First Day!

Monday was the first day of school, always a big day. My neighbor will remember this one all her life.

It’s a familiar ritual, packing the book bag and getting on the bus or walking to the school. You did it when you were young. Perhaps you are at the age where your children or grandchildren have repeated the pattern.

The beginning of the school year holds so much promise. What will the teacher be like? What about the classmates? There’s excitement – and a little bit of fear of the unknown. No matter how old you are.

Monday was my neighbor’s first day of school, but she knew what to do. Take the bus to Heitersheim, then the train to Bad Krozingen. It’s only one train stop – Kindergarten children seem to make it with ease. As a Canadian, I still marvel at parents trusting their children on public transit at that age.

Last week my wife volunteered to do a trial run with our neighbor, just to make sure she knew the way and that the bus/train connection worked. It went off without a hitch.

Monday was the real thing. Our neighbor has seen her daughter off to Kindergarten in September before, but this was different. Now it was her turn.

Thirty years old. Married with three children. And Monday was her first day of school. Ever.

She was born in a country with a repressive regime. Girls were not allowed to attend school. Not allowed to learn to read and write. So much potential wasted. She has been in Germany a few years, but had to wait to get into a class.

Now she’s in school for the very first time. Learning her ABCs in a language she barely speaks. Once she learns the alphabet, then the German lessons begin in earnest. (She will probably never learn to read and write her native tongue.)

It isn’t going to be easy. But imagine the experiences that will open up for her as classes progress. She will learn to read street signs and product labels. It will be as if the world will have changed from black and white to Technicolor. ]

Newspapers, magazines, even books may be part of her future. She has a great motivation – three children who will earn to read German and not understand if their mother can’t.

Every asylum seeker in Germany has a story, a reason for having left their homeland and made the at times dangerous trip to get here. Some come to escape war. For others it is the economic opportunities.

For many it is about freedom. Imagine growing up in a country where you couldn’t learn to read or write because you were female. A place where you were told from birth that girls were inferior. How would that make you feel? Would you start to believe it?

My neighbor was excited after that first day of school. She had been waiting a long time for something most of us take for granted.

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