For anyone that has ever visited or lived in a foreign country...the language barrier can be the one thing that keeps you from really enjoying yourself and living the experience to the fullest. Sitting in a room full of women that are happily chattering away while your counting tiles on the wall or wishing you were home reading a book or something never ceases to bring home the fact that "your not in Kansas anymore!" But not knowing the language can also build a barrier between you and your own children...children born of mixed races and cultures...children growing up in a bi-language household...but in a one language school....is a whole new agony that never quite goes away.
My first child was as excited about starting school as any child could possibly be. She was nervous and agitated and anxious to get moving and get out the door...thankfully that desire to learn has never left her...and since the very first day that she arrived in her classroom...she was glued to her school books. I, on the other hand, had a totally different reaction when she came home with her backpack loaded with books...smiling from ear to ear and eager to show me her new aquisitions. As she quickly dug a book from her bag and proudly showed it of to me...all I could think of was the fact that it was written in Arabic...and I cant read Arabic....thus the 15 year heartache began.
I am a lover of books..I devour them...hoard them...covet them....I spend my last dinar on them...and dream of writing my own someday. I love nothing more then to browse in bookstores and flip pages here and there...never tiring of what I find between the pages...words...words... and more words. Its nearly impossible for me to have an unread book in my house...my love affair with books has always brought great rewards and knowledge...until my daughter started school...and her school books became my nemisis.
It was always my dream to sit at the table and help my children wth homework...to open their eyes to the joys of school and learning that I have always found exciting. I always pictured myself as the stay at home mom that dedicated her life to education of her children...and to come to the realization that that bubble was being burst before it had even grown in size was a cruel twist of fate. Each night when she pulled out her books I could only sit by and watch her concentrate and figure out things on her own. If she had any questions...she took them to her father...the Arabic reader in the house. As she grew older she tried to translate her questions adequately for me so that I could help her with the answers...but thats not an easy task for a child to do...and ended up making her more frustrated in the end....and me too.
I tried to help myself by learning the Arabic language...by learning letters and numbers etc...but Ive never been able to master it to such an extent that I could be of real service and help to her...or her siblings that followed in her footsteps. It was a hard fact to swallow...that I...the honor role student...the lover of all things written...the pusuer of knowledge...could not help my own children with first and second grade homework...it squeezed my heart...and has kept on squeezing it for all these long years. In time...my children were reading and translating Arabic for me...translating their school reports...telling me what the teachers had written on the bottom...I had to take their word for it...I wanted to be proud over those comments...but they just frustrated me with their ineligibility...their secret code of scriptive letters that continues to taunt me today...I can almost catch their meaning...but not quite.
Recently Ive been going through paperwork in preparations for moving from one country to another. Ive sat there with piles of report cards that I cant read...of birth certificates and legal documents that are essential to the identity of my children...and I cant read them. Of 21 years of family life that I need translated to me to be sure Ive got the right one...Ive missed so much of their lives by not being able to read and understand their language. The fault is mine...my inability to grasp what seemingly came easy to them...Alif Ba Ta...so frustrating...so intriguing...so heartbreaking to this mother...