Tag Archives: Children

Giving the Bird

I have to say that working with the children in the refugee community has been quite a learning experience. It’s funny what comes from their mouths and just how innocent they are.

Before I started volunteering, I did my research on Burmese and Iraqi customs. Don’t touch their heads. Don’t point with my feet. Don’t give the thumbs up sign. I was reminded this week that just as I am learning their cultures, these kids are learning ours.

As I was playing with a group of children at the playground this week, an interesting topic came up. The middle finger. All the sudden one of the little girls runs up to me and says, “I can’t use my middle finger, right?” Before I could even answer, several of the little girls are pointing their middle fingers in the air and saying, “You can’t do this, but you can do this.” And then they quickly switch to their pointer finger. From there a whole conversation ensued about why we don’t use the middle finger in America. Thinking back on the conversation, I’m sure it became a topic of our discussion because one of these little ones unknowingly gave “the bird”. I can imagine one of these little girls raising their own middle finger to read a book or scratch their face, and being met with discomfort, discipline, or distraught behavior by their fellow American peers or teachers. If I were in their shoes, I’m sure I would make the same mistakes. If I went to Iraq, could I stop giving a thumbs up? If I was in Myanmar, could I ensure that I never touch a child’s head? I highly doubt I could. I just hope and pray that I can give the patience and guidance to these little ones, just as I would need if I were learning the customs of their home countries.

The Language of the World

The sheep had taught him something even more important: that there was a language in the world that everyone understood, a language the boy had used throughout the time he was trying to improve things at the shop. It was the language of enthusiasm, of things accomplished with love and purpose, and as part of a search for something believed in and desired.

~ The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Sitting at the top of the slide, his five-year old body was slumped and his face was marked with a scowl that was almost impenetrable. I called his name several times but he didn’t budge. I asked what was wrong, but there was no answer. He pulled his knees up to support his chin, which supported his protruding, pouting lower lip.

Finally, not knowing if he understood my words, I substituted them with funny faces. It is my honest belief that almost any child can be redirected if I try hard enough. I did moose ears, the pucker-faced fish, but it was the blown-up monkey cheeks that did him in. His lower lip slightly retreated and he lifted his flip-flopped foot up to show me a small scrape on his ankle.

“Ouch,” I said. “Let me blow your boo boo a kiss.” I put my hand to my mouth and made a kissing noise as I pulled it away. He then followed suit and kissed his hand and put it on his ankle. Miraculously healed, he came down the slide and raced me to the merry-go-round, laughing as he ran. In that moment, I understood Paulo Coelho’s idea of the language of the world. This little boy from Malaysia could not understand my words, but in the end he understood my message.