Morning Irony

On the first morning of the new school year, my mother asked me to accompany my brothers to their elementary school. She was not well and couldn’t do it herself.

I was happy she had asked because it would be a chance for me to see my brothers’ school—what the building looked like, what the playground was like and who their classmates were. My brothers studied hard at home and were among the best students in the entire school. I was eager to see where they spent their days learning.

It was early in the morning when we left the house that day, the weather cool. We walked, and I played with my brothers along the way. When we arrived at the school, I saw there were many boys already playing in the schoolyard. They were running and jumping and calling out to each other loudly. My bothers ran toward their friends and chimed in noisily with the other voices.

At the moment the bell rang, all the boys stopped playing and scattered toward their different classrooms.

I wanted to go inside too, so I headed toward the office to ask the school manager a question or two. When I entered the office, I saw a woman at the counter. She wore a tattered dress and was speaking to the manager who stood behind the tall counter.

As I neared, I could hear her plaintive voice. She was begging to register her child. “Please, Sir. Please,” she pleaded.

“I’m sorry. We can’t do that. You have not paid the fees for Afghans,” answered the man. He looked down at the woman’s hands.

“I don’t have the money,” she replied. “I have four children who need to study and no husband. Your fees are too much for me. I work in other people’s houses, but I don’t bring in even enough money to live.” She held her hands together and began to cry.

The manager stood there, quiet. I didn’t know what he was thinking, but I knew he felt sorry for her.

The woman turned and left the office. So did I. I had forgotten what it was I had wanted to ask the manager.

On the far side of the yard, there was a chair. I walked toward it, sat down. I thought about the woman I had seen, imagined what she must have felt like, being unable to provide an education for her children. She had no money, no money to give her children a chance to go to school, this school. I couldn’t breathe.

After I had been sitting there for a while, three Iranian women came out of the office. They were speaking Farsi, and stood close enough for me to hear.

The tall woman said, “I’m going to send my child to another school.”

“Why?” asked the woman on her right.

“Because I saw some Afghan students among the children. I don’t want any of my son’s classmates to be Afghan.”

I took in a deep breath and smiled at the irony of the moment: two mothers with completely different perspectives. Here I had thought I was going to have one of the most special memories of my life, taking my brothers to school, but I was wrong. As I stood and walked out of the playground, I asked myself whether the government of Iran really, truly needed the money they were asking the Afghan families to pay.

By Zeinab


  1. Dear Zeinab,
    Thank you so very much for sharing your story. I live in the US and cannot imagine what it must be like to not have the freedom to go to school, nor to be a mom who doesnt have the money to send my children to school as other than private schools, getting an education is free and required by law. It is also astonishing to me that girls are shunned from attending, seen as less of a person, that would never happen here. I dont know how old you are, but whatever age you are, I think you are a very brave girl and it is amazing that you are so determined to attend school. I hope you write more stories, you are a great writer. Maybe you could write a book someday about your life which would give you many many opportunities. I hope at the very least you get the opportunity to go to school, and wish you the best of blessings and prosperity in all ways. I will be praying for you. Take Care.

  2. Tina Busch-Nema says:

    Dear Zeinab,

    Your story so touches my heart! Thank you for taking the time to share what you saw and how you felt! As a woman with all brothers I know a little bit about fighting for my voice to be heard. But the fight you have for your dreams, your desires to be heard is so much more than I will ever know.

    My sister, I hold your dreams and your struggle in my heart and maybe together with many other women holding you and the other women who desire freedom, who desire their voices to be heard, we will find a way.
    Do not give up!

  3. Shanon Edwards says:

    Dear Zeinab,

    It is always important for people in the world to be reminded that is some countries school is not free for all children to attend. I am grateful to you for telling this simple story and I like the contrast between the mothers that you highlighted.

    Shanon in Oregon, USA

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