The first day of school was the happiest day of my life. It was a summer day in 2002 when I started fourth grade. I learned reading and writing at the mosque and a little bit of math but I didn’t see school until after the Taliban regime. Everything surprised me: the girls’ uniforms, the teachers, and the classrooms.
I made more than fifty new friends. In Afghanistan, the lazy students sit at the back of class where the teachers do not pay attention to them, and I sat with them on the floor. They were very nice and kind. The first teacher entered the class. She wore a beautiful blue dress with white pants, and black high-heels. Her accent was Dari Kabul. She walked very proudly in a way that you could count her steps. She was my Dari language teacher.
She started class by reciting names, and then asked a student to read the homework paragraph from the book. Then she walked toward the end of the class and chose me to read the next paragraph. I felt happy that the teacher gave me the chance to read, but I didn’t have the book. “I didn’t buy my books yet. Today my father will buy me books,” I said.
“Where is your note?” she asked. I had no idea what she meant by a note. I felt speechless so I said I didn’t have one. “Shame on you, lazy girl,” she said. She slapped my face, which made me cry. It was not because of the pain, but because my classmates were laughing. At that moment, I disliked school and wanted to scream, but I cried silently.
She lent her book to me, grabbed my arm, and took me to the front of the classroom. I cleaned my tears with the white handkerchief my Mom had put in my pocket, took a deep breath, and started reading the paragraph. I read it as loud and as clear as I could.
“Stop. I thought you are one of those girls. That’s why I slapped you. I am sorry,” the teacher said, and then she changed my seat to the second row. But I went back to my first place where I already made some friends.
All of my friends were four or five years older than me. I was the youngest student in my class. I learned a bunch of children’s songs from my grandma and whenever my teacher was not coming to class, I taught the songs to my new friends. By the end of the year, they all memorized the songs, and it was my favorite thing to sing those songs, Qo Qo Qo Barge Chenar, Chako Chako Jalghoza, and Shekare.
Although I had a tough first day, I felt happy because my classmates knew my teacher and understood that the last rows are not only for lazy students. I was happy because I was able to help those girls. I was happy for all my friends who were left behind and have never been encouraged to move forward. We passed the fourth grade together. I was happy for their happiness. I changed school in fifth grade, but I always have their smiley faces in my mind.
Kamilah is currently a student abroad. Photo by U.S. Army Capt. Mike Butler, Paktika Provincial Reconstruction Team Civil Affairs.