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Giving voice to displaced children and young people.

All names in this story have been changed for privacy.

A few years ago my mom and dad, my two older brothers, and I moved from a refugee camp in Tanzania to Chicago. Now I’m eleven years old. My name is Happiness.

One Sunday night I sat down on my usual pillow on the couch between Mama’s legs so she could fix my hair. She divided it into skinny braids and then pulled them into an elastic band on top of my head.

“OK, I’m done,” she said. (Sometimes she does talk to me in English instead of Kirundi.)

I ran to the bathroom and checked in the mirror. I felt sad. Mama has time to do my hair just once a week, so I would be looking like this till the next Saturday or Sunday.

I didn’t say anything to Mama. I just put on my pajamas and went to bed, hoping that everything would be OK in the morning.

The next day I went to school with all the braids sticking up. I wanted to sit by my friends Daniella and Ruby, but my teacher asked me to sit between Rosa and Miguel instead. While we waited for class to start, we played a game. But then Miguel began making little jokes about my hair.

“Your hair looks like an onion,” he said. “Some kind of vegetable. No, it looks like a tomato!”

I wanted to cry. But I just stayed quiet. All day I thought about it.

During the passing period I told Ruby and Daniella what Miguel had said. “Don’t worry about it,” they told me. “Just forget about it.”

But I couldn’t forget.

Things got worse. Our friend Akilah came up to us and said, “Happiness! Did you forget that this was Picture Day?”

I looked around and realized that my friends were all wearing their favorite clothes. I was just wearing my school uniform. Oh no! Now I felt as if a bunch of worms had started dancing in my stomach.

That afternoon, while we were in line for the pictures, another friend, Julia, comforted me.

“Nobody cares if you have a bad hairstyle,” she said. “Don’t worry about it.”

When I was in front of the camera, I wanted to put my hands up and cover my hair. But the photographer and her helper wouldn’t let me. They told me to smile, so I smiled. Sort of.

Luckily, for the rest of that week no one teased me about that hairstyle.

And I found two ways to make things better.

Number one, I took in what my friends had told me: Don’t worry. Just let it go.

Number two, on Saturday I got permission to use the computer at home, and I searched online to find a hairstyle I liked. I asked Mama to fix my hair that way, and she did. Now we do this every weekend.

Mama is really very talented with hair.

Happiness Neema
Happiness Neema, 11 Chicago, IL
Kigoma, Tanzania

This story was published in the June 2021 issue of Stone Soup Magazine

Reader Interactions


  1. My dear young Happiness you are so Beautiful !
    Inside and out.
    This story about you wisdom and courage to believe good things about yourself and wisdom an strength
    For give those who hurt you.
    I am so proud of you happiness

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