|Day 31 of 31 at TWT!|
When I pull into a parking place, the 12 year old shyly waves out their front window and I laugh as the 3 year old starts jumping up and down. Someone opens the door and I put my hand over my heart, grinning. "Salam Alaikum!"
"Hello ma'am!" "Salam!" "Hello!"
I take off my shoes and settle on the couch, knowing that hot tea and a plate of nuts and dates is coming. It's familiar and cozy. "The other day, my 3 year old said she wanted to go to Afghanistan again sometime!"
The oldest son interrupts me and they all shake their heads. "Oh no, not go to Afghanistan!"
I giggle. "She meant coming here! She loves visiting your family!"
They laugh, eyes wide. "Ohhhh, THIS Afghanistan! Yes!"
We all laugh together, and I think back to my first time visiting them. It might as well have been a real trip to Afghanistan! I'm so used to working with my EL students from around the world at school, but a visit to the apartment of a family I'd never met, from a culture I was not familiar with, was a whole different exprerience.
Salam alaikum. Name man Jennifer ast. Salam alaikum. Name man Jennifer ast. Noticing too late that I was sweating, I turned down the car heater despite the frigid temperatures outside. Don't point with the finger; use a whole hand. Take off my shoes. Eat anything they offer. Salam alaikum. Name man Jennifer ast. I'd spent most of the morning studying the Afghan cultural information and Dari phrases included in our Welcome Team materials, and I didn't want to forget it all on the drive across town to meet the family! I tried to remind myself who all the family members were too, but I found I'd already forgotten most of the unfamiliar names from our spreadsheet.
I took a few deep breaths as I pulled up to the address and put on my mask. Curtains at the front window swung around and some curious faces peered out above a couch. Salam alaikum. Name man Jennifer ast.
Grabbing the bags of masks and kids' art supplies, I started to knock tentatively when the door swung open.
"Salam alaikum!" I put my hand over my heart just as I'd practiced.
Their faces lit up as their hands went over their hearts too. "Salam alaikum!" "Salam!" "Hello!"
"Please, ma'am, sit." They motioned to the couch with open hands and I sat.
"Name..." Now I wasn't sure if I remembered it right. "...man... Jennifer... ast...?"
"OHHH! You speak Dari?!?!" Their eyes flew open wide.
"Oh, no, just a little," I held up pinched fingers, "for you!"
"Oh, very good! Very good!" So many wide smiles and bright eyes.
"Look, tomorrow is a special American holiday about love. I brought crafts!" I started digging out craft supplies that were snatched by small fingers before I could even finish explaining. Suddenly, I looked down at my feet. Oh no, I forgot to take off my shoes! I scrambled back to the doorway to shed them on the doormat.
Digging back in the bag, I found Sweetie's example Valentine card. "Here, my daughter made this for you!" I showed them a picture of Sweetie and pointed back at the card. "This is what we can make together!"
"Ohhhh, beautiful!" "Very good!" They crowded around as the dad, who knows the most English, exclaimed, "She write 'I love you!'"
"Yes! It's a holiday about love and friends!"
He put his hands over his heart. "Oh, beautiful!"
The 12 year old and 6 year old immediately dove into the supplies and started making their own cards, then handed them to me. "For your daughter!" they declared proudly.
They asked their dad to write their names on their cards, and as he streaked the smooth lines of Dari across, he asked "Your daughter name?" When I told him, he wrote it in Dari too, then painstakingly formed the English letters "i lov you" in the middle.
"You are CRIS volunteer?" the dad asked as the kids colored and cut.
"Yes, I'm a teacher with some of the other volunteers you've met before."
"Ohhh teacher, very good! In Afghanistan, my job is help American soldiers. We love Americans, very nice. So we come here with SIV. I am so..." He paused, searching for a word, then just put both hands over his heart with gratitude shining in his eyes, "... to America for bring my family here."
Suddenly, the door swung open again and their cousin, who has lived in America for several years, entered. "Salam alaikum!" I put my hand over my heart again, and she smiled.
In the flurry of Dari and pointing at me and the cards that ensued, I could clearly catch that they were explaining that I'd spoken to them in Dari and brought the craft supplies. "I love you!" popped up interspersed with Dari as the dad proudly pointed to the card Sweetie had made for them.
By the time I left several hours later, there was a whole pile of cards to take home to my girls, and my whole family was invited for a special meal the next night. "Tascha kor! Tascha kor!" Thank you was certainly the most important phrase to learn when spending time with this amazingly sweet family.