February 15, 2008

She's drafting an autobiographical essay to apply for Upward Bound. It's lunch. I'm sitting with her, reading her essay: the first part is about moving here from Sierra Leone. I ask her to tell me how things were different there, see if we can put it in the essay. You have to hear this in her voice: big round vowels, all the rs dropped, liquid, Sierra Leone by way of the American inner city.

"Of course. There was more kids. The walls - you know - like that sliding thing in Mr. D's room? Like a door but you slide it out of the way? Like that. You have to get there early. If you was late you would have to sit on the floor. I had - like this, like a desk, but made out of board - that I brung from home. If your people had money they could give you one. You didn't learn as much. There wasn't opportunity, like there is here.

"If you was late you would get beaten. No one would cuss at the teachers. You just - no one did. All the kids want to be in school. You don't want to have the life of your mother and your father. If you can't pay your school fees, and maybe you get kicked out of the school, then you would be selling things, like cold water in plastic. Roasted peanuts, candy, anything, just to help your mother pay the fee. Or then maybe you go back and you get kicked out for two weeks - some of the teachers understand. Sometimes a principal understand and they let you have an extra week to pay.

"It was hard to get used to the kids. When I came here I was surprised how the kids act, like they don't care about they education. Well, sometime I act like that too now.

"Sometime I think I want to go back to Africa. You get your education here, you work for a little bit, you can go back and have plenty. Build a house - it's not even that much. But my mother she say get your education here. If I go back to Africa I be spoiled - no mother, no father, live with my grandmother in the big house. I be just like my sisters and brothers."

She wants to be a prosecutor, like on Law & Order, or maybe a counselor to help teens and married people.

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