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No more post offices.

Hands jammed into corduroy trouser pockets, Aboud walked into class one Monday in the autumn of 1991. His eyes made it clear that something was troubling him. Slumping into a purple beanbag chair, the 8-year-old sighed deeply.

"Good morning, Aboud. You look as though you're thinking hard about something," I offered.

"Yeah, you bet, Mr. B. Last night I told my mother that I wanted to write my father a letter, but she said there aren't any more post offices in Kuwait and no more postmen and probably not even any postboxes because Saddam Hussein has bombed everything. She said I couldn't write a letter to my father. She said he'd never get it."

"So no more post offices and no way to send a letter."

"That's right. And no telephones or fax machines either!"

"You must have a lot of things that you'd like to tell your father."

"I sure do--like about Scouts starting and learning computer this year and how I can make a real good pop-up book now. But I especially want to know when he will come back to us."

Mr. Al-Khamis, Aboud's father, is an official at the Kuwaiti Embassy in Brussels who had flown to Kuwait City on July 29,1991. Two days later, the Iraqi Army invaded Kuwait. Communication between Kuwait and the rest of the world had virtually ceased, yet Aboud longed to be in touch with his father. Although it was not possible to grant this wish in reality, perhaps we could find a way to grant it in fantasy.

"Aboud," I ventured, "even though letters aren't being delivered in Kuwait right now, you could still write to your father. We could do it together. Writing letters could be part of your writing time."

"But the letters can't get to him," Aboud despaired.

"Well, you could write the letters now and mail them when the post offices are working again."

"You mean I could keep all the letters until he comes home and then give them to him? Hey, I could put them in envelopes, put stamps on them and everything! I know what I'll do. I'll put them in my father's special drawer where he keeps his good watch. Then, when he comes back home, he can get my letters all it once."

As he jumped out of the chair, Aboud spotted the three-drawer file cabinet. His gaze focused intently on the shiny, silver lock in the top, right-hand corner of the cabinet.

"Oh, now I've got a really better idea," he said, with just the slightest hesitation. "How about locking my letters up in there? They'd be a lot safer from my little brother if they were locked up in there."

"Why not?" I agreed, relieved at his imaginative response to the invitation.

Aboud gathered pencil, paper and envelope from the writing center and began to write. "Dear Father," he wrote and then paused, sucking on his pencil for several seconds.

"Sometimes it's hard to get started," I empathized. "Let's talk about some of the things that you would like your father to know." After a brief oral rehearsal, he wrote:

Dear Father, I'm in Boy Scouts. I like third grade. I especially like computer and math. When are you coming home?

Love,

Aboud

The weeks of September limped into October. The tension seemed to slow time. There was no word from Kuwait and no relief for Aboud's family.

Then, our international school began to receive telephoned bomb threats. On each of these occasions, the school was immediately evacuated. The stress began to show on the faces of parents, children, teachers and administrators.

Some days Aboud had much to write and other times, very little. On slower days I would offer to act as secretary while Aboud dictated his messages.

On an early Friday in October, after a week of three evacuations, Aboud strode into the classroom, sat down at the computer and typed:

Dear Father, I hate Saddam Hussein. I hate people who ring up school and say a bomb is going to kill us. I hate Brussels. Please come home.

Love,

Aboud

The vulnerable young boy sat staring at the computer screen. I approached quietly and sat down next to him, reading his letter silently. As I put my hand on his arm, Aboud turned to me with brimming eyes.

"Mr. B., do you think my father is ever coming back?"

All of us who work with young children are sometimes asked unanswerable questions. At the core of these profound queries lies the child's greatest fear: Will those who protect me disappear? Will I be alone?

I managed to reply, "Although there are many things I don't know, there are some things that I am sure about. I am really sure of two things. Number one: your father wants to return to you and Youssef and your mother just as much as you want him home. And, number two: right now, this very second that we are sitting here, your father is doing everything he can to come home."

"Well, it better be soon because I really hate it like this."

Aboud poked the print key. As the computer began to print out his letter, he searched for an envelope.

"Aboud, I know something else," I said. "Your father is going to be very, very happy when he gets home to Brussels and you can deliver all of your letters to him in person."

Had I said too much? Had I offered false hope? Intuition told me to offer support when Aboud's confidence was flagging. Sometimes teachers have to operate on faith.

In the fourth week of October, Aboud wrote:

Dear Father, My birthday is in 12 days. We haven't had any bomb scares so far this week. I hate the T.V. pictures of Saddam Hussein in Kuwait, where everything looks broken. Come home, Father.

Love,

Aboud

As we unlocked the cabinet to file his latest letter, Aboud announced, "I'm going to take all of these letters home now. I want to put them in my father's drawer of good things."

What did this mean, I wondered silently? Perhaps the letters should be kept at school until the day that Mr. Al-Khamis either returned or did not return, another issue altogether for Aboud. As the author of these messages sent from the heart and committed to print, however, Aboud had the rights of ownership. He placed a large manila envelope stuffed with several dozen smaller envelopes into his canvas bookbag. School bus number 23 brought Aboud and his letters home to his "father's drawer of good things."

The next morning, Aboud chose to paint instead of writing a letter. The rounded gray shapes he painted gradually became clouds. Next, a brilliant blue jet appeared, sporting a large, vibrant Kuwaiti flag on its oversized tail. Breathing deeply as he stepped away from his painting, Aboud relaxed his posture indicating contentment for the first time in weeks.

Two days later, Aboud rushed into the classroom with eyes flashing. He announced, "My father will be home tonight! He telephoned to my mother in the middle of the night. He's flying to Paris right now and, boy, is he going to be surprised when lie sees all the mail that's waiting for him!"

Three days later, fairly bursting with pride, Aboud strode into school hand-in-hand with his father. Mr. Al-Khamis smiled and extended his hand to meet mine.

"There was such a great pile of letters waiting for me when I returned from Kuwait," he commented, as Aboud beamed.

"Yes," I responded, "that was most definitely a heartfelt correspondence."

We chatted a few moments and then father and son retreated down the corridor, stopping at the art display case as Aboud pointed out the ceramic dragon he had made in art class. I reflected on the profound lessons to be learned working with children and families who are, at times, part of international dramas. Today, an 8-year-old Kuwaiti boy, his father and his teacher discovered how letters written from the heart and mailed in the imagination can communicate even more effectively than those delivered by the post office.

Jeffrey C. Brewster is a Classroom Teacher and Lower School Coordinator, Internationnal School of Brussels, Belgium.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Association for Childhood Education International
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Title Annotation:personal narrative
Author:Brewster, Jeffrey C.
Publication:Childhood Education
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Words:1374
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