But rather than taunting or ignoring him, many of his peers at Oak Grove have rallied around the teen as he struggles to make the transition from refugee to student. They escort him to class, help him navigate the lunch line and teach him basic vowel sounds that seem to tie his tongue in knots.
"If anyone messes with him, I will stand up for him," said Bryan Moore, 16, who along with other Oak Grove football players has semi-adopted Samedi.
On a recent rainy day, Moore gave Samedi (SOM-eh-dee) a lift home, where he lives with his foster parents. "I didn't want him to get all wet," Moore said.
Thuy Tran, a social worker at Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County, has desperately tried to find a Sango speaker so they can counsel Samedi -- she believes he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder -- and help him adjust to life here. She's called the Central African Republic embassy in Washington, D.C., many times but no one answers. She found a local Rwandan man who claims to speak a little Sango and another person in Kentucky -- too far to help on a regular basis.
Meanwhile, Tran said Samedi will sometimes bang his head against the wall when he's frustrated about his inability to express himself. This newspaper wasn't able to interview Samedi because of the communication barrier.
The Central African Republic, a landlocked country bordering Chad, Sudan and Congo, is a former French colony. CAR is one of the poorest countries in the world, and in 2009, the most recent year available, the U.S. State Department's human rights report noted government abuses such as torture, beatings, arbitrary arrests and rape regularly occur.
"When he drew a picture, he drew two people shackled together," Tran said. No one knows for sure, but Samedi may have been a child soldier.
Little is known of Samedi's background. Tran said both of his parents were killed, but she doesn't know when or under what circumstances. Samedi became a refugee after their deaths, Tran said, and fled to a camp in Chad, where he was referred to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
His journey to the United States was complicated by the fact that he was what's known as an "unaccompanied refugee minor." Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County is one of only two programs in California equipped to handle those like Samedi.
When the request came out to house him, Tran's agency was already working with Sierra Leone natives Grace and Harold Bangah, both Valley Medical Center nurses who live in San Jose and have already taken in two other African foster children, one who speaks a little English and the other who speaks a little French.
The assumption was that Samedi would speak French, which is why the Bangahs were chosen as his foster parents. The surprise was when he did not.
"We try to do our best to make a cultural match," Tran said. "But we do whatever we can. We are always in need of more foster families to take in refugees."
In the meantime, Samedi, a slight boy with a quick wide smile and a positive attitude, seems to be getting by. He takes art, P.E., specialized math and two English as a Second Language classes. He's also pulled out for special peer tutoring.
On a recent morning, Alexander Dang, a 17-year-old senior, patiently sat with Samedi going over A-E-I-O-U. Dang never lost his patience, and Samedi, dressed in a dark blue running suit and new Champion sneakers, tried to mimic the foreign sounds, sometimes putting his head in his hands in deep thought, but always with a grin.
"When I asked my class who wanted to tutor Samedi, everyone raised their hands," said teacher Charles Brown. "It really surprised me."
Ali Mohammed, 18, has also befriended Samedi. He, too, knows strife, warfare and terror; his family fled Iraq last year. Both he and Samedi are now in Janet Goldhammer's English class. Samedi is the lowest-level English learner that Goldhammer has ever had, and she's beginning with him from scratch: counting beans, using pictures and teaching the ABCs.
Mohammed has taken it upon himself to be one of Samedi's escorts. When Samedi was confused in the cafeteria line, Mohammed led him to a different window. Samedi ate lunch next to Mohammed, happily munching on a grilled cheese sandwich as he listened to African music.
After lunch, Mohammed introduced Samedi to a circle of hacky sack players, all of whom smiled encouragingly even when Samedi missed the sack. They laughed when Samedi broke into dance as the school public address system blared Drake and Katy Perry during Spirit Week.
"When I came here, not speaking English," Mohammed said, "I kept telling my mother, 'I want to go back.' And she said, 'If I go back to Iraq, I'll get killed.' So that's why I try to help him. I know what it feels like."
If you're interested
If you know the language Sango or Kaba, or know anyone who does, please contact Thuy Tran, social worker at Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County at 408-325-5173 or ttran@catholiccharitiesscc.org. Catholic Charities is also in need of foster care families. Please call the main number at 408-468-0100.