Five of my current students are Spanish speakers. They all understand and speak English equally well as Spanish, and in some cases even better, but their bilingualism sets them apart from the rest of the students. Some of these kids I happen to be close to. They do what they’re told, they get their work done, and then they talk my ear off about the things that matter to them outside of school–soccer, ravioli, their friends, their devotion to God. I love it. I love that they get the chance to be real with me, to show more of themselves than the surface level of student typically limits a teacher/student relationship to.
Sometimes, when I catch an ear full of their gorgeous language being tossed back and forth between one another, I can’t help but want to butt in–what are they saying? Context clues give most of whatever it is they are saying away, but I’m still left in a whirl of mystery, which is kind of cool, but I ultimately find myself asking if they’ll sit down with me and teach me a thing or two in Spanish. And so, they do. I get to learn a word or a phrase. They attempt to correct my silly American accent as I stumble over the same word for the fifth time. They laugh at my awkwardness and I laugh along with them–I am foolish enough to laugh at.
Once in a while, some short-term volunteers will wander into our school and spend a little time with the kids, normally just a day or two, resulting in, really, just a few hours around the students. How quickly people can impact one another though, which is both beautiful and frightening at the same time. One volunteer this week was from Ecuador and, therefore, was a Spanish speaker. I envied him for all of two minutes, wishing that I was able to connect with the Spanish-speaking students. Then it hit me–I do speak their language. I’m able to communicate with them, to connect with them. Of all of the people in the world that I’m not able to communicate with, here are five that I do understand, and who understand me.
When I was in Kenya, held up at that orphanage with Kikuya and Swahili-speaking kids, it didn’t matter that we didn’t speak the same language. There was an understanding between us. I could see the love in their eyes and they, I assume, could see it in mine. My favorite little boy, Julius, was seven at the time I lived on the compound with him. Sitting around the dining room one evening, a little boy wandered in and shouted something enthusiastically in Kikuyu. Julius responded to the little boy by tapping on my arm gently. I turned to Julius and asked him what the boy had asked him and what he had replied. Julius looked at me and simply said, “You. Are. Mine.” We were able to express enough of ourselves to form meaningful relationships during my time there, even without words. Love, and everything that love encompasses, can be easily read in a persons body language, tone of voice, etc.
Although I have had literally zero correspondences with the kids at Watoto Wa Baraka Orphanage since November 2012, I know that our time together was special. I have taken so much from that experience into my “real life” and, at least while I was present there, I think it mattered to some of the kids that I existed.
My point here is, I’ve come to the conclusion that we, as people, can form connections with anyone. It has nothing to do with language or physical appearance, or even mental capacity. It doesn’t even necessarily have to do with location. People all over the world are forming meaningful connections with each other without even meeting thanks to the internet. When it comes to connecting with future students that I may be fortunate enough to work with, I’m going to keep this idea in mind. I feel so fortunate to be alive in such an expansive time as this, with unlimited possibilities for new connection and sharing our humanity.