Author Spends Decades Trying to Find the Woman Who Taught Him How to Read

Jamil Jan Kochai alongside his second grade teacher, Ms. Lung

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Jamil Jan Kochai moved to America from Afghanistan when he was a baby and grew up in a household that only spoke Pashto and Farsi. Struggling in an English-speaking classroom, Kochai was met with ignorance and a lack of empathy by his kindergarten teacher, who punished him for not understanding his directions in English. As the family moved several times, including a summer back to  Afghanistan, Kochai forgot the small amount of English he had learned.

On his first day of second grade, he recalled only remembering 10 letters in the alphabet. He says he was “way behind and on track to be left back.” That is until he met his teacher, Ms. Lung. “I could see he was sharp as a tack, but it was hard for him,” Lung states. “Not only did he have to deal with forgetting all the English that he knew, but he had to deal with the kids who couldn't understand him.” Almost every day after school, Lung would sit with Kochai to give him extra lessons on reading and writing to ensure he would keep up with his class. By the end of the year, Kochai had learned to read and write, even going on to win awards a year later for his excellent reading comprehension.

Sadly, Kochai lost touch with the teacher after the his family moved several more times. “All throughout highschool and college,” he explains, “I tried to find Ms. Lung, to thank her for everything she'd done for me.” He called his old school, scoured social media, exhausted Google, and visited his old school’s district office—all ending in dead ends. He couldn’t come up with her first name. “She'd always just been Ms. Lung to me,” he admits. By his mid-20s, Kochai gave up his search.

Also during this post-secondary time of his life, Kochai was starting to pursue a successful career in writing. Kochai has completed various fellowships such as the Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University, received many writing awards and prizes, and has had his works published in places like The New Yorker. Shortly after his first book, 99 Nights in Logar, was published in 2019, Kochai was surprised by a message on Facebook.

Lung's neurosurgeon happened to read an article Kochai wrote for Literary Hub magazine that mentioned Ms. Lung. During their next visit together, her neurosurgeon asked, “Did you ever teach at Alyce Norman Elementary School?” Afterwards, Allen Lung, Ms. Lung’s husband, reached out to Kochai through Facebook. Lung asked the author if he wanted to speak with his wife that same night. Due to quarantine restrictions at the time, they were only able to call each other, but the Kochais were excited nonetheless. This was the moment Kochai and his parents had been waiting years for: to give thanks to a woman who changed a little kid’s life forever.

Kochai cried when he heard her voice. He told Lung that everything he had accomplished was all thanks to her, and explained how he had been searching for her all these years. They all planned to meet in person at some point in the future, but life got in the way again and it never happened. Kochai explains, “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.”

On August 13, after a reading of his second novel, The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories, Kochai was surprised again. Allen rushed up to the author, introduced himself, and brought him over to reunite with Ms. Lung. “I don't know how I didn't see her before, but Mrs. Lung was sitting in the front row. I mean, it had been 20 to 22 years since the last time I'd seen her,” he rationalized. It was an incredibly emotional experience for Kochai, noting some healing with his inner child occured: “Seven year old me finally got to hug my 2nd grade teacher again.” The two were able to chat and laugh as Kochai signed her book. “I tried to write on the page what I couldn't express with my voice,” he recalls. After taking down the Lungs’ numbers, Kochai invited them to dinner.

The grateful author detailed this story in a thread on Twitter, ending it with a beautiful story: “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…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.”

You can now purchase Kochai’s latest book, The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories, on Bookshop.

Jamil Jan Kochai moved to America when he was a baby and lived in a home that only spoke Pashto and Farsi. At the beginning of second grade, Kochai was falling behind, until he met his teacher, Ms. Lung.

He recently decided to share his story on Twitter about this woman who completely changed his life.

Ms. Lung sat with him nearly every day after school to give him extra lessons on reading and writing. By the end of the year, he was proficient.

After moving schools several times, Kochai lost touch with Ms. Lung, but set out to find and finally thank her.

After continuously hitting dead ends in his search, he received a surprising message and was finally able to reunite with his beloved teacher, Mrs. Lung.

Now, as a successful author, Kochai continues to attribute all that he accomplished to Ms. Lung.

Jamil Jan Kochai: Instagram | Twitter
h/t: [Good News Network]

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Madyson DeJausserand

Madyson DeJausserand is a Video Editor at My Modern Met Academy and a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met. She is also an award-winning filmmaker who graduated from Oakland University with a BA in Cinema Studies with a specialization in Filmmaking. Her passions for filmmaking and art bleed into her everyday life and she devotes her time to developing her voice as a filmmaker, writer, artist, and editor.
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