The Earthquake

Elena - Turkey
Entered on April 10, 2009
Age Group: 30 - 50
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I believe in Understanding; I’m sure that it can always be achieved if people really try hard to speak the language shared by all – the Human Language.

I’m a linguist, and I think, it’s very natural for me to see the world through the language, through symbols, codes and patterns.

To me, everything speaks. Time speaks in days and nights; Nature speaks in rains and winds; Life speaks in events, dreams, and signs…

So, as I moved from Russia to Turkey to live with my husband, I knew that my first task would be to learn the language of the new country, and not merely Turkish, but that of Communication. I didn’t expect much; I only aspired for discoveries, eager to look, and touch, and listen, absorbing, analysing, assimilating.

First, I became a Foreigner; but simply because I never wanted to become an eternal immigrant, forever lost in home-sickness, I let the country explore me. I’ll never forget a young woman in the route taxti, trying to touch my face, saying, “I’ve never seen a foreigner in my whole life!” with the mixed air of awe and curiosity…

More challenges came as I started to work at the university; being quite well-armed with Russian the Mother Tongue, English the Trade, and even Turkish the Newborn, I felt somewhat secure. But how was I to communicate the knowledge to my new round-eyed students, who sat still, trying to figure out what their foreign teacher wants from them? Shall I conquer them, colonize them, faithfully bearing the “White Man’s Burden”, or shall I try to somehow share my experience with them, listening, and learning while teaching? And yet, I was afraid; what if they make fun of my Turkish? What if they will simply refuse to do what I tell them to, just because they wouldn’t want to do all the work in English? What if, what if…

Then, one night an earthquake occurred; a minor one, but strong enough to make everyone leave their homes. Next morning, as I came to class, I felt somewhat low, and somehow I knew that this feeling of uneasiness was shared by all.

Then came the first question, and of course, in Turkish: “Did you feel the earthquake last night?”

The world stood still. If I use English again, I would probably alienate myself forever… The girl who asked, thought I didn’t understand, and had already half-turned away from me, but I did understand. And I spoke, I spoke in their language, saying, yes, I did, and it was a bit scary, because I was at the second floor that time, and the walls shook, and the windows trembled, and… and everybody ran outside.

There was silence first, but then, a chorus of voices came, “Teacher, your Turkish is great!” Then I understood that I was not a Foreigner anymore; I became a Teacher…