I Won the Lottery to Come to America

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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Jennifer Leon

Student at Montclair State University and aspiring Journalist.