Author reunites with teacher who patiently taught him English after looking for her for 20 years

Let me tell a story. Susannah Lung is the one. When I was seven years of age, Susannah Lung taught me to read and to write in just one year. I’ve been looking for Susannah, hoping to thank her in person, for almost twenty years. Then she surprised me at her reading last night.

I came to the US at 1 and a half years old, but I grew up in a household that only spoke Pashto & Farsi, so when I started kindergarten, I didn’t know a word of English.

I don’t think my kindergarten teacher knew how to handle an ESL student because he used to punish me for not understanding his directions.

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My father was always moving around, so we moved quite a bit. I attended three different schools in one year. I struggled with English. After the first grade was over, my family returned to Afghanistan for the summer. I fell in love with Logar, but I’d completely forgotten all the English I’d learned in school!

I can recall that I was unable to recall 10 letters of the alphabet on my first day of 2nd grade. I was far behind and on the verge of being left behind. But then, I was able to meet Mrs. Lung.

Mrs. Mrs. By the end of the year, I’d learned to read and write, and by third grade, I was winning awards for reading comprehension.

My family moved several times more, and I lost track of Mrs. Lung. Lung. Lung, to thank her for everything she’d done for me. I searched social media and google.

stock photo: boy reading a book
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I called my old school, and went to the district office. But I kept hitting dead ends. The main problem was that I didn’t know Mrs. Lung’s first name! She’d always just been Mrs. Lung to me. In my mid-20s, I’d pretty much given up on the search. I knew Mrs. Lung had moved on, to a new place, a new way of life.

A few years ago, after 99 Nights in Logar was published, someone reached me out on Facebook.

It was Mrs. Lung’s husband! Allen Lung apparently heard about the article I wrote for LitHub in which I mentioned Mrs. Lung. Lung.

My family and I gathered together to make the call. My parents wanted to thank Mrs. Lung for years. When I finally got the chance to hear Mrs. Lung’s voice, tears welled up in my eyes.

I told her that everything I’d accomplished I owed to her, and that I thought of her all the time, and that I’d been searching for her for years.

Jamil Jan Kochai when he was in grade school
Courtesy Jamil Jan Kochai

Unfortunately, we were still quarantining at this time, as it was the height of pandemic.

We promised to be together in the future. My wife and I had a baby, the Afghan Government collapsed and my beloved grandmother died. I then finished Stanford and published my second book, The Haunting Of Hajji Hotak and other Stories. It was a chaotic time, and we lost contact.

But then, last night, after my reading, Mrs. Lung’s husband, Allen, rushed up to me, introduced himself, and brought me over to Mrs. Lung and seven year-old me finally got a chance to hug my 2nd grade teacher. We laughed and talked.

I signed her book and tried to write on the page what I couldn’t express with my voice. I took their numbers down and invited them for dinner.

The author reunited with the teacher who taught him english
Susannah Lung and Jamil Ja Kochai

My father used to say in Pashto, “Every child is a rocket filled full of fuel and all they need to lift off into space is one spark.” Mrs. He said Lung was my spark.

Throughout my life, I’ve been blessed to encounter a series of remarkable teachers that have given me their time and consideration and knowledge, but everything really began with Mrs. Lung.

And I thought it was important that people hear her story, and that they know how much one teacher, in one year, can change a child’s entire life.

Thank you Susannah Lung!!

About the Author
Jamil Jan Kochai is the author of 99 Nights in Logar (Viking, 2019), a finalist for the Pen/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel and the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature. Although he was born in a Peshawar refugee camp for Afghans in Pakistan, he is originally from Logar, Afghanistan. His short stories and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Ploughshares, and The O. Henry Prize Stories 2018. He is currently a Stegner fellow at Stanford University. 

Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, InstagramAnd Official Website.


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