Many of the parts seem to be organized around a single emotion or sensation. Over time, as they are out more, this changes, and they start to have more complex emotional experiences. But it often seems they arose to help me process one feeling.

Mishka does sleepiness. At first, he just fought it. We cannot sleep, or we will die. We can sleep only if Nata is there to tell us to sleep. Now, he’s out more and he’s starting to feel safe. Now he wants cuddly pajamas. He wants to sit in C’s lap and snuggle with her, and someone has to keep explaining why he can’t snuggle anymore. He wants blankets and tea.

Petya recognizes myself. He brought with him the sense of recognition, and now I feel it when I like something. I feel it sometimes about my own feelings—those are mine. I feel it when I listen to Russian. I can remember my mouth moving to make those sounds, and I can recognize making those sounds as being “me.” And this is really helpful, or at least pleasant.

I was thinking today that one element of my classroom teaching—and a part of what I have experienced recently is a lot more enjoyment of the classroom and of my students—is trying to make language comprehensible to non-native speakers. It is absolutely crucial in my classroom now, and it has always been important, because I have always had English language learners in my class: very often, students only in the beginning stages of English language acquisition.

And what I do to make the language comprehensible to students is partly formally learned but largely instinctive. It is what I grew up doing. It is what I grew up seeing people do for me, so that I could understand them.

There were the Afghani girls first, speaking to me in Dari, and then Natalya and the Russian girls speaking to me in Russian and they had to teach me their language in order to talk to me, and they taught me by making their language comprehensible in non-linguistic ways. I also had to try to fill the holes in what I knew in non-linguistic ways—what’s the word for this? I don’t know it. I had to do that a lot. So this kind of communication—working across a language barrier of varying extents—is what I have always done and maybe, more importantly, what I did with the people who cared about me the most.

When I am teaching, that is a part of the resonance I feel about it. This person who communicates within the context of a language barrier is very much me.

Being part of a group and yet not part of it is also “me.” I was not like the people who accepted me and nurtured. The Afghani girls loved me, and yet I was not Afghani. I could not really speak their language. I am not really sure. When I listen to Dari, what I remember mostly is eating, and the memories of sitting on the floor around food are so intense I can’t really remember anything else. But it seems to me what I could speak is broken Dari: Words, but not a lot of grammatical structure. With Russian, I can tell the grammatical structures are there in my mind—at least a lot of them. But I had a limited vocabulary.

The point is just that speaking to me was not like speaking to a child from that ethnic or linguistic group, because you had to really help me understand. I also did not look like the Afghani girls—although you couldn’t tell I wasn’t Russian. I did not have their childhood memories of home countries that were different from where they were living then. There were many things we did not share.

And yet they accepted me and nurtured me and loved me. I was one of them, and also not one of them. I was different in important ways because of where I had been born and I also went away. I wasn’t a full-time member of their group.

That is “me” too. Being different and yet accepted—being a much-loved outsider—is a familiar position for me. It feels safe in a deeply felt emotional way. There are many times in this process of integrating that feel like I have come home, because I have that sense of recognition that is both personal and cultural.

Now that I know that at a conscious level—I know exactly how this part of my personality came out of my childhood—I’m not sure how it will evolve. But it is very, very nice.


One thought on “Recognition

  1. desilef June 14, 2015 / 10:59 pm

    Wonderful realizations about the resonance of communicating past language barriers.

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