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We were at the airport. We were there for a good reason. To go to America.

My dad had stayed in America for two years.The reason for this was to get a job and be able to take me and Grandma Nicole there to live. But while he was there, the stock markets crashed and Dad lost a lot of money. But he did find a job eventually, so we are moving there now.

The reason we were moving is because my dad had little money, and, before staying in America for two years, he got fired from his job. Grandma, Grandpa, and I had to work at great-uncle Bill’s sausage factory to get the money for our family while Dad was away. In the sausage factory, it was hot and the pay was not quite enough to sustain four people. While I worked there, I always felt the sweat cling to my face after only one hour of work. We had to carefully place the sausages into the boxes, then tape the boxes shut. It doesn’t sound like much work, but doing it nonstop for long amounts of time is tiring. We were so grateful when Dad returned from America! But, as soon as he got home, we had to get ready for our trip.

We were at the airport security desk, getting our passports checked.

“Hello!” my dad said in Polish. “This is the Berkes family. I’m Jim, and this is Nicole and Zach. We are here for our flight to America.”

My legs were bouncy, and I was biting at the sides of my fingernails, which I do when I’m nervous. And I was. I didn’t know if America would be a good place to live or not. And even if it was, there might be other dangers waiting. Actually, I was probably getting too nervous.

We were apparently moving to a place called Miami. The temperature there is always hot or hotter. Here in Poland, it’s usually cold, so I wasn’t sure if we were going to be able to stand the heat—especially because we were moving in spring, the second hottest season.

We were taking clothes, money, and a plastic sword I got when my dad started his two-year staying period in America. When Dad went to America for his job finding period, I was worried that he would stay forever, not get a job, and not be able to come back. My friend Tim got the plastic sword for me to keep me from thinking about Dad. I have always admired the sword from then on. I wished Tim could go to America with me. I wished everyone could come.

The security person checked our passports, wished us good luck in America, and we were on our way to the other security, like the scanners and the bag checks. At the bag checks, the worker reluctantly informed us that we would have to wait so that they could make sure the plastic sword was safe. It took half an hour, and we almost missed our plane, but we made it. I hoped everything won’t be that challenging in America.

We had never been on a plane before. We had to look around and figure out where the bathroom was. Another downside of this plane was the disgusting smell of rotten peanuts. I found a pretzel wedged into the crack of the seat that looked like it was two-years-old. These things would have made me gag, but working in a sausage factory that can’t afford fresh meat most of the time drastically raises the strength of your gag reflex.

After a little while, the plane started moving. The unsettling sound of the wheels on the runway tortured me. Luckily, a safety video started playing, so I could listen to that instead. The video talked about what would happen if a plane crashed in the water. The video ended when we were in the air. I was afraid that the plane would fall out of the sky. How does a giant metal tube support itself in the air and not fall?

When the plane was flying straight forward, the flight attendant came down the aisle and handed out peanuts. I heard him mumbling about how he hates his job.

“Do you even want peanuts?” asked the attendant very rudely.

“Yes please,” I responded. “Do you have them salted?”

“If you want them salted, put salt on them.”

“I’ve heard that planes offer a choice between salted and unsalted peanuts.”

“Uuugh. Fine. We have them in the back,” he finally admitted.

He was extremely rude. I felt my fists clenching, and I even bared my teeth a little bit. I hoped people wouldn’t be this rude in America.

It had been two hours on the plane. I really needed to use the bathroom. I tried to walk over to it, but I couldn’t remember where it was. I eventually found it, but somebody was in it. My legs were crossed, and there was sweat beneath my eyes. But it finally opened! Huzzah! I walked in and…

All my senses except for my sense of smell momentarily stopped working. I can’t describe the stench that invaded my nose. It was foul. What I smelled was a mix of basically everything that smells disgusting in the entirety of Poland. I gagged, and I kneeled to the ground. I also almost threw up directly onto the floor, which would have made the stench even worse. Yes, even with my enhanced gag reflex. I hoped it wouldn’t smell that bad in all of America.

After I was done, I went back to my seat and ate more of my peanuts. The bag said the peanuts were “salted to the finest degree,” but what it actually tasted like was a bag of salt with peanuts dropped into it. If all food in America was like this, I wouldn’t be able to survive.

Sometime in the middle of the ride, Grandpa Skyped us on Dad’s phone.

“Hello, Jim!” Grandpa exclaimed excitedly. “How’s the ride on the flying tube of death?”

Out of all my family members, Grandpa was, no doubt, my favorite. He’s funny and always kind. I wished he could come, but he wasn’t allowed to because he had head lice.

“It’s going alright,” Dad replied, obviously lying.

Grandpa gave us a face like he does when he knows we’re not being truthful.

“Hey, Zach, how’s that sword of yours?” asked Grandpa

I was glad somebody finally asked about the sword. It showed how much Grandpa cared about me.

“Good,” I replied. We talked a little more, and then he hung up. I was feeling more positive about America now.

The ride had gone overnight, but it was finally finished! We landed at a very well-air-conditioned airport in Miami. I say it’s well air conditioned because it had to work very hard to battle against the Miami heat. I was not looking forward to checking the weather. It might be too hot outside for me to stand. Well, now was the time to test.

But first we had to go through tons of airport immigration security. We waited in line for 90 minutes. My feet were aching, and my mind was racing with bad possibilities for what things could happen in America. When the security was at last done, we ventured outside.

I almost fell where I stood. It felt like it was a thousand degrees outside! I was dizzy, and I was sweating like a person from Antarctica wearing a fur coat in a garment factory in summer with no air-conditioning. I was definitely right to be worried about the weather.

“Oh my goodness!” Grandma Nicole exclaimed weakly. “It’s hotter out here than it was in the sausage factory when the machine broke the third time!”

But weather was only one of our problems. We were low on money after the plane ride here. I wondered how small our house would be.

We carried our bags to the place where our house apparently was. I saw a huge building with tons of windows and doors. “Is that our house?” I asked happily, my confidence starting to rise a little bit.

“No, Zach. Well, some of it is,” Dad replied.

I was confused. I had no idea what he meant. We started walking up the stairs of the giant building. Part of the building? That did not clear anything up for me. Dad revealed a key that was in his work bag and put it into the keyhole in one of the doors. When we opened the door, it was a tiny room with two beds, a nightstand, a bathroom, and a little closet.

“This is our new house! What do you think of it?” asked Dad.

But weather was only one of our problems. We were low on money after the plane ride here.

“It’s good.” I replied. But what I was really thinking was: What!?! How is this even considered a house!?! We’re all going to live in this thing!?!

“Thank you for being optimistic, Zach,” said Grandma Nicole. “It’s the best we could do with how little money we have.”

Well, I guess it was time to put on my brave face and get some rest, because the next day I was going to school.

On the walk to school, I took in the scenery around me. The trees were beautiful, and the ocean glimmered like freshly-cut diamonds. This was one thing about Miami that I didn’t hate. What I do hate is:

The weather

The apartments

Wait. What am I doing? I’ll hate Miami more if I think about the things I do hate. The things I like are:

The scenery

And I haven’t come up with anything else. But at least I’m staying positive.

When I finally reached the school, I appreciated basically all the scenery in Miami. Even the school itself. The large bell tower in the middle made the whole rest of the school look good as well. But I had no idea what was coming my way.

I made my way to the classroom I was apparently assigned to. Room 344. I found a desk in the back of the room because I didn’t want to get called on in class too much. Then class started.

“Hello, class!” exclaimed the teacher excitedly. “We have a new student with us today! Please welcome Zach Berkes!”

I didn’t want anyone to welcome me. I just wanted to stay as quiet as possible. I couldn’t say anything. I didn’t know the words to. I couldn’t speak their language. After a long wait, my teacher finally saved me from having to speak in Polish.

“Maybe he’s too nervous right now. Let’s try again later,”  the teacher replied to her own comment.

After awhile, we had a break. In America, they call it “recess,” which is probably an English word for “przerwa.” I went outside and saw all the swings, slides, and jungle gyms we had in our old school. It was the first thing at the school that made me feel at home. But, just then, some kid who looked like he was very overweight walked up to me. I started biting at the sides of my nails, and I felt my sweat start to stick my clothes onto me. He was also saying a bunch of English words I didn’t understand. The kids around me let out gasps and “ooooOOOOhs,” so I’m assuming they weren’t good words.

Nie lubimy imigrantów,” said the kid, his posse surrounding him.

That meant “we don’t like immigrants” in Polish. I’m guessing he learned to say that in almost every language.

“We don’t want you here,” added the kid, in English.

Then he pushed me. My eyes were wide, and I was sweating basically everywhere. This kid was not nice. I landed on the concrete and one of my baby teeth broke out. The sting felt like three bees had just stabbed the bottom of my gums at once. The hole was bleeding. Badly. No adult saw me. And that’s the last thing I remember before I blacked out.

I woke on a very uncomfortable cot in the nurse’s office.

“Don’t worry,” said a lady I thought was the nurse. “He won’t hurt you again. We suspended him.”

I wanted to ask how she knew who hurt me, but I didn’t know the words.

When I got back outside, the kid was gone. But, just then, I heard a “Witaj! Czy wszystko w porządku?” That means “Hello! Are you alright?” in Polish.

Then I turned, and a boy was standing right behind me.

“Słyszałem, że Joshua cię popycha,” he said, which means “I heard about Joshua pushing you.”

THIS KID SPEAKS POLISH! I thought excitedly to myself. Maybe there are other immigrants in the school, immigrants that speak all different languages.

Maybe there are other immigrants in the school, immigrants that speak all different languages.

“Tak, wszystko w porządku,” I replied, or “Yeah, I’m okay.”

“Hey. My name’s Greg. Greg McAllister,” he told me, as we spoke Polish.

“Nice to meet you! I’m Zach. Zach Berkes,” I informed him back. “Do you know a place where I could learn English?”

“If you want to learn English, there’s a class called ESL that you can take, where a bunch of immigrants learn English,” Greg replied.

My mind was made up. I was going to take that class.

The next day, I went through a bunch of classes in English like math and reading. But, close to the end of the day, I walked into a room that had a big sign on the door that read “ESL.” Of course, Greg was there, but there were so many other people that spoke so many different languages, too! A boy named Jav spoke Spanish, someone named Brenda spoke French, and a girl named Yutong spoke Chinese! Those are just a few examples. There were so many of them!

At the end of the class, I went out into the hall and bumped into Jav by the lockers.

“Hey, Zach,” Jav greeted me, in English.

“Hello,” I replied, saying my first ever out-of-ESL English word.

I was actually very calm for the first time in a while.

Maybe all my worry was for nothing. What was I thinking? America is pretty cool. I would give a lot of things to not go back to Poland. The jobs there were horrible, and our family probably wouldn’t do so well. It’s hard to enjoy a place like that. Eventually, I thought, my worry would most likely die down a little, and I would have a great time. I can definitely settle in a place that has all these immigrants. If Greg can do it, I can do, too!

Charlie Kubica A Great Community
Charlie Kubica, 11
Chapel Hill, NC