Our last visit of the semester included a string of events like any other visit of ours earlier this semester: homework completing, story-book reading, story-telling, and snacking.
However; this time was decidedly different.
As soon as Max, Sam, and I knocked on the door of our family’s home, an extremely exuberant Niermol immediately answered and led us into the family’s living room, while muttering “homework, homework, homework,” before we had even taken our coats off. This is the same Niermol who we had struggled with earlier this semester, trying desperately to elicit even a vague interest in completing his school assignments and practicing his alphabet with us. This night, however, he immediately unzipped his backpack, pulled out his blue folder, and placed a packet of papers entitled “vacation homework” on the table and exhaled a final “homework” as if to drive home the point.
Sam had brought a colorful storybook about dragons which Suk and Harka—and their friend Sijel—were instantly enthralled with. The three boys laid down on the carpet with the book in front of them, though this time—instead of only viewing and admiring the pictures while conversing about the drawings in Nepali—they each took turns trying to read the English captions. Sijel, who has an exceptionally good grasp at English having moved here several months prior to our family, even came up with a strategy to help Suk—who still struggles considerably. He suggested that we (the befrienders) read one word, and let Suk read the other, until the sentence is complete. Or, point to random words on the page and have Suk and Harka read them aloud.
I am touched every time by these kids’ willingness to help each other out, instead of “showing off” in front of the other or making fun of their inability to keep up. They themselves embody an amazing support network for each other which can be extremely effective when befrienders lack insight in certain areas.
Nearby, Gopal had found a book too, and was reading to himself while Phul sat adjacently, silently absorbing all of the various activities taking place in the room which was now buzzing with excitement. I walked over to sit by Gopal and was overwhelmed by the greatest surprise of the evening yet: GOPAL CAN READ FLUENTLY! It was a simple children’s fairytale to be sure, with about a dozen words on each page, but what difference does that make to someone who wasn’t sure if he would ever be able to even memorize the English alphabet just a few months ago? As he read the lines out loud to me, he was beaming and couldn’t contain his laughter at several points. After he finished the final page of the story he turned to me and said: “slow yes, but slowly comes.” Yes, I told Gopal. It certainly comes. I am so proud of him.
After a couple of hours we all sat down and shared a very familiar snack of apples, bananas, chocolate biscuits, and orange juice. We eased our way into the much-dreaded discussion of us taking a “month off” as we return to our respective localities across this country. We said that we would all meet again in January after we returned from our parents home and that we would be sure to keep in touch. Sam told the family she would write to them during her semester abroad in Jordan. And Sijel was sure to write down our “ID’” (that is, our facebook user names and/or yahoo chat names’s) on a sheet of paper which he safely tucked away in his pocket.
Before finally exiting the cozy home of our warm-hearted Nepali family—only to be thrust into the freezing cold Chicago night, Sijel predicted something spectacular: “Maybe when you come back in January we will all be speaking English.” Yes, perhaps! With everyone’s progress in barely four months, there is enormous potential for growth and adjustment. I don’t doubt the possibilities.
It has been such an honor and pleasure spending time with these individuals and being able to observe and partake in their complex lives, if only for a few hours a week. Their perseverance and unending optimism has inspired me in ways I am unable to articulate in words. What I am able to say, is that this semester has opened a door for me; in no way does this ‘final visit’ terminate the relationship with my family or my engagement with this course’s objectives. It has instead created a threshold for me in terms of captivating my interest and instilling a desire to undertake broader research into the deeper, perhaps darker, issues facing our beloved refugee community. Issues that certainly transcend the comfortable realm of completing homework assignments on time and reading fairy tales to each other.
Thank you for following the first part of this journey with me.