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  • I was teaching kindergarten at the International Community School in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I was 22 years old, a white, American girl, and I had students from 13 countries in my class. I was the only one who spoke English as my primary language. Many of the five year olds had to translate for their parents. I was not old enough to be a good teacher, but I loved my students. We sang and danced and laughed. We learned our letters. I had sworn to have no favorites, but there was a boy from Mozambique with a perfectly round, shaved head and a deep serious voice. I had to work to get him to let loose with the face-wide smile which even then I knew to be a great and undeserved reward. “Sometimes my mother she is calling me Chocolate,” he once told me.

    On April first we talked about April Fool’s Day—a culturally oddity completely disassociated from us and our purpose. The children understood! In the morning they said things—all in one breath—like, “Miss Krautkramer your skirt is on fire April fool!” Then they shrieked with laughter. The game went on.

    By time to go home, they had forgotten. We had gathered in our circle, sung our going home song, You Are My Sunshine. I pointed to the children when we said “How much I love YOU.” Then I told them I wouldn’t be there tomorrow. I had to go back to America. They would have a new teacher.

    No one got it. They were horrified, clearly becoming more distressed about how I could possibly look so happy while delivering such news. I waited too long, trying to keep talking, unsure of how to fix what I had done. Finally a girl—I remember her—Michelle from Israel, got it. “April Fool?” She asked. Her little voice shook.

    “April Fool!” They all got it. Happiness was restored, although it might have been the first time I really saw us together, saw what was given to me every day there and then, understood what it might be like when it came time to leave.

    They lined up to go home, out into the city with their sweaters and lunch pails from all the different places. I stood at the door, and Jose stopped to look up at me. “Miss Krautkramer,” he said. He only ever let go of one syllable at a time. “Have you been lying?”

    I took his face in both my hands. “Yes! Jose, yes! It was a lie. I was Lying!” I was overcome with relief that he understood.
    We were locked together for some seconds, and I never got the smile that day.

    “Then God is going to punish you,” Jose said.
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