I watched for the last time as these beautiful spirits loaded onto their big green bus. They waved out the window and screamed out “Bye Ms. Molhiaaa!!! we will miss you! We love you!” Even though they all screamed it at once, I could pick out every single voice… every single soul. With the heaviest heart, I waved back. The lump in my throat prevented me from uttering any syllable. I stood there and watched the bus as it drove off. I had just embarked on a new journey in my life with these students almost two months ago, and now the end had come. I’ve always admired teachers; but other than being psychology majored/medical studies inclined, teaching was never something I had in mind for myself.
In June 2013, I was asked to be the keynote speaker at an event at the Harvard Graduate School of Education that focused on the lives and experiences of refugees of African origins. Unbeknownst to me, somewhere in the audience was the coordinator of New York/ New England’s Refugee Youth Project. After my speech, we eagerly conversed, exchanged contacts and fervently kept in touch. The next month, I conceded to spending a part of my summer teaching public speaking to high school refugee students; notwithstanding my current position and overwhelming endeavors. Despite all the credentials and honors, I knew little about the technicalities of teaching… in English. As a multilingual immigrant, a fish out of water, precocious globe trotter sadly raised European and native of the Ivory Coast (West Africa), I had mostly taught French in various language institutions for children in America and candidly knew few about ‘professional public speaking’ besides my own personal experiences.
The night before my first day, I anxiously laid out my clothes and packed my lunch. I looked over my lesson plan a million times thinking to myself, “Is this too corny?” “What if they hate this?”. All I could think about was meeting these new faces. How would I have them call me? Just Molhia? Or “Momo”…to be cool? Or the way my grandmother affectionately calls me.. “Moya”? or maybe “Nancy” for all those who unconsciously torture the authentic Akan “ NaaEsi”? As I thought about all the possible names, I finally drifted to sleep, putting my anxiousness to temporary rest. The next morning I walked into the classroom nervously awaiting my new students. I wrote my name on the board, erased it and rewrote it about three times. I needed it to be perfect. As they arrived in the classroom after lunch, I plastered a huge smile across my face to disguise my nervousness. “Hello everyone, I am Ms. Molhia.” That was the beginning of me being Ms. Molhia. That was the beginning of me becoming a mentor, and friend to thirty beautiful souls.
I wasn’t just teaching any students, these were refugee students. These were students who were forced to leave their countries because of conflicts. These were students who yearned to speak the language of Americans… to walk like Americans, to be Americans. I was teaching students who didn’t live with their parents, who didn’t have parents, who were their own parents. I was teaching students who lived in refugee camps for years, who had seen more things than people twice their age. I was teaching students who carried the burdens of their entire family, students who carried the scars of their nations.
Nevertheless, I was teaching the brightest students. The students who would struggle to pronounce “cacophony” but knew more about the world than I did. Students who didn’t know who Snow White was or Little Red Riding Hood but could tell the most captivating stories in their languages. After the first week, I had already connected with these souls. They loved the way I spoke and wanted to speak just like me. What they didn’t know was I yearned to speak like them; to know their languages. I too wanted to struggle to pronounce “cacophony.” I wanted my tongue to be too heavy for English or French but light enough to roll out every African tribal language.
Today, as I felt nostalgic (well, nothing new if you know me lol) I read over the card they presented me on my last day.
“I’m gonna miss you. You’re the best teacher. Luv you.” -Selam
“You’re my favorite teacher. Love you!” -Adjo
“You are a kind teacher.”-Mohamed
“I love you Ms. Molhia.” -Thuam
“Thank you so much.” –Sui
“Thank you. We will miss you so much! God bless you .”- Anette & Soraya
One ultimate question made me ponder – “What have I done with my light to deserve all these attributes and blessings?“
– “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.” [Matthew 5:14 NIV]
What have I done with my light?
With my light, I have taught thirty beautiful souls to have confidence in themselves. To speak with their heads up and with their voice high because what they have to say is important. With my light, I taught them that even if their English is not ”perfect”, their words will always carry power. With their lights, they confirmed my purpose. They served as a reminder from God, telling me “to speak life and spread My light unto the nations, for this is the path I have set for you.” With their footsteps, they taught me patience. They taught me tolerance. They taught me gratefulness. They taught me the essence of selflessness and love. They showed me my strengths and weaknesses. They helped me to set a series of groundbreaking goals. I now aspire to absorb as many languages as my cerebral faculty could contain.
With the light of our footsteps, we have made permanent imprints in each other’s lives. I am not the same Molhia I was before I walked into that specific classroom. I went in as Everybody’s ‘Momo’ and had left as a substantial unfamiliar ‘Ms. Molhia’. I look forward to watching these teenagers blossom into marvelous salt and light. I look forward to bumping into them at the most unexpected places of the world. I look forward to the day when I can ask them, “What have you done with your lights?” and the same voices that timidly attempted to pronounce “cacophony” can give me confident replies sharing the fulfillment of their purpose and destiny.