I have a new ESL student... a woman from Somalia, who moved to America five months ago. I was thrilled to meet her, because I've been missing my African friends in Fort Wayne and have been praying for some new friends here. So our first "class time" was really just a get-to-know-you visit, and a good time to connect.
I learned two things from her this week that were especially interesting to me... First, she had a daughter in Africa who had a disability. I don't know if she was born with it, or got sick, or something else happened, but for seven years she could not walk or sit up or feed herself, so this woman - her mother - was her full-time caregiver, until she passed away. Because of this background, I felt like I could talk to her about my disability, how I can't walk and I need help to do many things. I pointed to my wheelchair and asked, "Do you know this, what we call this?" She said, "No, I see this sometimes, but I don't know." So I said, "It is 'wheel-chair,' because..." She smiled and laughed and said, "Oh I know! It is chair and have wheels! Very good!"
The second thing I learned is that she works in a sewing factory, and many of her coworkers are blind. This is a big motivator for her to learn English, because she must be able to use words to communicate with these people - they cannot depend on her nonverbal skills for understanding. I am so excited to help her with this goal!
Near the end of our first class together, she told me, "When I see people who cannot walk, cannot see, cannot do... oh, I very want to help." She put her hand on her heart to emphasize her strong desire to help. She referred to her daughter again, and indicated that she sometimes leads her coworkers by the arm to help them get around. I said, "This is very good! And sometimes I need help, so you can help me, ok?" She smiled and nodded at this. Then I said, "I understand, because I feel this too. When I meet people who cannot speak English, I want to help them very much." I put my hand on my heart as she did, to show the same strong desire. "So maybe I can help you, and you can help me... yes?" She smiled a very big smile and said, "Very good! Yes!"
I like having this kind of relationship with people. There isn't a lot I can offer in the way of practical help, but I can teach English well, and I can understand limited and broken language well, too. And I think many internationals who come to America feel ill-equipped to do very much... but they can open doors and pick up pencils and move chairs - all things that are incredibly helpful to me! And so, although we both feel inadequate and largely incapable of doing many things, we find ourselves in a friendship that is co-dependent in an usual and perfect way.