We’re now in the room alone, just me and this young girl from Afghanistan.
I have to ask her name again. I didn’t catch it the first time. Or the second time. Not even when the other adults pronounced it.
And honestly? Even as the girl herself tells me her name now, and I try to echo it back, I still don’t think I’m getting it right.
But she doesn’t correct me.
She just smiles and we go on, doing our best to understand each other.
Her parents want her exposed to more English before school starts in the fall. She already speaks some, but it’s difficult for her.
I want her to practice reading to me. But the first book we open is too hard for her. She’s 7 years old. But she can’t read the book. Not in English anyway.
We try flash cards with the English alphabet. She doesn’t know the sounds of the letters. But she does know the names of each one. That’s something. Plus she thinks it is fun.
But we’ve finished the stack of cards. And now it’s time for reading again.
I pick up the second book. I’ll just read it to her, then we can talk about it.
I read the title first. And I immediately know this book. The girl had picked it out herself among the other books on the table at the beginning of the hour. She couldn’t have consciously understood the significance of it.
But I understand.
And as I read this book to her now, my heart both warms and aches.
It’s about a girl whose classmates and teacher can’t pronounce her name.
Saddened by this, the girl in the story walks home, vowing never to return to school again.
But the mother in the book turns it around. She teachers her daughter the beauty of names, including hers. She turns names into the beautiful musical lyrics that names are. The girl returns to school the next day to teach the message to others.
I finish reading this story to my new little Afghan friend, whose name I can’t pronounce. I doubt she sees the irony.
So I ask her name one more time. And this time, I also ask if she can write her name on a piece of paper for me. She can and does.
I try pronouncing it again.
I still can’t say it exactly right. But maybe I’m a little closer.
I don’t get to meet the girl’s mother at the end of our session. But I pray that her mother is like the girl’s mother in the book. That she teaches her daughter the value of her beautiful name, her unique heritage, and this amazing journey she is on.
I’m grateful that at least for this day, I get to be a witness to this portion of her journey. I’ll remember it.
And even if I can’t pronounce her name properly, I’ll remember her.
Do people ever struggle to pronounce your name? Sometimes my last name is mispronounced, but never my first name.
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