“Teacher, teacher! Me, me…!” she shouts, her voice louder than the other 60 students. Teachers smile at her and let her answer. After class, she carries her teacher’s materials to their next classroom, showing her respect.
The impact teachers had on students and the respect they commanded inspired her to teach. Sadia, my mom, managed to become a sixth-grade geography teacher in Ethiopia in a school that was an hour walk from home. She continued no matter how many times her colleagues nagged her to go home and manage the family grocery store until she married. My mother knew she did not want a life with only the responsibility of cooking, cleaning, caring for kids, and waiting for her husband to provide all the money. The school was located deep in the forest, and the road was narrow and long, surrounded by tall trees, with a wooden bridge. She persevered.
My mom grew up in a town with a mosque on one side and a church on the other. People in the different religions tolerated each other, but it was forbidden to marry someone of a different faith. Sadia became friends with a co-worker, Wase, who was a Christian. For lunch she often made shiro, a dish made of powdered broad beans, and Wase’s favorite dish. Wase used to take her hand to help her cross the bridge. When they began to live together, Sadia and Wase did not have their families’ blessings. Their neighbors did not invite them for coffee or help them move into the neighborhood. My mom lost contact with her family for one year. But eventually society accepted them.
Eventually, Sadia gave birth to me and my brother, continued teaching, and built a house with her husband. Her journey in education had not ended— she returned to college for her bachelor’s degree. Both of my parents left for college every summer, leaving my brother at my grandmother’s place and me with a maid. My childhood scars, because there was no one to clean the wounds I got from falling, still remind my mother of what she sacrificed to go to school.
My dad moved to the United States in 2012. He was supposed to work for a couple of years and return to Ethiopia. After a while, my parents decided it would be better for my brother and me to be educated in the U.S. In Ethiopia, how well you do on standardized tests decides what you will study. My parents wished for me and my brother to have the choice of what to study. My mother abandoned her job, her house, her extended family, and her feelings of belonging to come to a new country where she had no friends or family members to turn to. Today, she is a cashier at Goodwill, lives in a rented apartment, and still has no extended family.
When she was growing up, success for my mom was defiance, proving society wrong and making the impossible possible. After getting married and having two kids, success is being present for her family and making sacrifices so that we can have an even better life than she did.
Written by the graduating class of 2018 from the Boston International Newcomers Academy (BINcA), this collection of personal essays explores ideas of success across generations and continents. Foreword written by Poet Laureate of the City of Boston Danielle Legros Georges.View In Store Read more from this book »