Jamil Jan Kochai had fallen behind and his teacher Ms. Lung took the time and effort to teach him to read and write in a single year.
We all have our favorite teachers. Ones who've guided us when no one else would, ones who helped us so we could feel like we belong, ones who protected us and saw potential in us that no one else would. For Jamil Jan Kochai, it was Susan Lung, who worked overtime to teach him to read and write in a single year at the age of 7. The effort Susan Lung put into teaching him would alter his life path. Today, Kochai is an author and he owes much of it to his teacher. Jamil Jan Kochai, who recently published his book "The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories," recalled in a Twitter thread how he had been searching for his teacher for as long as he can remember and how she finally surprised him.
When I found this photo in an old box ten years ago, I almost lost my mind when I saw that Mrs. Lung's first name wasn't there! I felt like a detective running into another deadend. It was so frustrating!! pic.twitter.com/wUd4CKxguX— Jamil Jan Kochai (@JamilJanKochai) August 15, 2022
"Let me tell you a story," started Kochai, sharing a picture of them together. "This is Susan Lung. She taught me to read and write in a single year when I was 7 years old. I've been looking for Susan, hoping to thank her in person, for almost twenty years. And then she surprised me at my reading last night," he wrote. "After that, my family moved a few times more and I lost track of Ms. Lung. For years afterward, all throughout high school and college, I tried to find Ms. Lung, to thank her for everything she'd done for me. I searched google and social media. I called my old school and visited the district office."
Why good teachers matter— Muna AbuSulayman منى (@abusulayman) August 15, 2022
And great teachers are everything.. https://t.co/Mf980fmfvS
Kochai said he felt like a detective, unable to solve the mystery. "I kept hitting dead ends. The main problem was that I didn't know Ms. Lung's first name! She'd always just been Ms. Lung to me. In my mid-20s, I'd pretty much given up on the search. I figured Ms. Lung had moved on to a new state, a new life." After spending a lifetime searching for his teacher, it was she who would reach him. "A few years earlier, after "99 Nights in Logar" came out, somone reached out to me, out of the blue, on Facebook. It was Ms. Lung's husband! Apparently, Allen Lung heard about an article I wrote for LitHub where I mentioned Ms. Lung. He asked me if I wanted to speak with her that night."
As an immigrant kid, this got in the feels. I have a similar story with my 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Westbrook at Windy Hill Elementary. She was strict but she took the extra time to teach me English at every opportunity. I’m very grateful that she was there in my life. https://t.co/R197wYmJK6— Leaping Jaguars (@jhorge_d) August 15, 2022
It was a moment he had waited for more than 20 years. He wanted to share it with his family and gathered them for the call. "My parents had been wanting to thank Ms. Lung for years as well. When I finally got the chance to hear Ms. 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. That I'd been searching for her for years," he wrote. "We all cried that night. Unfortunately, this was at the height of the pandemic, and we were still quarantining at the time. We promised to meet in the future."
Time passed and he lost touch with Lung. "My wife and I had a child, the Afghan Government collapsed, my beloved grandmother died, I finished at Stanford, and I published 'The Haunting of Hajji Hotak.' It was a hectic time and we lost touch. But then, last night, after my reading, Ms. Lung's husband, Allen, rushed up to me, introduced himself, and brought me over to Ms. Lung, and seven-year-old-me finally got to hug my 2nd grade teacher again. We chatted and smiled and cried a litte. I signed her book and tried to write on the page what I couldn't express with my voice. I took down their numbers and invited them for dinner," wrote Kochai.
Thank you for all the kind comments, especially from the teachers! I know how often teachers are overworked, underpaid and mistreated in this country, but a good teacher can mean the world to a student struggling with a new language or a new community. Wishing you all the best!— Jamil Jan Kochai (@JamilJanKochai) August 15, 2022
Kochai also stressed how important it is for every student to have someone backing them. "My father always used to say in Pashto that every child is a rocket filled with fuel and all they need is a single spark to lift off into the sky. Ms. Lung, he said, 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 Ms. 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," he concluded.
You can purchase Kochai's new book "The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories" here.