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The Tortilla Station This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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I could feel my sweaty palms underneath my latex gloves. The doors would open in five minutes. I stood anxiously before Laurie, who gave everybody one last torrent of instructions, and then we all scrambled to our stations like a hive of worker bees buzzing about. I was at Andre House, a soup kitchen for the homeless of Phoenix, Arizona. Standing at the tortilla station at the front of the line, I thought, No big deal. Handing out tortillas can't be too hard.

Boy, was I wrong. A long line of people waiting to be served loomed like a group of hungry ants. True, the actual act of separating the tortillas was a bit challenging, but the pain I felt for each and every person going through my line was the toughest part.

As my line moved, I handed out tortillas to dirty hand after dirty hand. Even though it was wintertime, many customers were clad in clothing that was woefully inadequate for cold desert nights.
Never before had I been in such close proximity to homeless people. I'd figured most were lazy or uneducated, partially responsible for their fate. That day I met and talked with many who were clearly educated and working hard to fix their lives. I began to realize that many people experience ­unfortunate situations that lead to homelessness, and we as a society have to help them rise up and regain their independence.

Another reality that shocked me was the number of immigrants. These courageous people had bravely left their homeland in search of a better life in America, but all they found was more despair. America is known as the land of opportunity, beckoning people from around the world, and these folks answered that call. What they didn't know was that the call was long outdated.

My parents were refugees; they left Afghanistan 20 years ago. I've often heard their tales of hardship, but I never realized that their situation wasn't a special circumstance. If it wasn't for the choices they made, my family might have had the same fate as these homeless immigrants. Who knows – maybe today, instead of having a warm bed to sleep in, I would be homeless.

Realizing the similarity between the people I served and my family suddenly made me feel closer to them. The momentary flash of fear was gone, and hope was left in its place: hope that the hardships these people faced would soon be over, and they would finally move forward with their lives.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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