Much of the pleasure derived from being in a foreign country comes from the children we meet.
Rosy cheeked and smiling, even in frigidly cold weather, Emma and Saran greet me almost every day as we meet on the sidewalk, going in our opposite directions to different schools. At first it was “hello, how are you?” in strongly accented English. Now that greeting has progressed to “good morning, how are you, I am fine, thank you”, all together as if one sentence. Smiling, the two girls stop to chat a few moments. At first, they’d say, “what is your name”. I’d tell them and then ask their’s. We are past that now, so our brief conversation usually includes well wishes for the day ahead and a few other phrases that either of us can think of. The woman following close behind Emma and Saran, with a younger child in tow, seems to be in a hurry every morning, however, the girls always stop to offer their greetings. One particular morning in January, Saran began speaking in English “ 1,2,3,4,5,6, mother, father, sister, brother ……..”, all at once and with a look of pride on her face. David was with me that day. He and I were surprised at this burst of knowledge above and beyond the usual “hello”. We praised Saran greatly and said many “shat lav’s” or very good’s! The next day as we approached the girls on their way to school, Emma stopped and burst into singing “We Shall Overcome”, the entire song including the OOOOO”S at the end. We were shocked that she knew this song and just said the name Dr. Martin Luther King to her to see if she knew about the man. She did not. We highly praised her singing, just as we had praised Saran the day before, then we all continued in our separate directions to school and work.
Later that day as I chatted with Kellianne, the other Peace Corps volunteer who lives in our town and who teaches English at Saran and Emma’s school, I found that the girls had been taught “We Shall Overcome” by their local Armenian English teacher. This teacher did not give information about the song, its history or meaning, thinking these 8 or 9 year old children would not understand. A few days later, Kellianne asked if I’d come to one of her classes of older students and tell about living in Memphis at the time of Dr. King’s assassination, what it was like in the 60’s, and anything else I could tell them about that time in history. I was more than pleased to do this because I did live during that critical time, then eventually lived in downtown Memphis across the street from the National Civil Rights Museum which is housed in the old Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was shot. Kellianne taught several lessons about Dr. King, focusing on the holiday in his honor on January 15th. She even had her students read and study the “I Have a Dream” speech and then write their own “I Have a Dream” speech. Portions of these speeches were video-recorded as a class project.
My early morning encounter with Emma and her singing of “We Shall Overcome” led me to hearing about and participating in a small way in the other volunteer’s lessons about human rights and Dr. King’s legacy. Children lead us down unexpected paths and we are better for it. Thank you, Emma and Saran. I look forward to seeing both of you every day. Judy in Armenia