I am always thinking no one loves me in this world, and no one cares about me, but a few days ago, I got to see this is an illusion. I am a volunteer English teacher at an orphanage where I also teach computer skills and volleyball. I have more than twenty students, and I love them all.
My students love to play volleyball more than they love learning English and computer skills, and we play for thirty minutes a day. Sadly, we don’t have a real volleyball. Instead, we use a football, which is so heavy it makes our fingers tired.
One Monday, I walked through the dusty alley to the orphanage. Dust covered my feet and clothes, and my little black face was almost white with dust. When I arrived at the orphanage, the tall solider was standing in front of the door with a gun. A blanket covered most of his face, to keep the dust out, but the dust powdered his dark eyebrows.
He began to ask me the same questions he asks every day.
“Where do you want to go? Where is your home? May I ask how much is your salary?” And a thousand other questions. It always takes me ten minutes to answer these questions, every day. I do not like this man. Finally, he was through with me, and I entered the orphanage, which smells like sunflower oil and spoiled food.
As I walked to my classroom, I passed my students, walking along in their dusty bare feet. After I shook their hands, they sat on the carpet, and I asked them their questions. I was happy because they all had done their homework. We practiced English for an hour and a half.
At last it was time to play volleyball! They all went to one side of the net, and I took the other. The game was going well, and then my student Farhat shot the football hard, and it hit me on the face. It really hurt! I put my left hand on the right side of my face and tried not to cry. For ten minutes, I sat on the ground, forcing myself not to cry.
I kept telling myself, “Zahra be strong. If you cry, your students will be sad.” My students were shocked. They told Farhat, “You bit the teacher! You are so impolite!” They meant “hit the teacher,” but I didn’t correct their English.
“Believe me guys,” Farhat said, “I didn’t want to bit the teacher with the ball.” He was afraid.
Then, even though my face was red and still hurting, I got back on my feet and continued to play. I played for fifteen more minutes. Then I said goodbye to them and walked back to my dorm. All the way home, I was thinking, Now I will fall down, but thank God it did not happen.
Back at the dorm, I took some medicine, sat down on my bed, and began to study for my online English class at 6:30. Then I noticed it was late, and I jumped out of bed so fast that my feet got tangled in the blanket, and I tripped. My head hit a wooden cupboard, and I passed out. When I opened my eyes, my friends were standing around me crying because they were so worried. Even though I had a terrible headache and could not concentrate, I went to my English class.
After class, my friends took me to the hospital. I cried silently on the way because I didn’t want them to know how much my head hurt. I hate the hospital because of the blood and sick people and the terrible smell. The doctor was unkind. He gave me some medicine and told me not to walk for a week. Then my friends and I got in a taxi. I looked out the windows as we drove home and felt so sad, like I was losing all my hopes. For a week I rested. My friends brought me food and helped me, but that week seemed to last for seven years.
After that, I left my dorm to buy some things at the store. As I was crossing the street of the orphanage, the tall soldier shouted, “Moalam Sahib!” It means, “Dear Teacher.” But I kept walking and did not pay attention to him.
Suddenly, he stood in front of me. I stopped and looked up. He handed me a bunch of papers and said, “Your students gave these to me to give to you.” I was afraid because I couldn’t believe his words, but I took the papers, said “Thank you,” and walked away. While I was shopping, I thought about the papers. I thought, “What is in these papers is a lot of people.”
I walked home fast because I was alone. I ran up the stairs to my room and opened the papers. The first note was from Farhat. He wrote with good handwriting in Dari: Sallam Dear Teacher! I hope you are doing well. I am really sorry for biting you. Actually, I didn’t want to bite you, but… Please come back to our orphanage. We miss you so much. Frahat Mohmand.
The second note was from Aftab. There were seven more letters. The tears were coming down my face like rain. I couldn’t stop them. I felt so much love, even for the soldier.
By Zahra A.
Photo of Afghan boys playing volleyball in Mazar-i-Sharif: Qais Usyan/AFP/Getty Images