Jamil Jan Kochai, author of 99 Nights in Logar, became a viral sensation when he spoke movingly about his journey to literacy and his reunion with his high school English teacher, Susan Lung, whom he had not seen in over two decades.
The author of 99 Nights in Logar, Afghan-American Jamil Jan Kochai, has given a touching account of how he first learnt to read and write in English. The Pen/Hemingway Prize finalist’s reading of his book, in which he talks about how hard it was for him to talk to people in the U.S. when he didn’t know the language, has been getting a lot of praise online lately.
Kochai shared a picture of himself and his instructor on Twitter, along with a lengthy thread detailing the incident. He said he had been trying to track down his former instructor, Susan Lung, for two decades. It was Lung who taught him the basics of the English language once he moved to the United States.
Kochai’s parents were Afghan immigrants, and she grew up in a Pashto- and Farsi-speaking household. During his time in kindergarten, he was often given detentions by his instructor. Due to his father’s employment difficulties, he transferred schools many times in one year and spent the summers back in Afghanistan.
After returning, Kochai completely forgot whatever he learned, and Lung came to his rescue. But I’d completely forgotten all the English I’d learned in school! I remember on the morning of my first day in 2nd grade, I could only recall 10 letters from the alphabet. I was way behind and on track to be left back. But then I had the fortune of meeting Ms. Lung,” Kochai tweeted.
Every day after school, Lung tutored Kochai in reading and writing. After some time had passed, the youngster, who was then seven years old, began to win reading comprehension contests. The several relocations his family undertook caused him to lose touch with Lung.
“After that, my family moved a few times more and I lost track of Ms.Lung. For years afterward, all throughout high school and college, I tried to find Ms. Lung to thank her for everything she’d done for me. I searched Google and social media. I called my old school and visited, “Koreai tweeted.” Kochai further added, “The district office. But I kept hitting dead ends. The main problem was that I didn’t know Ms. Lung’s first name! She’d always just been Ms. Lung to me. In my mid 20s, I’d pretty much given up on the search. I figured Ms. Lung had moved on to a new state, a new life. But a few… ” After years, Lung’s husband connected with him on Facebook and rang him. My family and I all gathered together for the call. My parents had been wanting to thank Ms. Lung for years as well. When I finally got the chance to hear Ms. Lung’s voice, tears welled up in my eyes. I told her that everything I’d accomplished I owed to her, and that I thought of her all the time and that I’d been searching for her for years. We all cried that night. Unfortunately, this was at the height of the pandemic, and we were still quarantined at the time. We promised to meet again in the future. “After that, my wife and I had a child, the Afghan,” Kochai’s tweet read.
After some time, the government of Afghanistan fell apart, and he wrote a book titled “The Haunting of Hajji Hotak.” Kochai again lost contact with her. He finally met her in person last week at a book club meeting. He was so overwhelmed with emotion that he broke down in tears and chatted to her for a long time. Years earlier, after ‘99 Nights in Logar’ came out, someone reached out to me out of the blue on Facebook. It was Ms. Lung’s husband! Apparently, Allen Lung heard about an article I wrote for LitHub where I mentioned Ms. Lung. He asked me if I wanted to speak with her that night.