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  • I'm five years old, and I am very proud.

  • My father has just built the best outhouse

  • in our little village in Ukraine.

  • Inside, it's a smelly, gaping hole in the ground,

  • but outside, it's pearly white formica

  • and it literally gleams in the sun.

  • This makes me feel so proud, so important,

  • that I appoint myself the leader of my little group of friends

  • and I devise missions for us.

  • So we prowl from house to house

  • looking for flies captured in spider webs

  • and we set them free.

  • Four years earlier, when I was one,

  • after the Chernobyl accident,

  • the rain came down black,

  • and my sister's hair fell out in clumps,

  • and I spent nine months in the hospital.

  • There were no visitors allowed,

  • so my mother bribed a hospital worker.

  • She acquired a nurse's uniform,

  • and she snuck in every night to sit by my side.

  • Five years later, an unexpected silver lining.

  • Thanks to Chernobyl, we get asylum in the U.S.

  • I am six years old, and I don't cry when we leave home

  • and we come to America,

  • because I expect it to be a place filled with rare

  • and wonderful things like bananas and chocolate

  • and Bazooka bubble gum,

  • Bazooka bubble gum with the little cartoon wrappers inside,

  • Bazooka that we'd get once a year in Ukraine

  • and we'd have to chew one piece for an entire week.

  • So the first day we get to New York,

  • my grandmother and I find a penny

  • in the floor of the homeless shelter that my family's staying in.

  • Only, we don't know that it's a homeless shelter.

  • We think that it's a hotel, a hotel with lots of rats.

  • So we find this penny kind of fossilized in the floor,

  • and we think that a very wealthy man must have left it there

  • because regular people don't just lose money.

  • And I hold this penny in the palm of my hand,

  • and it's sticky and rusty,

  • but it feels like I'm holding a fortune.

  • I decide that I'm going to get my very own piece

  • of Bazooka bubble gum.

  • And in that moment, I feel like a millionaire.

  • About a year later, I get to feel that way again

  • when we find a bag full of stuffed animals in the trash,

  • and suddenly I have more toys

  • than I've ever had in my whole life.

  • And again, I get that feeling when we get a knock

  • on the door of our apartment in Brooklyn,

  • and my sister and I find a deliveryman

  • with a box of pizza that we didn't order.

  • So we take the pizza, our very first pizza,

  • and we devour slice after slice

  • as the deliveryman stands there and stares at us from the doorway.

  • And he tells us to pay, but we don't speak English.

  • My mother comes out, and he asks her for money,

  • but she doesn't have enough.

  • She walks 50 blocks to and from work every day

  • just to avoid spending money on bus fare.

  • Then our neighbor pops her head in,

  • and she turns red with rage when she realizes

  • that those immigrants from downstairs

  • have somehow gotten their hands on her pizza.

  • Everyone's upset.

  • But the pizza is delicious.

  • It doesn't hit me until years later just how little we had.

  • On our 10 year anniversary of being in the U.S.,

  • we decided to celebrate by reserving a room

  • at the hotel that we first stayed in when we got to the U.S.

  • The man at the front desk laughs, and he says,

  • "You can't reserve a room here. This is a homeless shelter."

  • And we were shocked.

  • My husband Brian was also homeless as a kid.

  • His family lost everything, and at age 11,

  • he had to live in motels with his dad,

  • motels that would round up all of their food

  • and keep it hostage until they were able to pay the bill.

  • And one time, when he finally got his box

  • of Frosted Flakes back, it was crawling with roaches.

  • But he did have one thing.

  • He had this shoebox that he carried with him everywhere

  • containing nine comic books,

  • two G.I. Joes painted to look like Spider-Man

  • and five Gobots. And this was his treasure.

  • This was his own assembly of heroes

  • that kept him from drugs and gangs

  • and from giving up on his dreams.

  • I'm going to tell you about one more

  • formerly homeless member of our family.

  • This is Scarlett.

  • Once upon a time, Scarlet was used as bait in dog fights.

  • She was tied up and thrown into the ring

  • for other dogs to attack so they'd get more aggressive before the fight.

  • And now, these days, she eats organic food

  • and she sleeps on an orthopedic bed with her name on it,

  • but when we pour water for her in her bowl,

  • she still looks up and she wags her tail in gratitude.

  • Sometimes Brian and I walk through the park with Scarlett,

  • and she rolls through the grass,

  • and we just look at her

  • and then we look at each other

  • and we feel gratitude.

  • We forget about all of our new middle-class frustrations

  • and disappointments,

  • and we feel like millionaires.

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause)

I'm five years old, and I am very proud.

Subtitles and keywords

B1 INT US bazooka homeless pizza bubble gum shelter penny

【TED】Tania Luna: How a penny made me feel like a millionaire (Tania Luna: How a penny made me feel like a millionaire)

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    VoiceTube   posted on 2014/09/17
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