In November of 2004, Augustine’s friend Lauren asked him to monitor an English composition class that she taught in an Upper West Side New York City high school. She promised him that he would find it interesting, especially a short piece written by an Iraqi student. When the boy’s time came to read, he got up and walked slowly to the front of the class. His hands shook. He could barely face the other students; and when he looked sheepishly at Lauren, she smiled and nodded to him.
“Go ahead, Ali. Read what you’ve written,” she said in a quiet voice. “Everyone needs to hear this. It will teach us all about the horrors of war.”
The boy took a deep breath and read the following to his classmates:
“I never saw so many bombs coming down on streets that were rubble becoming more rubble in a midnight rain of fire and light that lit up the entire city of Baghdad; and I hid in the basement of my house wondering if the world had come to an end or if I’d ever again see the morning sun or hear a bird sing or feel the wind touch my face; I tell ya it was hell on earth that midnight roar of planes coming no matter how much I wished they’d disappear; and when morning came and I left the basement of my house and walked down a street that was no longer a street, a street with nothing on it but the rubble of my friends and neighbors houses, and I looked for planes in the sky and I listened for bombs falling, but I experienced a silence so deep I’d never heard its likes before; and I wondered if anyone or anything was alive on earth but me and my mother who waved to me from across the rubble strewn street. My house was the only house still standing in the quarter. I mean, I didn’t know if I was the luckiest or unluckiest person on earth.”
The boy shrugged his shoulders and sat down next to Augustine. There were tears in his eyes. He slouched in his desk chair and stared straight ahead.
“I just don’t know what to think,” he said out loud. “My father died that night; all my friends died that night, and me and my mother came to live with relatives in America…”