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July 2014, vol 10, no 2

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Els van Leeuwen


A recent arrival in this country, she’s been training here at the preschool. Today she asks for my help in deciphering a word the children have been using in their play. After some confusion we figure out that the word was ‘treasure.' She jots it down in her observations, and then stays at my side, wanting to talk. I adjust the pace of my speech until her face relaxes. She begins to open up about the troubles she’s had as she’s been working on building her English skills. She pours out stories of getting it wrong, somehow, and having people close off from her, without her ever really knowing quite what she’s done or said amiss. I want to say something about how challenged people can be by having to work harder than usual at building bridges. Instead I decide to just listen and smile sympathetically. She is so earnest in wanting to learn to fit in. It must be frustrating, I suggest. Difficult, I add, in case that is a more accessible word.

Meanwhile, the boy with cerebral palsy who is sitting quietly beside us has managed at last to pick up one block.

rain washed creek
that one white lily
in the reeds