People who look and speak differently than me have had a profound influence on my life.
As an 18-year-old, I was a VISTA volunteer in Nebraska for one year. I worked closely with Latino migrant workers who picked the crops and struggled to make a living. I learned a good deal of Spanish and managed to communicate with them in their own language.
Nearly 20 years ago, my church sponsored four Sudanese refugees. I worked closely with them on housing and nutrition, and became good friends. They taught me many words of their own native language. They now speak excellent English and I am their friend to this day.
The same thing happened when a group of Burundi refugees moved to Louisville and started to attend my church. They taught me their native language, Kirundi, and many words in Swahili. I was an eager student. A few years ago, I was honored to be a guest at a citizenship ceremony for one of them.
Most recently, Turkish families have moved into the area and I am trying to get acquainted with them. I practiced “Happy New Year” in their language so I could greet them on the street.
I bungled it badly, but my Turkish friend grinned, and set me straight.
“Mutlu Yıllar,” he said. Yes, indeed.
Be present for the strangers who arrive in your life. They will soon become friends.
© Ron Cooper 2020