THE DAY I CRIED TWICE DURING LANGUAGE LESSONS
Written February 22nd
As I left the nursery this morning and walked downstairs to attend English language lessons with the kids, one youth in particular caught my eye – a boy that I had met during my trip to Katerini in august. On that trip, I spent a few of my afternoons at the church’s food pantry meeting families and playing with their children so the parents could shop for what they needed. This teen came with his family and asserted an air of calm protection around the women who arrived with him – an aunt and some cousins. He was always friendly, speaking a little English, and he liked to chat – even if we didn’t always understand each other. He smiled easily and was attentive to the women that he traveled with, something that I was very aware of as neither his parents nor uncle were with them – he was the man of the household, even at such a young age. Since I’ve been gone I’ve thought back to him many times, wondering how his story turned out, so when I saw him head for the classroom I was at once thrilled to see him again but also saddened that he was still stuck in the in-between zone in Katerini.
The class started and it was soon apparent that he was one of the most diligent students. When a group of boys in the back would talk during over the teacher, he would ask them to be quiet. When a question was asked, his was always one of the first hands up. I beamed the entire time, so proud of how well he was adjusting to his new life.
At one point he didn’t understand what an English word meant, so he turned to the boy beside him and they began to speak in their native tongue, after which they turned to the teacher and began speaking Greek! This boy, who six months ago spoke hardly any English and definitely no Greek was now able to speak a jumble of them to ask a question! He easily slipped between the three languages, saying what he could in English, checking with the teacher in Greek to be sure he understood what was going on, and then explaining the concept to others in his native language. This all hit me in a split second and before I knew it I was sitting off to the side of the class starting to cry, overwhelmed at the feelings this all brought up.
These children are miraculous. Refugee children are miraculous. They have experienced things that most of us will never understand, and yet they carry on, persevere, and thrive. I’m crying again just typing all this up and that’s only me telling you about the time I cried in the first lesson!
Then came lesson number two! This one was filled with younger kids, mostly elementary school aged, except for one young boy who had been in the nursery in the morning and arrived with his older sister. I scooted over to make room for him so that he could do worksheets with the rest of the kids and I could help as needed. During the morning he was very quiet and reserved, focused on whatever task he was given, and he was the same way during the lesson.
The children were learning the alphabet, today focusing on the letters I and J. he sang along to the alphabet song, following it the best he could, and then traced the letters and colored a worksheet with the rest of the kids. When the time came for activities, like matching up the upper and lower case letters, he got a determined look on his face and did it. I helped him with a few examples, but once he got the hang of it he finished the section even before his sister did. I helped him through the four or five parts relating to the letter I and when we came to J he had become more confident and self-assured in his abilities. he cleverly began work before the other children had started and so when he was done the others were working away.
He looked around proudly to see that he was the first one finished, despite being the youngest in the room by at least three years, and smiled up at me, his eyes all crinkled and every tooth on full display. We high-fived enthusiastically and he leaned into me, resting his arm on my leg, relaxing in the seat. He only lounged there for a few minutes as the rest of the class finished but it was complete and utter bliss and before I knew it I was crying again. This little boy who was so reserved and focused in the morning got to see his hard work pay off in the afternoon and you could see on his face that it had just made his day. He was so clever in picking out the patterns on the worksheets given to him and communicating on a very basic level with me to be sure that he was doing them correctly.
As I saw how pleased he was with himself I thought back to all the people in the USA and in Hungary who equate the word “refugee” with “terrorist” and want to keep anyone who is deemed “the other” out of their country. These young people are bright and clever and eager to prove themselves – they just want a chance to do that in an environment free from persecution and violence. This little boy was no terrorist – he is the face of Jesus in modern times, asking for help and pleading for safety. Will we do all that we can to protect and serve him? I hope so.