When I was in eighth grade, I kept a pink cute little diary to write regularly about my life. It was kind of nice, in fact, really nice to know that during some years of middle school, I was determined and self-regulated enough to keep a record of my experience, immature thoughts, childish ideas and unreasonable frustration. Keeping a journal may be an easy, cathartic task for natural writers and some introverts; however, I was struggling to write daily about the thing I know most in the world: myself. Writing is an art that requires clear, refined thoughts. But I was at an age when everything was still blurry and messy. Besides, as I was having some close friends to confide in, I felt even more discouraged to write.
As a result, I really appreciate and treasure the journals that were filled with photos, images and lovely words of seven years ago. I haven’t opened the diaries since the day I put them away in a secret place some years ago, because I wanted to prepare a new, revealing, refreshing experience for me in future, when I will become very old and probably forget about all the “top secrets” discussed in the diary of a twelve-year-old girl.
However, as of now, I can still remember some musings in my diary. The memory, once put down on paper, becomes as indelible as coffee stains on the whitest shirts. Probably, that’s why I have been thinking so much about a disturbing memory for these past two days and want to get everything off my chest by sharing this post.
The new experience and challenges in college remind me of a girl that I wrote about in my 8th-grade diary. I remember walking home from school that day, tired out after five hours of studying. Stepping into the living room, I hastily threw my bag to one side and breathed heavily, complaining inside my head about how I was under so many pressures. The air felt sticky and humid.
“Nhi, you are home already?” I heard my grandma’s voice from the kitchen.
“Yes, grandma!” I answered.
“Come in and eat your lunch,” she called.
As I came in, I was surprised, but not quite surprised to see a teenage girl sitting on the table and eating food with other members in the family. She raised her head and looked at me. I wanted to say that those were curious eyes, but it was an assumption. Because I never talked to her much to understand her personality.
As my aunt was having a newborn baby and returning to work, she needed a nanny to take care of the kid. Some nannies had come but fast gone after several months because of some reasons I didn’t quite remember. Different from how the nannies in the US (or at least in New York City) work, the nannies in my country would normally come from rural areas and stay with the host families to work throughout the years and send money back home. They would do housework, take care of the babies and in return, are paid negotiated salaries and provided with food and housing. Therefore, “nanny” wouldn’t be a precise word to describe their jobs, and in fact, in my country, they are called with a different title.
The girl, who I later found out to be at exactly my age, was one of those people who wanted to earn money and so, she came to the city to do manual labor. Her situation made me embarrassed and guilty. We were at the same age, and look at what happened: I received an education, she didn’t.
Every time coming home from school, I sat there and witness with pain how she set the table and brought food from the kitchen for everyone in the family. Sometimes, I tried to help and said thanks under the lowest volume, wondering if she resented me for being luckier than her. I hated the uniform I was wearing, the book bag I had and the school talk during lunch, because obviously, she had none of the things I had. I dreaded listening to her being scolded for not doing her job right and seeing her cry like how a girl at that age should cry.
Now, to make it clear, I didn’t know exactly if her family was too poor to afford an education after elementary school for her, or she dropped out of school on her own. Yet, I realized that whatever the situation was, it wasn’t necessarily her fault that she didn’t continue the education. Supposed she were born in a more wealthy family, would the necessity for money trouble such a young girl? Supposed her parents were educated, would they fail to see the benefits of education? Supposed she was taught about how a high school degree could help her get a much better job, would she so easily give up?
By not providing her with opportunities, my country has already reduced its chance of development and contributed to the widened economic gap. The question is what we, no, I can do to help these young girls to get an education. I am lucky enough to have an education that I never dare to take for granted (whenever I do, I remind myself of other unlucky people who wish to have what I have). Just like how the lyrics are in the song “Circle of Life”: “You should never take more than you give,” what can I do to give back?
That is the question I will do my best to answer in the next years of my life.