Sunday, May 18, 2008

Whitney Shares a Poem

I’d like to introduce you to Whitney. Whitney has been living and working in Cairo, Egypt since last September and has become good friends with my son Clay. (She's easy to spot--the only girl in the picture.) I asked both of them to write about an experience they had teaching English to a class of Sudanese refugees at St. Andrews Church in Cairo. I’m posting Whitney’s article first, edited to meet a length constraint.

She writes:

My first time to St. Andrews, I was new to Cairo, didn't speak the language, and was in full-throttle culture shock. As I sat down for my first tutoring session, I realized that I would be working with fellow ex-patriots, with two major differences – they did not choose to leave their country, and they’re unable to return to their homeland.

I sat in the small library and conversed with students for an hour and a half in about 15 minute intervals, so they could have the chance to practice their English with a native speaker. Through these conversations, I slowly learned about their interests, desires and dreams. One student in particular found a special place in my heart, and I'll never forget his name due to the irony of it. He is as black as obsidian, and his name is Albino. He told me that he chose his name, because it is Italian, and he loves Italian art.

I had tutored at the school for a few weeks before offering to take on a class the following semester, team teaching with Clay. We planned a basic outline with the main goal of getting the students to speak as much as possible. I remember feeling overwhelmed before we started our first lesson, but these were strong men, eager to learn and excited to see two native speakers teaching beginners. (Beginning conversation classes rarely get native speakers.)

Their humility and bold attempts to master a new language gave me confidence, but a questionnaire to introduce themselves to the rest of the class fell flat. It would have worked for westerners, but quite a few of the students didn’t know their actual birth date or what their favorite candy was – most of the students had never heard of the word "candy."

Their true interests became apparent in our discussions or presentations. We saw pride when they described their country of Sudan; longing when they talked about family, celebrations and foods that they miss; or mischief as they accused each other of cheating when playing games. The ease with which our students laughed always left me feeling energized and lifted – buoyed by their presence.

Here's a poem written by my friend Albino–I thought you might enjoy it.

The key and the doors:
By Albino Yei

When someone says to you,
I love you.
It doesn't mean that's the end.
It means he gave you the key of his heart.
And then you have to open his heart to see what is inside.
It could be the door of salvation or the door of hell.
There are no colors in the human heart.
There is only the light side and the dark side.
Close your eyes and follow your heart.
Knock on every door.
I promise you.
One day you will find the door that takes you to paradise.
Love always comes at the wrong time and in the wrong place.
And breaks our heart without reason.
Give people your heart's key.
You can't always take theirs.
See like an artist.
Because an artist sees from the heart and the mind.
Give people chances.
The key for life is love.
If you don't love the life.
Life will never welcome you.
Believe in love.
Sacrifice for the life.
Life is a beautiful thing,
And we shouldn't miss it.

1 comment:

Heather Justesen said...

Liz, that's lovely, thanks for sharing Whitney's poem with us.