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True Stories From Level Four, by Kevin Lathrop
Everyone in New York faces life challenges. Living here is especially difficult for people who haven’t yet mastered English. As we design our courses, we should remember to keep our lessons relevant to real life. I often encourage students to share true stories. These are from level 4.
"The first story is from further in the past. It is devastating. I am from Mexico City. I had lived in Mexico City with my parents and three brothers. I had my own room for myself, and my brothers did too. I worked in a big company. I had a good job in my country.
"One day my cousin and my friend told me, 'The U.S. is a beautiful place. You work few hours and make a lot of money.' My father was sick, and I needed to make money. My cousin and my friend convinced me, and I came here.
"When I arrived here, on the first day, with my brother, Victor, we ate pasta with red sauce only, no chicken, no salad, nothing- my friend had invited me, so I couldn’t complain, of course. My friend had rented me a tiny room. I slept on the floor with my brother. We didn’t have a blanket. We didn’t have a bed, and we didn’t have clothes- I had brought only some pants, some tee-shirts; we didn’t have many clothes. I had never slept on the floor in my country.
"While I was sleeping, I saw a cockroach, and I couldn’t get back to sleep. The apartment was horrible. We lived there for a couple of months. Later, we moved to another apartment. We paid higher rent, but it was more comfortable.
"I came here for the American Dream, but real life was very hard- a nightmare for me. I felt disappointed. My father was dying. I tried to speak English. In Mexico, I didn’t have too much money. My house wasn’t gorgeous, but it was comfortable. Now I live alone. I don’t have money. I’m trying to improve my English."
The second story is from the distant past. It is tragic. "This guy, a friend of my husband, was working as a professional soccer player in Mexico City- his name was Salvador- and one night (five a.m.) he was shot in the head after he had had an argument with a guy from another team. Right now, after long and exhausting physical therapy, he is well enough to manage by himself, but he will need to take a medicine for the rest of his life to control the seizures that were caused by the shooting. My husband and he used to play soccer together. Because of his success in the sport, Salvador had enough money saved so he doesn’t have to work anymore. He came to New York last year to visit my husband. He recognized him. He has about eighty percent of his faculties, but he would gladly give up his money to be able to play soccer and lead a normal life."
"This story is difficult. It happened in 2009. My first day in the U.S.A. was on September 25, 2009. My arrival was nice because all my uncles were there to welcome me. I came to Texas, was there for six months. My parents and my sister were working and I was at home. One day my sister my sister was working with my parents and she started bleeding. The blood was constant. My parents took my sister to the doctor, and the doctor said it was from the heat. The factory where my sister worked didn’t have air conditioning and in the summer temperatures rose dangerously. My mom called my uncle and told him the problem about my sister. Two months later, she bought a ticket to New York. We traveled here.
"New York is very different from Texas in terms of weather and transportation- Texas has very limited public transportation. The first week in New York, we were walking around the city. My mother began to look for a job, and so did I. She got one in a cosmetics factory, and I am currently working on the night shift at Fresh Direct. My sister is with us, and she is okay. I have spent three years in the U.S.A. and the short time in this city has given us much."
The next story is about two robbers. "One afternoon I was walking around a park near my house. Two guys came to me, and they caught up to me and said, “Give me everything you have.” I gave them my cell phone and my money. I had my iPod too, but I was able to hide it because the robbers were drunk. One guy had a big knife and put it to my lip, saying, 'Don’t say anything.' Two old ladies were walking nearby and saw what was happening but made no move to help. The two guys went away on their bicycles, and I was scared, nervous and crying.”
The last is from the recent past. It is a happy story. "When I was working at the restaurant, I was talking about restaurant sales and related subjects. Then, I heard a song being sung by my coworkers, who were behind me. I turned around and saw that they were singing 'Happy Birthday to You.' I asked them, 'Whose birthday is it?' They answered, 'It’s yours.' I had forgotten my own birthday. I felt very surprised and happy. Recently, I had been busy every day, and I hadn’t adapted to the new environment yet. I had arrived in New York seven months before. I hadn’t had friends before my coworkers sang on my birthday, but I made friends with them after that."
There are more stories, too many to include here. All reflect real life experiences. They are non-fiction.