We Are America

Voices of the Nation's Future

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Photo ofAngelique Niyrasamaza

I grew up in Africa and the idea of time is much different there. For social gatherings, it was common and acceptable to be one to two hours late. No one arrived early for parties. For school though, it was import- ant to be on time. When I was in third grade, I was on my way to my primary school and I was running late. I saw my neighbor and she asked me, “Don’t you have to go to school early to finish homework or study for the quiz?” I was in the same class as her son.  “Yes, I do, but I am running late,” I told her. She told me her son was al- ready long gone. I had never been late before, so I was unaware of the con- sequences that were waiting for me due to being late.  When I got to school, the students quickly started telling me that I was in serious trouble. I suddenly started shaking. They told me that my neighbor’s mom had come to school ahead of me and told the teachers that I said that I wasn’t going to go to school. When class started, the teacher asked me to explain what I had said. I didn’t say anything at first. My heart was beating very loud and I could hear it in my ears. She kept looking at me, eventually forcing me to tell her that I told my neighbor I was just running late. That response was not good enough for her, and the teacher wasn’t nice. She start- ed beating me with sticks. She said that if I didn’t tell the truth, she would beat me with twenty more sticks. She even called other teachers to help beat me, because she didn’t believe me.  I cried the whole day. When school was over, some neighbors ran home and told my grandparents what happened at school. I also told them what happened. I thought they would do something and talk to the school, but they said they didn’t want to cause a problem in our Rwandan refugee camp. They told me I had to wake up earlier to go to school on time. I did exactly what my grandparents told me. Eventually, I started to always be on time, and I did well and became one of the top ten students. My grandparents were proud of me.  When I came to the United States, I started to fall back into my old habits, and I was always late to school. There was no harsh punishment for being late, the teachers only gave verbal warnings, so I didn’t think it was a big deal. One day, my study hall teacher called and told my parents I was hav- ing trouble getting to class on time. When I got home my mom asked me why I was late to class. I didn’t have an answer. I was too embarrassed to explain, so I just said I was sorry. When we had parent and teacher conferences, some of the teachers told my mom I was still having trouble with be- ing tardy. I was also having issues at work with not being on time. One day at work, I was late and, in a rush, so I forgot to punch in. My manager wasn’t happy about it. Thankfully, my shift leader explained what happened, and I was saved from being fired.  My mom sat down and talked to me about the cultural differences in America and Africa related to time and consequences. She asked me to change my habits. I agreed and I started to get to class and work much earlier. I changed. I became the girl who came to school on time. Being on time helped me be a good student and a better employee. Time goes by, and it will never come back. Use your time wisely. 

© Angelique Niyrasamaza. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person’s teacher.