Communication without language
Trip Start Nov 07, 2006
54Trip End Apr 26, 2007
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At nine o'clock I was ushered into the classroom where I was closely scrutinised by fourteen pairs of dark eyes belonging to children aged between eight and eighteen. Within minutes I am saying "My name is Peter" and they, prompted by Vera all say, "Good morning Peter, how are you? to which I dutifully reply, "I am fine thank you."
A conversation? Perhaps not but a definite contact between alien beings.
Before long they are bringing me their pencils to sharpen, or their writings to show me how they have done an exercise, they know that I don't speak Portuguese but chatter happily as though I understood every word. I in turn smile, nod, point to some word they have copied in English or sometimes I just give an exaggerated shrug. To any action they smile broadly flashing their white teeth that would grace any toothpaste advertisement.
A girl of seven or eight beckons me over to her desk and looking quite serious asks me something, I don't understand, she waves her pencil about, dutifully I take it to my desk and sharpen it and return it, she looks at it- shakes her head. I notice the rubber tip is missing so I take it back and replace it with a new one, she is still smiling but not so happy, she chats to a nearby older girl who in turn chats to another even older girl; all three are laughing. The eldest girl speaks, "Banhiero, banhiero." Suddenly it's clear, the youngster is asking my permission to leave the room for the toilet, I nod to the sound of general laughter.
In this pre-term class that is so mixed there is the comedian, the swot, the shy one, the loud one and even the lad who needs to sit at the front to peer at the blackboard through thick glasses that clearly are not really strong enough.
I suppose if it were not for the wide age group it could be anywhere in the world but here amidst the shanty-town favella of Rio I know these children are special and need every possible helping hand if they are to escape poverty, crime, drugs, prostitution or starvation.
I feel my efforts are so inadequate but I must do something for these people even if it is just to show them someone does care.---Do you?