Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Another Kettle of Fish to Fry

Actually, it isn't fish but rather cakes, and no, I'm not frying them.

Tonight to answer a plea for help, I went out to the Center for Lifelong Learning here in our county to help a friend with her ESL classes. According to said friend, she had 22 students on Monday night, at many different levels of English proficiency. She wanted me to work with one particular student, a young man who was attempting some college classes through our local car manufacturer. He could understand all his classes, was able to do the coursework, but was unable to write. He has an amazing English vocabulary, but a great deal of difficulty in constructing even the simplest of sentences. My job, if I chose to accept it (shades of Mission Impossible!), would be to help him master at least simple sentence structure.

It turned out that this young gentleman was occupied all evening tonight with testing. That left me at loose ends, until my friend invited me to observe in her classroom. She had five students who were working on writing compositions in English. One of the women, a native of Mexico City, was writing some relatively elaborate sentences, albeit with some awkward wording, about her job as a fry-cook at McDonald's. I asked her what she had done for her "work" in Mexico City--turned out she was an accountant! Can you imagine a CPA in this country being content doing minimum-wage work in another country? Granted, her English is limited, and her accounting skills would probably not transfer well, due to difference in laws, but the brain that mastered accounting is surely capable of doing something more than flipping burgers!

I wonder how many of our burger-flippers are accountants. I'm sure it would surprise us to find out what these workers have done in the past. Folks from other countries doing minimum-wage work here are not respected--Americans don't take the time to get to know them as anything other than the man who buses the tables, or the woman who shows them to their seat. One of our foreign wait-staff friends has a post-graduate degree in computer programming and is completing a fast-track course to become an RN. Another one has worked as a teacher of English in her native country and is also in an RN program, while working as a temp at the local car factory! A third is a research chemist at the local university! When I tell my friends at church and other places about people like this, they are always amazed. It's as if they don't expect these people to be able to do anything more than clear off a table or take an order.

One of the women I met tonight was from the Congo, by way of Gabon. Currently she is working as a housekeeper at the local college. I asked her to write a sentence or two telling me what she would be doing at home in Gabon. She told me that she loved to cook, and that she would probably be making cakes to sell in front of her house the next morning. She told me that it was difficult to make cakes in Gabon, since she didn't have an oven. I asked her how in the world could she make a cake without an oven! She told me she cooked them in a bowl, on a barbecue. Then it dawned on me that we had differing images of "cake". I quickly sketched something that looked like a layer cake and told her that was what I was thinking of. She then drew a barbecue grill, coals inside, with a bowl on top, and a layer of oil in the bowl, so that she could cook the beignets. (And yes, blogger, I know that's spelled wrong--) Aha, French woman! Those fine, donut-type pastries that are so popular in the French quarter of New Orleans! At last we were communicating! And she did manage to get a pretty good sentence or two out of that!

What I want you to learn from my evening is this: Take the time to meet a foreigner in this country. Don't be concerned with their immigration status. Try to find out what they did when they were in their home land. Think of them as more than a servant--think of them as another human being who is definitely worth your time to know! Love to all, good night, and God bless!

PS Anyone who is looking for an update on Co--she is doing very well, thank you. Her mom had a delightful story for me yesterday about Co trying to help in the kitchen, but I'm going to save that for her to share.

PPS My friend did sucker me into coming back next week. I don't know how long I'll be able to help, but I guess I can give her a couple or three hours!

1 comment:

Becca said...

It's not just a language thing. I ave a friend at work who is Indian by birth, as is his wife, and they lived in Brighton, UK for a time until his visa was final for coming back to the US. She was a practicing lawyer (barrister?) in the UK, but can't even get a job as a paralegal here. She tried to learn Spanish so she could get a paralegal job, but it's so different from her mother tongue that she couldn't pick it up. If she wants to qualify for the bar, she has to redo almost all her schooling--at great expense.

Luckily, my friend makes enough that she has been able to occupy her time with volunteer work, and they are now expecting a baby. I guess he found some free time, too.