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Diamond in culture change

Diamond in culture change

Matiullah Mati' Amin, right, a Muslim, was unsure of what to expect of his Jewish roommate, Josh Brande, but the pair have become friends at Berkshire School while Amin is in the United States on scholarship. Photo by Caroline Bonnivier / Berkshire Eagle Staff

Monday, May 21

SHEFFIELD — Matiullah "Mati" Amin stood at the plate on one of the baseball fields at Berkshire School a few days ago, waving his bat like Red Sox slugger David Ortiz. The pitcher he was facing was a gangly right-hander from a middle school in Connecticut. The young man wound up and let the ball fly.

Amin's bat whipped around and up, and smacked a clean single up the middle. Amin raced to first base, grinning broadly as he reached the bag. His Berkshire School teammates whooped and hollered his name.

Not bad for a kid who had never seen a baseball up until a few months ago.

Not bad for a kid whose family had to flee Afghanistan to escape the war and the carnage that has plagued that country for decades.

Amin, 18, is a junior at Berkshire School. He is here on a partial scholarship from the Peter M. Goodrich Memorial Foundation. Peter Goodrich, a Berkshire School graduate, was one of the passengers on one of the planes that struck the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. In the wake of that tragedy, Goodrich's parents, Donald and Sarah "Sally" Goodrich of Bennington, Vt., set up a nonprofit foundation to support education and address basic needs of the Afghan population.

Sally Goodrich directs the work of the foundation. She coordinated Amin's trip to the United States and enrollment at Berkshire School. The foundation partially supports educational opportunities for two other students in the United States as well.

Amin lived with the Goodriches when he came to the United States last August, prior to enrolling at Berkshire. He is grateful, he said, for their generosity, both financially and personally.

The team on which Amin plays is the junior varsity. And no, he is not the best player on the team. But considering where he and his family have been, Amin is doing pretty well.

"He's a great kid," said Kurt Schleunes, the head of the school's math department and its junior varsity coach. "Good attitude, hard worker, and he has that nice sort of upward swing that he got playing cricket."

Cricket, in fact, is the reason Amin went out for the baseball team.

"I was going to sign up for tennis, but some of my friends wanted me to try baseball, so that's what I did," he said.

Amin was told by some of his friends that baseball and cricket have, essentially, the same rules. That, of course, isn't really true. "It's a totally different game," Amin said.

But Amin enjoys the game and being with his American teammates, who joke and goof around like most kids on American sports teams. In the aforementioned game, he came around to score on a series of base hits and obligingly high-fived the on-deck batter and his mates on the bench.

"He knows the drill," Schleunes said.

Focused on his studies Amin is on course to graduate next year, according to his adviser, Carlos Berrendero.

"He is presently working on a 4.0 grade-point average," said Berrendero. "If everybody was like Mati, we probably wouldn't need advisers.

"He brings a lot to the school," Berrendero said. "His outlook on life, his desire to help people. He's very thoughtful. And American young people surprised him."

"Yes, they did," admitted Amin. "I thought they would make fun of me, make fun of my accent. But that hasn't happened. Everyone has been very welcoming."

There is an affable but very clear focus to Amin. His plans are firm: Graduate from Berkshire School, go to college and return to Afghanistan.

"I want to get into politics," he said. "I want to be able to help my country."

"Your mother wants you to be a doctor," Berrendero said.

"Yes, that is what she says," agreed Amin. "But I'm not going to be a doctor."

Learning about religions

There have been other adjustments besides sports. His roommate, Josh Brande, is a Jewish kid from Los Angeles. Amin is Muslim. But they get along extremely well, despite the fact that Amin was brought up to be wary of the Jewish people.

"I like Josh a lot. I never thought I'd ever be living with a Jew," Amin said. "But we started talking about our religions, and we discovered that we had a lot in common. It's been a great learning experience."

Brande said the feeling is mutual.

"He's a really good guy," said Brande of Amin. "He really knows a lot about what's going on in the world. He has kind of an insider's opinion of the stuff that's going on in the world, and it's really interesting to talk with him."

The girl thing

There is also the girl thing. As a Muslim, Amin was surprised to see the amount of interaction between the sexes. Boys and girls hug, kiss, put their arms around each other. Amin admits that, although he is used to it now, he was shocked to see it when he first came to the United States.

"It wasn't really a challenge; it's just different," he said. He shyly admitted that he does not have a girlfriend.

He has lived in Pakistan since he was born, but that is because his family left Afghanistan in 1980 to get away from the war with the Soviet Union that was tearing up the country.

"I am 100 percent Afghani," he said. "That is what I consider myself. Afghanistan is my country."

He has never seen a baseball game live, but he hopes to. His favorite team, he said, is the Boston Red Sox.

"They were Peter's favorite team," Amin said, referring to Peter Goodrich. "So now they're mine."

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