for me because I can’t change what happened.

But the experience of my surgery wasn’t all bad.   About six months before the surgery, I went to a braiding salon to do my hair, and I met a young woman, Justine, who worked in the salon.  We started talking, and I found out she just came to America.   So I asked her “Do you speak French?” and she said she did.  I asked her where she came from, and she said she was from Togo.  I said “I’m from Togo too,” and we started speaking our local language, Eve. 

           We soon became friends, and I could see that she needed clothing.  So I took her to Old Navy and bought her shoes, jeans, and shirts.   I also helped her with small amounts of money when she needed it, and I showed her how to use the subway.  And Justine always said “Thanks, I couldn’t do it without you.” 

I did all this without expecting anything in return.  I never expected that Justine would be the one to help me through my surgery.    The day of the surgery, she took me to the hospital, and she was at my bedside when I woke up.  She stayed with me during the five days I was in the hospital and did everything to help me.  When I came home, she cooked for me, did my laundry, cleaned my apartment, and bought my groceries. And she has continued to help me in lifting heavy stuff.

My surgery gave Justine the chance to do as much for me as I did for her. My generosity was repaid many times over, and this proved my faith in the goodness of people.  This was the powerful and positive lesson that came from my surgery, and it has made my journey from surgery a little less difficult.


“I’m Different” by Milagros Gonzalez

I have a really big crazy family and a beautiful mother who was always sick, and a mean daddy that I loved so much and two sisters who think they are princesses and that I have to serve them. Also, I had four mean and aggressive brothers, they drank beer all day long and fought with each other.

My father woke me up so early in the morning to help him in the grocery store that we had. I used to like to help him in the store. Early in the morning, the delivery trucks came, and stopped at the store to bring daily milk, bread, Wise potato chips, all kinds of cake, beer, soda, all these things.

My father and I worked so hard to put everything in place. When I finished I had a few minutes and I walked the dog and I ran home to take the dog back. When I left the house, I ran to school and the dog was on the window sill, barking, and looking at me as I was running across the street, around the corner into the school building and into my class room where he could see me.

Sometimes he jumped up the window, ran into the school and up the steps into my classroom. And the kids in my class said “You have a nice dog.” “You have to take him home,” the teacher said. “Come back.”

I took the dog to the store and I helped the customers in the store. I didn’t go back to school. Sometimes the people in the store, they made me feel important. They told me that I am smart, strong and brave. If they just knew that I was different. I was young and I went to Junior High School, not College. I did not know how to read and I did not finish school. I did go to all my classes. Mathematics, I was good. I told my father that I would study for bookkeeping and that I was going to take care of our money. But I didn’t get English. The reading, I did not know how to pronounce words. The kids in my class made fun of me. I was embarrassed and I would start a fight with the kids in my class. Social studies, I was not interested. Whatever class, I did not pass the tests.

My father was so proud of me for going to school (he thought), he wanted me to stop fighting with the boys in school. I never said anything to anyone about my grades. Nobody in my family knew that I was doing real bad. I knew I was different.

So I quit school. My father was really angry and I went to work as a messenger. That was easy. I delivered packages to different addresses.

When I used to hang out with my friends, we talked about going back to school and a lot of different things, like changing our lives. As life went by, still I did not know how to read, but some of my friends said nice things about how I was always going to work. I wanted to go back to school, but I was embarrassed to say anything.

I started to look around, pray to God to give me strength until I found a library in Harlem. It was a Reading and Writing Center. Also I learned how to use the computer. And I was able to get a better job. As I was learning how to read and write, I was making plans to get my driver’s license. I went to a driving school training and it was easy to read and write because they gave me a booklet with the answers. And because I didn’t know how to read too well, I asked a friend to help me read as I recorded it, so I could practice later for the questions and answers for the test. After a while, I passed the test and got my commercial driver’s license.

Still, I am not where I want to be, but I’m fine. I learned how to read a lot better. And now I’m planning to work on my GED and hope that I can get a high school diploma soon. So I keep learning. It’s the challenge that I like. The other day I was driving to take my younger sister to Rhode Island to see my older sister, and she said to me: “If daddy was alive, he would be so proud of you.”

 




HONORABLE MENTIONS



“The First Time I Lost A Loved One” by Hajara Muazu


          The first time I lost a loved one was when my aunt, Moneeratu passed away in Ghana, West Africa.  She passed away in her sleep.  My aunt Moneeratu was very special to me because she helped me through Arabic school.  On the day she passed away, Aunt Moneeratu expressed that she was very proud of me for completing my studies.  She was a very strict and honest person.  She was very protective of me.  She would not allow me to go out and get into anything that would destroy my life.  However, this day she gave me money to go to the movies because she was proud of me.

When I came back home from the movies I greeted her.  Auntie Moneeratu was reading the Koran.  In the morning my father awakened me to tell me that Auntie Moneeratu had passed away in her sleep.

            I wish she was still alive.  Because of her I am who I am today.  She encouraged me to go to Arabic school and now I am a student at the Bronx literacy center.  I want to further my education to better myself.  I want to open my own business.  I want to be a blessing to other people.  My prayers go out to Auntie Moneeratu every day.  She inspired me to go further in my education.  God bless Auntie Moneeratu. 

          
 

“Getting Lost” by Neela Arnold

            I got lost on a bright day years ago.  I was new to New York then.  I didn’t know my way around at that time.  I decided to buy a camera at Fulton Street and Broadway in Downtown Manhattan.  I left home at 9:00 in the morning with a feeling of great joy and excitement because I was going to buy my camera.  I boarded the 4 train at Kingsbridge Road in the second to last car.  I knew fully well that I couldn’t read and write.  I never knew that education was so important to me.  When I was in school my mind was on sports and games.  I never knew my life would be like this; it is hard for me.  I didn’t know it would be so difficult to take a train and find the place I wanted to go to.

            In the subway car there were many other passengers.  All of them were strangers to me.  I was afraid to ask anyone for directions.  Most of them were talking in their own language, which I did not know.  Rather than asking I decided to take a very big risk and I got off at a subway stop with several other passengers.  Because I saw so many people getting off, I thought it must be the right stop for me too.

            I later realized that I was on 14th Street.  As I came out of the station I was looking for the store, which a friend told me about.  It was a store where I could buy a camera.  After about fifteen minutes walking from store to store doing some window shopping I saw a police officer.  I went up to him and I showed him the paper, which had the name and address of the store where I wanted to purchase the camera.  I got a shock when I was told that I got off at the wrong subway stop.  Then I panicked.  However, the police officer calmed me down and told me to get back on the train and get off after the next two stops.  I listened carefully and thanked him for his help.

            Once again I got on the subway and I went to the correct stop.  I got there around 11:00 and after a short walk I saw the store.  I was happy that I finally got there.  I made my purchase and did a few other things before I got back on the subway and returned home.  Because of this trip I realized that I have to know how to read and write and use my knowledge.  I did not know how to take the train.  It was scary.  I felt helpless.  I never want to feel like that again.  Now I am much more comfortable taking the subway, because after getting lost once, I know how reading and writing can help me.  That is why I am coming to the Center for Reading and Writing.  I do not want to get lost again.





“My Story” by Charlaynne Jarvis

      I was born in the U.S. Virgin Islands.  My mother worked in a hotel while she was pregnant with me.  Her boss did not know that she was pregnant because she kept working right up to the day she gave birth .  

     When she gave birth to me, she had a home delivery.  Dr. Snider, a mid-wife, delivered me. My mother had rheumatic fever at this time.

     When I was one year old, I had an accident.  I was in a walker and the baby sitter was

supposed to be watching me. I took a bad fall and had a serious head injury. A few years later, my mother found out that I would need lots of treatment for my brain injury. They told my mother to take me to a brain specialist in Puerto Rico. I had further treatments there, every six months.

     Due to this injury, I was placed in Special Education classes. My teachers worked very closely with me and they taught me how to use a pencil by directing my hands. I used to go home from school, crying to my mother, because the kids at school made fun of me. My mother made me go back to school and came with me a few times. She told the teachers to talk to the students, and tell them to stop making fun of me.

     The teachers spoke to the kids but they continued to bother me. They would call me hurtful names such as “retarded”, “she can’t write”, etc. One of my art teachers, Mrs. García, who loved me very much, would take these kids to the principal’s office. The principal would call their parents and tell them that their kids would get detention if they continued to torment me.

I left this elementary school to go to junior high. When I came to the new school, I was very shy because I didn’t know how the children would treat me. I found out that though some were not very nice to me, others were much nicer and became my friends.

My history teacher, Mr.Longs, would give me extra help with my lessons.  At this school, I studied home economics where I learned how to cook and sew. My home-room teacher, Mrs. Castro, was very nice to me and treated me almost like her child.  At parent-teacher meetings, she gave my mother good reports about me.

     My high school, Charlotte Amily High School, in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, was not close to my home. I had to take a fare bus to my school every morning. I was placed in Special Education classes there. I couldn’t participate in exercises, like sports, because of my head injury. I studied math, science, Spanish, English. I loved math, and science courses such as biology. I enjoyed studying together with some of my classmates.

     After high school, I came to New York in 1985, to live with my oldest sister in East Harlem. I enrolled in a program called Vesup, which gave me training in office work, such as filing, and  how to look for books in a library.  I also attended a job rehabilitation center on W. 18 St. where I learned various jobs, such as how to put bolts together. I received a salary for these jobs.  Since I have a son, who is now sixteen year old, I also took a class and workshop in parenting skills.

     In the late 1980’s, I began to attend some reading and writing programs at the St. Agnes Branch of the New York Public Library, but had to discontinue them, for various reasons, including not being able to climb the stairs. I then participated, for one year, at Columbia University, in an accelerated learning program, for improvement of writing skills on the computer.

     Recently, after the renovation of the St. Agnes Branch, I called to ask about their reading and writing program and found out that they now have an elevator. So I rejoined the Literacy Program. I am enjoying learning how to write journal entries, improving my vocabulary, and reading various books. I find the classes challenging and I enjoy very much the interaction between the tutors and the other students in my group. I really look forward to coming to my classes on Tuesday and Thursday, and hope they will move me closer to achieving my future goals of passing the GED,  and studying sociology in college. I would like to be able, eventually, to work with children.





“From Chellah to Androrra la Villa” by Fatima Elmansouri


            In 1987, an Algerian family came to my father and asked if he would let me go with them to Andorra la Villa in Spain to work in a restaurant. When my father told me, I was happy to change my life for the better, but it wasn’t good. In the morning I had to take care of the kids until they went to school I cleaned the house every day, the same story. Then I went to the kitchen in the restaurant. I cleaned it all over, in the corners and everywhere. Then I peeled all of the vegetables and started helping the chef cook the meals.

            I was there almost one year. I worked like a horse. I really got tired of it. I felt like I lived in prison and was dead emotionally. Even in the night they didn’t leave me alone. I wanted to go back to my country, Morocco. I didn’t have any money or a passport either. They kept my passport and salary in order to keep me from running away. At last, summer came, and they decided to go for a vacation, but they were going to Algeria. I wanted to go to Morocco. They really wanted me to stay in the house, but I was crying a lot, so they said “okay.”

            The family took me to the airport in Barcelona, and their flight left that night. My flight was the next day. They left me at the airport by myself. This was the first time I was alone in my life. The airport was a scary place. Strangers were all over. I couldn’t go to the restroom or buy any food or drink. I was afraid to show my money anyway. The money was Spanish. I didn’t know it. This night was a nightmare, but that is not the worst night of my life. I will not tell you anymore.

      

“Misconceptions of America” by Sheldon Blair

           People in Jamaica think that America is like what they see on TV. They think there is no suffering in America because some people go to Jamaica and give the impression that everything in America is easy. So, when we send something for our family they think that we can send more.

The American lifestyle is different from Jamaica’s. Nothing is free in America.  People have to pay for fruits and vegetables at the store. Where I live in America I can’t grow crops throughout the year. We don’t have the tropical climate to grow food like Jamaica.

In Jamaica, most people have fruits trees. People can live off the land. They can be independent. In America everything has to be bought. People have to work in order to be able to afford things.  Some people have to sell bottles or live in shelters. Things are not as easy as some Jamaicans believe.

People think it is a bed of roses in America. They need to come to America to really see what it’s like in the cold when they have to go out to make a living. Then they will appreciate what they are given and stop expecting more. They will want to go back to Jamaica.

 



“My Day at the Hospital” by Monica Smith


Last Friday I went to the basement in my building to wash my clothes. I saw the maintenance man in my building. He said, “I have some spray for the mildew in your apartment.” I took the spray and went to my apartment and began spraying the wall and window. It looked so pretty and clean and I felt so happy, but, the spray made me sick. 

The next day I called the ambulance to take me to the hospital’s emergency room. I saw a lot of doctors. They took my temperature. They took ten vials of blood from me. They said I had the flu. I told them, “I have no flu! It’s the spray that made me sick.” They said I had a temperature and that I had the flu. I insisted it was the mildew spray.

They started wearing masks when coming into my room as though I had some kind of contagious disease. I was mad. I was so mad that I signed myself out of the hospital because I knew it was the spray.
          Next time I will read the label carefully before I do any spraying.  If I had, I would have seen, “Open all windows before spraying.” I have learned my lesson. I will not make the same mistake again.     
      




“My Hands” by Frankie Mercado


With my Hands I could kill.

With my Hands I could steal.

With my Hands I could fight.

With my Hands I could do harm.

With my Hands I could feel.

With my Hands I could give and spread a lot of peace

with my dangerous and healing hands. 

Why would people rather do bad with their hands? 

Because it’s easier to do than good. 

I will try to do my best with my healing, dangerous hands. 

I’d rather heal than do harm.  For real.




“Horse Narougor by Diaw Ndiaye

           When I was little, every year the horse Narougor came into my house.  Every time the horse came I would start crying.  In Senegal, people got dressed up and they also dressed up a horse with different colors.  These horses are called Horse Narougor.  This means beautiful.  They go to people’s houses and people give their riders money.  I was crying because I was afraid of the horse.  My mom locked me in to her room, telling the men “please don’t come near her.”

They usually come in the summer.  Africa is not like here. People are sitting outside at sunset. They train the horses to do different dances and movements.  They tell them sit down and they sit, they tell them stand up they stand up.  When they come in to the house the men tell the horse to say hi and the horse makes a sign, like shakes its head.   When they leave, the horse makes a sign like goodbye.  The horse is decorated with wooden beads that make sounds when the horse shakes its head.  Every time they dance or move, you can hear the noise.

            When I grew up I was not afraid.  When they came to my house I would follow them.  When they left I would follow them, too!

            They don’t do it anymore.  I don’t know why.  We used to have a lot of fun.
 


“Growing Up with Cerebral Palsy” by Judy Joseph


             I am the 3rd daughter of five. I was born with cerebral palsy. My mother didn’t know that I had it so she took me to the hospital and they kept me there until I was seven years old. During those years I had many operations. I didn’t have much of a childhood.  Even the doctors didn’t know what cerebral palsy was. They told my mother to put me away and forget about me but my father wouldn’t allow it.

             I needed help to sit up and had to be carried from room to room. I couldn’t go outside to play. I felt sad and lonely but eventually, I got used to it. I was kept in the baby carriage because I couldn’t get up and I also had physical therapy.  My sister taught me how to read and how to write.

            I didn’t walk until I was 16. I was able to walk by using crutches. I used to go downstairs on my backside. I used to walk over to my neighbors by holding on to the house. I started to know about Manhattan and how to get around the city. When I was seventeen, I went all over the city with my friends, using my crutches. I took the ferry and I traveled as much as I could, and we had a great time together.  I always did what I wanted to do and I didn’t’ care what anyone said. Many people said I couldn’t do it but I showed them.

            Today, I enjoy going to United Cerebral Palsy, an agency that provides services, recreation and education.  I like to go there because I do different things such as beading. I also enjoy going out to dinner with my friends.  We have a good time together.  I also enjoy doing advocacy and going to different organizations to make people aware of what UCP really is.
 


“My Staten Island Ferry” by Noelia Marcano

First, I go to school at the St. George Library

 to brush up on my reading and math studies.

 With my studies finished, I’m off to the ferry;

 it’s my relaxation time and exercise time.

 There I stand on the boat,

 relaxed and poised, listening to the heavy waves splashing against the boat.

 No rushing, no thinking, no planning, no anxiety, no regrets, no limitations.

Yes, absolutely nothing but the refreshing breeze of the ocean waves.

There is still more to this adventure;

memories of my Dad sitting beside me.

Here we are, sitting in our fishing boat, feeling so content and secure.

His favorite friend would be there to help with the rowing and caring for me. I never
thought that such a memory could last so long and be so enjoyable.



“My Story” by Djeneba Samake



           I want to say hello to all my classmates. I want to tell my classmates that life is not easy anywhere. No matter where you are, you think that is the only place that life is hard. By my own experience, I know that it is not.

I got married when I was 14 years old. At that time my husband resided in Congo (Brazzaville) so I went to join him there. When I left Mali I thought that life was very hard. What I didn’t know is that where I was going life is even harder because I had to start over. I spent ten years there and I had four kids, two boys and two girls. My husband used to travel from Brazzaville to Egypt for business. A week after I had my fourth child—two weeks after my husband went away— the war in Brazzaville started. People ask why my husband was away when I was expecting to have a baby, but I told him he could go.

          When the war started the men came home saying there were gunshots everywhere. After three days of gunshots, the natives of Brazzaville started to leave the country one by one. That is when we realized it was serious and we started to flee towards Zaire. Between these two countries it wasn’t that far, but they are separated by a river. At the border of the river, there were people who charged to let you cross it. The men let us women go first, but when we got to the middle of the river, the people who were helping us cross pulled their guns at us saying that we needed to give them all the money we had or they will throw us in the water and go back to the shore. So we gave them our money and they brought us to our destination and they put us in a refugee camp. We got food from the people of Zaire. Some were taking others to their house. I got lucky with three of my friends and we got rescued by a couple who brought us to their house, a very nice couple.

          My husband didn’t know where we were. He was very worried. After a few weeks he found out that we were in Zaire. He was very happy because he knew that we were in a safe place, but he didn’t know where we were actually. Eventually he got the phone number of the couple that was helping us. When he called he thanked the man for helping his family and told him he was going to send him money to send me and my children to Mali.
          Back in Mali I had to start over again without my husband. When I got there I thought it was going to get easy, but it didn’t. My third child, who wasn’t used to the food of Mali cried a lot. I only had one bill of CFA 2000 francs (US $20). I gave that money to my daughter and a girl from where we were living to go buy milk for my child. But on their way they were playing with the money and a wind blew it into a garbage fire in the street. When they came back to tell me I couldn’t believe it because it was the only money I had. So I went to check it and it was true. So I sat down and thought that life is even harder. But I thanked God every day because we were alive. Because no matter what, I was still with my children.

          Meanwhile, my husband got a visa to the US when he was in Egypt. Before he could send us any money I was selling peanut butter in the market. I would take it from the wholesaler and sell it retail and give them their money at the end of the day. When my husband started working in the U.S.A. he would send us money. After four years I left my four kids behind with my family in Mali.
         When I got here I started a life again and it wasn’t easy. I stayed in the house three months before I started working. I started as a hair braider in African hair braiding. I started work at 9 a.m. and don’t get home until 10 or 11 p.m. for $200 for 6 days of work. Still it wasn’t easy. I was tired but I didn’t have a choice because I had left my children behind and they needed my help.

         Three weeks after I started working, 9/11 happened. That day I was going to work. I saw people watching TV but I didn’t know what was going on because I didn’t speak or understand any English. When I got to work my boss had opened the shop but didn’t turn on the TV. I told her something was going on. When she turned it on, that’s when we learned what was happening.

         Right then and there I got more discouraged, because I had left a hard life, and when I got here I thought it was going to get easier. But because of 9/11 it wasn’t and that discouraged me even more. Because when you come to a country where the natives are happy you are sure you are going to find happiness too. That is why I was discouraged because the people were angry. But always we should thank God when a bad thing happens because no matter what it can’t bring the world to its knees.

         I continued to work but the only thing bothering me was not to be able to speak and read English. Now I started school. Sometimes, when I look at my age, I think that I won’t be able to do it. But the teachers continue to encourage me and my only concern now is to study so I can get my documents so I can go see my children, because it has been 10 years since the last time I saw them.

 
“Aisha’s Story” by Aisha Jobe

My life is very hard. I am living for 18 years in this country, and after working for ten years, I am now for two years without my job. I am a single parent, raising 6 kids by myself. Now I am trying to get a better life. After the company I worked for—Stella D’Oro—closed, I could not find a new job because the economy is so bad in New York. So I decided I have to learn to read and write and I came to the Library to learn.

When I was a child in Africa, I did not go to school, and I married very, very young—13 or 14 years old. When I came to America I started to work right away selling food and could not go to school. I had to make money to take care of my kids so they can have a better life. Right now thank God four of my sons are in college. My one daughter, who has Down’s syndrome, is in high school and lives at home with me. I am sorry to say one son died when he was just 20 years old. That was June 22, 2006. His name is Matar.

         I am happy that I am learning to read and write and hope that I can get a new job soon. Then I will know that life for me and my family will be much happier. It will still be very hard, but happier.

“Where I Feel At Home” by Gean Chambers

            I went for a visit to Jamaica.  I paid my taxes for my land in Jamaica.  It is for my English cottage.  I made a getaway from the winter cold in March. 

            I hope to retire in 2011 if God keeps me.  Then I will stay for two years in Jamaica and plant flowers.  I will come back in the summer to New York, and then I will go visit my sister in good old England, in Birmingham, where I was born. 

            But I like the sun to get my old bones warm so I’ll go back to the sunny island of Jamaica.  I’ll go to the beach and swim in the blue water and eat a lot of mango, plum and banana and oranges.  I pick these from my uncle’s trees.  In Europe you need to go to the market, but not Jamaica.  I’ll have plenty of fresh fish from the ocean for lunch and dinner.  I’ll have pork also, from the pig.  It is very good to have three countries to visit.  I feel at home in three countries, and I have a good time.

“The Would Be Vacationer” by Lisa Ng

Once in a while, I have to drive friends or relatives to the airport.  Normally drivers don’t want to spend money on parking.  But not me—I like to park my car and accompany my folks to the terminal.  After they have departed through the security checkpoint, I look forward to spending some time by myself, wandering around the airport.

            I pretend I am going on an exciting trip; however, I don’t have to worry about all the things that an ordinary traveler has to pay attention to—things like struggling with my luggage, waiting in long lines, running to catch my flight, or making sure the passport is intact.  But just imagining that I’m on vacation, I can have all the pleasure of travel and none of the aggravation.

            Sometimes, I’ll do a little window shopping; stuff in the shops is always nice to look at—but not to buy.  I can go to the observation area to see the jumbo jets taking off and landing.  After a while, I might sit down at the terminal snack bar and enjoy a cup of gourmet coffee while I watch the passengers with tense faces scurry by, wheeling their carry-on bags behind them.
            Then it’s time to return home.  I’ve had a delightful walk around.  After all, I won’t need to take a vacation from this vacation.



“Working in My Day Care Center” by Elliot Adorno


When I come to work, I am so happy. You see I am a custodian. The first thing I do is to get my stuff ready, to go start cleaning. The first room I clean is the Rainbow Room. The children are happy to see me. They are two and a half years old, and they call me Scooby Doo, because I do the voice. The second room I clean is the Aqua and Star Room. The children are three to four years old. The last room I do is the Nature Room. I love cleaning for the children and staff.

It is not in my job description, but I also have to look out for people who come in and pick up their children and I also help the teachers when the kids act up. I also have to make sure the playground is clean, because people throw garbage out their windows, and so the kids can play safely.

At the end of the day, I have to make sure the building is empty before I set the alarm on and go home.

 I also do a lot more because I don’t mind because I love my job.

“Kindness - NYC Style” by Joe Roman, Juan Villarin, Lucienne Cyriaque, George Garrett, Nathan Goldring, Lyndell Johnson, Mody Diop, Nakisha Rodriguez

To know what NYC kindness is, you must experience it.  You can be in the subway, at work, in your home, at school or on the street.  You can also be on a bus or in the hospital.  Kindness can be giving up your seat for a pregnant woman or a blind person, stepping back to let a person in a wheelchair pass or helping someone to understand a language.  It can also be when you help someone find an address.  But make sure you send them to the right address!

New Yorkers are more likely to help someone find their way than give up on a seat to someone who needs it on public transport.  There are many different people.  Some will give up their seats but most won’t. 

When you give your seat to someone who needs it, they are usually very grateful.  But sometimes you give your seat to a person who does not want to help and they get angry when you offer.  Some young people are not educated about taking the seats reserved for older people.

Kindness is voluntary.  You don’t have to do it, but you choose to because of the spirit inside you.  We are often kind because we can put ourselves in the other person’s shoes.  How would you feel if you were in need?  What would happen if you lost your Metrocard and had no money?  If someone gave you a swipe of their Metrocard, so you could get home, you would feel great.

Time is very important to New Yorkers.  They are always on the go and always need more time to get things done.  If a New Yorker takes time out to help you, they have been kind – and you have been lucky!