Monday, 10 October 2011

I Wish I Could Speak The Languages of the World

Yesterday morning involved the usual public transport routine. Bus, train, walk. I paid my bus fare, sat at the far back and played around with my phone, generally unobservant. A lady in her fifties boarded the bus several stops later. I looked up afterwards to realise that she was asking people around her for change. Her English was broken. Embarrassed, she held up a fifty dollar note and politely asked commuters if they had change for fifty. They all said no. One woman rudely snapped at her. She continued to ask because she needed to pay the bus fare before she arrived at her stop - but people seemed indifferent and shrugged her off. They avoided her eyes by focusing on the traffic. I really felt for her and moved to the front, asked her how much her ticket was and gave her the amount. She insisted on paying me back, trying to find out when I would be catching the bus again, but I refused. I was a little frustrated that the bus driver didn't let her on for free to begin with. He humiliated an older woman. Both her and I (I never caught her name) sat at the front of the bus and talked during the whole trip. There was some silence, but it was never uncomfortable. She told me she was Persian and had moved to Australia only a few years ago. And she hardly knew anybody here. It was her first time catching the bus. She looked very vulnerable - like a child lost in a big city, looking for her parents. I tried to understand as much as I could of what she was saying, and she too. There was definitely a language barrier - I spoke with a sharp Australian accent and she spoke with Farsi-coloured English - but we somehow managed to happily talk about family, university, life - that kinda curious chitchat. When I asked her what part of Iran she originated from, she teared up and said something about her husband, which I couldn't quite make out. I didn't ask again because it clearly upset her. I had no way of consoling her properly.

We got off at the same bus stop and walked together for a bit. I asked if she knew where to go. She tugged at my sleeve, telling me to come with her to a nearby shop. She wanted to break her fifty-dollar note so she could pay me, but I couldn't accept. Before departing ways, I said: "I only know how to say one thing in Farsi. It's khodafez (bye)." And to my delight, her face lit up and she laughed. She looked genuinely happy for a moment. Not so lost. Maybe I gave her a bit of familiarity. She wasn't used to her surroundings and she struggled with the language. I guess she found home in my farewell. And it's why I wish, and could only ever dream, to speak every language. Each language has its own character, its own style, flair, roots. It would be incredible to hear stories the way they are spoken first-hand. I could have heard hers. Imagine the kind of conversations you could have with strangers or neighbours from foreign lands? Imagine the sort of connections you could make with Indigenous people who live in remote areas (be they from Australia or South America) - many who speak a dying language? There would be more understanding. And to those who are lost, it would be comforting...


Anonymous said...

You're so kind, good on you Jennine..

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