In my other blog, Stories From Turkey, I recently posted a poem entitled, "I Saw You Today", that emphasizes one of the struggles of living in Istanbul. It is the struggle of living in any major city center in the world and it hit me hard this particular day. The struggle is with our response to poverty. I desire to be more active in helping alleviate poverty, more tuned into the issues that cause and continue poverty. The poem was written with this in mind and was a "guilty" sentence for my apathy. It challenges me today and gives a little look into one part of Turkish culture as I saw it that morning. I hope it challenges you as well.
I had had a rough week as a language learner. Early in the week, for one whole hour a Turkish friend continuously wondered aloud why I could not speak better Turkish after six months. Another day I spent what seemed like an entire afternoon trying to talk on the phone with the internet provider without any real success at anything that could be considered communication. It seemed the week of failure. It seemed the week that the entire population of Istanbul was determined to approach me on the street catching me completely off guard with a random question about directions or the time or where they could find a job. My blank stare seemed answer enough for most. I am not sure I even remembered how to say, “I don’t know.” But just as the darkness appeared to be collapsing in all around me, a ray of light broke through. It happened with the patient kindness of new friends found a a local bookstore. I came in to buy an envelop, asked a simple question about a famous Turkish poem, Yaş Otuz Beş, and was ushered into a new set of friendships, an afternoon of tea, and a language learning dream come true. My new friends seemed at once to recognize my desire to learn Turkish and were excited to be of help. They warmed to me so quickly and invited me into their lives, their homes, their circle of friends. It became a weekly and often twice weekly visit for me at that bookstore. It was the perfect community interaction that my Turkish needed at the time to really begin to grow and mature. It provided a place to delve into new topics, new ranges of vocabulary. It was a great place for cultural inquiry. It became a great group of friends, life long friends who I hope to one day be able to help as much as they helped me.
I hope all who are living in a new country, learning a new language can find a group that will take you in and call you one of their own. It is great for your language of course, but the real contribution is the lifetime of friendship that will result.
Good luck on the Journey.
The Journey stories is a new chapter in the Turkish Listening Library blog. Like the “Tip of the Bi-Week, I will try to post these stories every other week. I envision the journey stories to be a narrative look at the journey that all who move to a new country embark on as they learn a new language. Some will be funny - as is todays. Others will be serious and others will just share what I and others have done and encountered as they learned a new language. It is also place that I would love to see guest contributors share their own stories on their journey. I also hope that the the journey stories will help encourage you all to see language learning as just that - a journey. A journey with no end, just new horizons to explore.
For today, I want to share a story of a time I was living in Tijuana Mexico, struggling to learn Spanish even as I was working amongst the people there. A friend of mine and I had gone to visit a school to observe and help in the classroom and to hopefully set up a time for a church group from the states to come down and be of service. I was talking with the schools principal, but needed to talk with her husband, a local pastor. I was just telling her that I would be try and call her husband later that night when I noticed the look on her face that told me I had said something wrong. I tried again, this time really working to annunciate each syllable. Again she wore the confused look. I looked at my friend Travis who wryly commented that I might want to try using the correct verb for “to call.” And suddenly it all became very clear. While I had intended to use the verb “llamar” - to call, I had mistakenly used the verb “lavar” - to bathe. Beat red would be the best way to describe my complexion as I tried to explain my error and correct my faux pau.
Of course that is nothing compared to a friend of mine who spent an entire week thinking that he was telling everyone on the subway in Japan that he was a missionary when in fact, a minor error in his pronunciation had him rather telling everyone he was a sex therapist.
Well that is the first installment of The Journey. I hope it will be an encouraging diversion, a reminder of the joy that should be found in the journey of language learning. And I would love to hear your stories. You can comment here or, if you would like to share your story with the language learning community, send me an email at email@example.com.