Marvelous Maine

Spent the day at King Middle School in Portland, Maine, a city that is home to many refugees and immigrants from countries like Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan, Cambodia, Eastern Europe, and other places. It was an immigrant writer's dream visit.

A lovely girl from Bosnia was assigned the task of waiting at the door to welcome me, so the first thing I saw was her warm, sweet smile. The library's two book clubs and one English as a Second Language class had already read and discussed my books, so they were eager to listen and primed to ask questions. Just before I started my presentation, a pair of brothers from Afghanistan greeted me with warm "Namastes" and a bouquet of fragrant flowers. (They had lived in India for a while and knew all the best Bollywood flicks. I couldn't help thinking of the The Kite Runner when they described Kabul as their home.) During my presentation, we talked about the costs and gains of growing up along the border between cultures, discussed things like skin color (for insight into how girls experience race in America, see Under Her Skin, an excellent anthology edited by Pooja Makhijani), accents, clothes, and explored our desire to honor strict but loving parents while being true to ourselves. Most of all, we reflected on the power of story to help us keep our balance.

Kelley McDaniel, the school librarian who invited me and facilitated the visit, had set up a display of some of the books between cultures I recommend on the Fire Escape. She also had a local Indian restaurant, Tandoor, cater samosas, nan, channa, and murgh masala for lunch, and several teachers joined me and the book club members at a table arranged thoughtfully with name cards and adorned with more flowers. More good questions, more laughter, more sharing of stories.

After lunch, I spoke to the teachers, trying to encourage them in their call to educate kids who are growing up between cultures. I drove home down I-95 feeling honored and humbled that my own vocation as a writer connects me with kids and educators like the ones in Portland, Maine. (And gives me plenty of samosa-gorging opportunities, too!) Thanks, King Middle School!