In this honest and compelling story, Union City High School Geometry Teacher and Bergen Country Community College Professor, Peter Mikhail tells his former Geometry student, Jennifer Leon, about his experience in a foreign country.
In 1995 I won the lottery to come to America. The American government picked 5,000 people from Egypt to get a green card. We called it, “The green card lottery.” I was one of the lucky 5,000. I came to the United States of America on September 9, 1997. It was a Tuesday morning. No one was waiting for me at the airport. I was thrown into a country where no one spoke my language and I didn’t speak theirs. I had nothing. No education, no family, and I told my self, here you are, this is America. Now survive.
I rented a room and lived in this home with eighteen other people. My room was small. I couldn’t even open the door fully with out hitting the twin sized bed. I survived for a couple of months before convincing myself that America was not for me. I had a small garage sale and sold the few things that I had. I made $100 and felt rich.
I went back to Egypt and stayed for five months. There’s a rule that if you stay out of America for six months then you lose your green card privileges. My dad knew about this rule and asked me if I had bought my return ticket to America. I told my dad I didn’t want to go back. He said okay. I went out with some friends that night and when I came back he had changed the locks to our home. He said to me,” Listen, I am the father of a man. Not the father of a baby. If you can’t survive in America, then I don’t want you to survive at all.”
I went back to America. Days later I got hit by a car. All I could think about was that my immigration papers had flown out of my hands and had been scattered on the street. Before I knew it, the guy that hit me drove away. My knee was broken and my entire left leg was damaged. I went to my job as a dishwasher in iHop with a cane and a cast on my left leg. One day I was doing dishes and saw people with suits walking in. I looked at one of the cooks and asked him, “Me. Suit. One day. What do? What do?”
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