Unification News for September 1996


Ahmed's First Christmas

by Catherine Ladolcetta-Irvington, AL

It was getting close to Christmas and Top Garden School was filled with a joyful tension-a knowing that "something good is coming!"

Mee Young's third grade class was buzzing about the Christmas play. Who would be Mary and who Joseph? Who would be the Angel of God bringing the glad news of the newborn baby?

The door opened with a bang and in came a boy no one knew.

"This is Ahmed, class," said their teacher, Miss Claire, stepping into the room behind the small, dark-haired boy.

"Ahmed?" thought Mee Young to herself. "He must be a Blessed child to have a name like Ahmed."

"Hi, Ahmed." Mee Young smiled as she spoke to him. To her surprise, as she looked into his face, she saw anger and fear.

"Please sit down, class. Ahmed will be with us for several months while his father is here on business with I.O.E. Ahmed, you can sit in this desk." Miss Claire pointed to the desk in the middle of the front row. "Mee Young, will you sit by Unja for now and we'll sort things out at snacktime."

As Mee Young slipped into her seat beside Unja, Miss Claire smiled at Ahmed. He sat frowning down at the desk, biting his lip and clenching his hands in his lap. She could see that he was close to tears.

Ahmed knew the children's eyes were on him. He could feel their curiosity poking at him. He was afraid of these Christians and their too-friendly ways.

The plane ride had been long and he and his father had slept very little. Ahmed's head was heavy and his stomach hurt a bit because he hadn't eaten any of the strange foods offered him at breakfast. He heard the teacher's words and understood most of them. His English classes in Saudi had prepared him well, but she spoke so fast and she had a funny accent, too. He fought his tiredness, but his eyes closed and he laid his head on his arms. As he slept, he dreamed of his mother's face. She was smiling at him and telling him something. He tried to listen. She was wearing a brilliant white gown and Ahmed lifted his face to look at her better.

"Don't worry, Ahmed, these are good people, they will be kind to you."

He cried out to her in his dream. "Why did you leave us? Why did you go away?" She didn't answer, but patted his arm lovingly and still smiling, she was gone.

Suddenly, Ahmed was awake. He sat up abruptly and, looking wildly around, he saw nothing he knew-no one-not one of his aunts or elder sisters was there as they had been all the time since his mother's death three months ago. He burst into frightened tears and buried his face in his arms again.

The children, who had been watching him sleep, leaned toward him. Daniel reached out a small, brown hand and patted his back. "It's O.K., Ahmed, don't worry. We'll take care of you."

"Yeah, we will," said Nathan, coming over to his desk. He bent his sandy blond head over Ahmed and spoke softly. "We like you; don't be sad."

Around the small classroom, children' heads bobbed in agreement. As Miss Claire looked around, she felt tears coming to her eyes. Mee Young and Shimmy, Unja and Daniel each had tears rolling down their faces or glittering in their eyes. "Look at them, they don't even know him and they are crying because he is so unhappy," she thought to herself.

Ahmed lifted his head as he heard their voices and slowly looked around. He was so tired and so lonely in this strange land where people smiled even when they didn't know him. And now, all these children, so kind-as his mother had told him in his dream-were crowding around him with friendliness in their eyes. He sniffed and wiped his arm across his nose. He looked around the group of anxious faces and tried to smile. In an instant, they all were laughing and talking and patting him on the back and telling him about soccer and lunch and the Christmas play.

Ahmed felt better. "Maybe it will be all right here," he thought. "I hope Waheba is not feeling as awful as this."

Waheba was Ahmed's nine-year-old sister. He knew she was sitting in another small classroom nearby. He'd looked in as he passed the open door and had seen only two children at desks and there was a third desk-empty.

"Empty for Waheba," he thought now. "She is fine," he told himself. "She is always fine, she has that way."

The children were getting out colorful boxes and, opening them, they took out all kinds of food. Ahmed was very hungry, but he had no lunchbox. A slender boy with black hair and narrow eyes shyly reached over and laid something white, wrapped in green, on his desk. A yellow square of paper lay beneath it.

"Here, have a rice ball," he said with a shy smile.

"Yeah, they're really good." It was the girl with short, dark hair and big greenish eyes who had given him her desk.

"Thank you." Ahmed picked up the funny-looking bundle and carefully sniffed it. He put it into his mouth whole and began to chew. It was good and he was so hungry! One by one, the children put a part of their lunch on the yellow paper napkin. He ate each one: a smoky bit of fish, a cup of pink yogurt with a tiny, white plastic spoon, a crunchy round thing with a slice of orange cheese on it. He didn't recognize anything by its shape and everything tasted a little different from anything he knew from home, but it all tasted good and he was so glad to eat.

"Oh! Nivena! My sister, is she O.K.?" he asked. Suddenly he had remembered his baby sister. She was four and she was here somewhere, too. He had a vague idea that she was in a different building to which she had gone with a lady who looked a lot like Miss Claire. Nivena had not spoken when they arrived this morning. She had not cried, but he knew she would need him because she was so young.

"May I see my sister, Nivena, please?" His voice was tight in his throat. He stood up straight and stiff-afraid he wouldn't be allowed to go to her.

"C'mon, Ahmed!" It was Mee Young again. "C'mon, you guys, let's go find Nivena!" They put the lunch boxes away in a flurry and Ahmed found himself running along a gray, cement-block walkway in the midst of his new classmates. As they rounded a corner, they slowed down a little and then stopped abruptly.

There, in the open gate, stood a tiny girl dressed all in black from her head to her toes.

"Ahmed!" she cried out, running to him. He caught her up in his arms and swung her around. She had been crying, he saw, tracing his finger over the streaks which ran down her round cheeks. But now she had stopped and she was smiling at him.

"I eat lunch." Her voice was not so tiny as she was herself. Her English was not so good as Ahmed's. "It good!" She hugged him around the neck and then struggled to get down. "I play now." She was pointing toward the swings which other children were pumping up and down across the bright blue sky.

"Do you want to swing, Nivena?" A girl nearly as tiny as she, with shoulder-length, honey-colored hair, took her hand, pulling her across the grass.

"Yes, yes! I swing!" The two little girls began to run. Ahmed watched in amazement as they stopped, and the American girl showed Nivena how to skip. They started off again, holding hands, tripping and stumbling a little and laughing together as they went.

"Is she O.K.?" Shimmy looked at Ahmed.

"Yes, she is O.K. We are all O.K. now." He turned and, with his first real smile, Ahmed asked, "Where is the soccer to be played?"

"All right, children, let's settle down!" The porch at Top Garden School was swimming in sunlight, and it was remarkably warm for the first week of December, even in southern Alabama.

Miss Claire tried again, "Children, let's quiet down so we can get this play organized!" The students found seats on the wooden benches on the porch and the talking subsided.

"Now, we have to decide who will be who!" Miss Claire smiled at all the hopeful faces. She knew that, among themselves, they had made some decisions concerning the parts in the traditional Christmas play.

"Do you have any ideas?"

"I do! I do!" Mee Young jumped up, almost shouting in her excitement. "Ahmed can be Joseph and Waheba can be Mary!" She looked around, her cheeks pink and her wide eyes sparkling.

"Oh, that's an interesting idea-what do you think, children?" Miss Claire was surprised because she knew that Mee Young wanted to be Mary even thought Mihee, as the oldest girl, would be a more likely choice.

"Yeah, that's a great idea!" Mattias was grinning hopefully. He was the oldest boy in the school and he was right in thinking that he would probably be Joseph.

"What do you think, Mihee?" The third-grade teacher found that she did not know what to expect from her students.

Mihee sat still, her bright face thoughtful. Then she looked at Waheba and smiled her radiant smile.

"If you would like to be Mary, I think you would be great."

Waheba looked at her new best friend. "Is it really O.K., Mihee?" Her voice was hopeful and a little afraid. These Americans so easily gave what they had to her-still, she was a bit worried that, inside, Mihee might be sorry if she took the part. In her own country, people often hid their true feelings.

Mihee grinned, "Sure, it's O.K.! And it's be fun, too!"


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