Thulasi Seshan, United States
At 8:55 sharp, Miss Sara would ring the bell calling the students to line up in the courtyard of the Jarrahiyeh school. She and the other administrators and teachers would do the difficult work of wrangling the students into some sort of order, then sending them off into their respective classrooms. Meanwhile, Maya and I would begin our prep period. We would have fun cutting paper chains and setting up parachute projects and making messes with paint, all in the name of education. We, volunteers, were doing the fun work at Jarrahiyeh, and the teachers and administrators were doing the vital organizational work, but there was one woman who had the most important work of all. Her name was Sabah, and her job was to make the coffee.
This coffee was amazing. It was incredibly strong. It had this fantastic fresh taste, like spring in a plastic cup. The first time I drank it, I spent the rest of the day trembling from caffeine overload, but by my third day at Jarrahiyeh I couldn’t imagine life without this coffee. I woke up dreaming of this coffee. I planned my prep time around this coffee. It was magical. On our last day at Jarrahiyeh, Sabah insisted we wait to have one last cup of her coffee before we left. I can’t think about that generosity too much.
Of course, Sabah did a hundred other things that kept the school humming, from washing the classroom floors to securing the keys to the water tank. Nothing could get done without Sabah. This became clear to me one day in our second week at school, when Sabah had a family emergency and had to take an hour or so off of work. Just an hour. She was back on her feet after that, demonstrating a superhuman resilience. Yet for that hour, the kids couldn’t drink water and the bathrooms didn’t work and the coffee was missing and everything was in chaos. Sabah was the heart of Jarrahiyeh and you’d never notice it; like a heartbeat, you don’t pay attention to it until it stops beating.
I don’t know why Sabah took this work at the Jarrahiyeh school. My Arabic can be measured in a teaspoon, and she didn’t speak English, so we never really communicated beyond simple ‘good mornings’ and small moments of laughter. But her dedication to the work was evident; her kindness and generosity set the tone for the school, giving it its warm and welcoming foundation. I am grateful for everything she did and continues to do for the students and staff of Jarrahiyeh. I would like to tell her thank you!