On the occasion of the World StoryTelling Day, at the event organised by the Nordic Culture Point on March 21st, I wrote and told an empathy story for an audience of 8th grade children in Helsinki. Here I share it. In case you like it, you are welcome to read it to your kids.
When the other is a boy named Alam
Once upon a time, there was a place in West Asia, a land called Iran. Somewhere over there, in Tehran to be more precise, Alam was born. One year ago, his family moved to Helsinki. Alam is 7. Today is his first day of school.
He’s so nervous that he wouldn’t have any breakfast. He’s clumsy talking the language of Finns. Other than his baby sister and Mr Froggy, he doesn’t have any other friends. Who is going to want to be his friend?
As if his mother read his thoughts, she suggested. “Would you like to take Mr Froggy in your backpack?”
His face brightened up. He dashed to his bedroom where Mr Froggy was lying under his pajamas. It was the gift on Alam’s 5th anniversary from his grandmother and uncle. What for others was just another soft toy, for Alam, Mr Froggy was a reminder of the affection his grandmother would put into preparing his favourite sour-berry tea.
Whenever Alam would ask his father why they moved to Finland, his father would reply, “We are here so you can have a better life.”
“Here, your sister can live a life of freedom.” the mother would add.
“But it’s just the four of us here.” Alam would think to himself.
Back in Iran, the whole family used to get together almost every week, sometimes twice a week and every time there was a gathering, there was music, dance and poetry. And there are 30 or 40 people and lots of food and children running around. Alam missed running around those people.
Mostly, he missed playing the seven stones game. He would be more in the losing than winning team but he didn’t mind that. He liked the excitement of the game when he was chased with a ball by his uncle, the most playful family member.
Meeting Minttu and Emilia
This day of August, Alam and his mother were approaching school, when they heard a cry. They looked in the direction of the sound to see a girl and her father standing next to a tree, looking upwards. He gazed up with curiosity to see a cat sitting on a branch.
“If you can help someone in need, just do it.” was the morale of the stories that his uncle used to tell him.
Alam let go off his mom’s hand and ran next to the girl. “What’s the cat’s name?” he asked.
“Minttu.” The girl answered sobbingly.
Without further ado, Alam started climbing up the tree. The girl stopped crying. The father looked puzzled.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” his mom asked.
Alam couldn’t even hear her. He was getting closer to the cat and all he could think of was that this was his moment to put in practice all the training on calling cats that he’d done with his uncle.
When he was 5, Alam was fond of feeding animals. His uncle taught him how to call the neighbor’s cat to their yard to feed it treats. Alam was curious, “How fat a cat can become?”
This cat was not as fat as the neighbor’s cat. “Obviously, they don’t feed you well.” Alam said. Raising his voice, he called the cat to him, “Minttu!”
Minttu pricked its ears.
“Onko nälkä?” he asked while realising he actually talked in Finnish. “I’m good at cat Finnish.” and he felt proud of himself.
He gently took his rucksack off his back and fumbled for the pencil box, gently pushing Mr. Froggy out of his way. He took out one pen and tapped it against the plastic cover of the box. The tapping made a clicking noise which draw Minttu’s curiosity. The cat walked close enough towards him that he could grab it in his arms. He started singing in a high pitch voice – which he thought was similar to Minttu’s voice – some of the food he used to give to the neighbors’ cat: ham, minced meat, eggs.
When they got off the tree, the girl gave a strong hug to both Alam and Minttu.
“I’ll take this adventurous cat from you.” the girl’s father said.
“Emilia.” said the girl, stretching her hand. “Thank you.”
Getting introduced to the new school environment
They waited for Emilia’s father to bring Minttu back into their flat and they walked together the short remaining distance to the school yard.
The teacher was waiting for all the kids and parents to gather around her. She shook hands with everyone, including Alam and his mom. The group of 1st graders would get a walk-through the school.
Alam waved goodbye, “See you in 3 hours, mom.” while finding it hard to hold his tears.
The school walls seemed empty compared to the walls of the daycare he used to attend back in his home-country. His daycare teacher used to adorn the classroom walls with the kids’ drawings. Alam liked to see his drawings on the wall. It made him feel at home. “Maybe the new teacher will do the same as soon as we make some drawings.” he thought.
In the first recess, while in the school yard, one of the bigger kids kicked Alam from behind. Emilia saw that. She approached Alam, took his hand and said, “Violence is not allowed here. You can let the teacher know about it.”
“Would you want to meet my best friend, Mr Froggy?” Alam asked. “He’s wise, let’s hear from him, what to do when someone hits you out of a blue?”
What would Mr. Froggy advice?